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When Do Engineering Teams Need Engineering Operations?

Ashley Swanson

Tech organizations trying to excel their operational capabilities are looking to improve different metrics in their software delivery pipeline. Many companies invest in developer productivity tools to make those improvements in their engineering teams, while overlooking the larger developer experience, and its impact on the engineering organization performance.

Engineering leaders often end up playing whack-a-mole discovering and tackling common challenges confronted by their teams without specific resources, team members, or tools dedicated to providing solutions. 

  • Teams struggling to keep up rapid development cycles while trying to maximize the efficiency of every new hire and engineer? 
  • Productivity problems persist even after hiring up.
  • Organizational growing pains causing rifts between new hires and existing developers? 

Documentation and systems feel more like an archaeological dig for answers than an agile playbook?

As we look ahead to the future of remote and hybrid collaboration, the complexities of the current job market, and the challenges of scaling many teams are facing, there is a growing trend to formalize the work that surrounds developer experience to help iterate, accelerate, and build a better environment for engineering teams.

Note: The Engineering Operations practitioner can wear many titles, including developer experience, tech enablement, and engineering program management, for brevity, we use the collective term of Engineering Operations/EngOps in this blog post.

Having EngOps as a specialization in your tech organization means being able to anticipate the needs of your developers. Practitioners are the hunters of bottlenecks and inefficiencies, rescuing developer teams from churn, frustrations, and disengagement from their work.

What Engineering Operations Owns

Engineering Operations is not the same as an HR or DevOps team. They are only focused on the development process, not company-wide tools or staff choices. This is a highly specialized team looking to accelerate and scale programs and systems that directly impact your developers.

EngOps unlocks an engineering team’s ability to improve and scale their developer experiences with iterative processes and pragmatic approaches to tools and metrics.

They deeply dive into engineering systems with the insight to solve the right problems efficiently, scaling and iterating as the engineering organization grows.

Examples of the scope of Engineering Operations includes:

  • Defining roles, levels, ownership and responsibilities for engineering
  • Implementing processes for reliability management and on-call tools
  • Creating a hiring process that exemplifies organization culture, equity, and goals
  • Building a comprehensive technical onboarding program
  • Connect and improve the engineering roadmap
  • Curate and organization learning connections with conferences, talks, and other skill sharing opportunities

Engineering Operations helps ensure the investments you’ve already made in engineering culture, tools, and processes don’t get bulldozed by organizational growth. Such as creating systems that help mitigate the “bus factor” on engineering teams by scaling knowledge beyond key people. Building a system that puts more context in the hands of developers over top-down control enabling developers with autonomy to make decisions about their work and for themselves, creating a better flow of information inside a flow-focused environment.

Acting as a steward to scale these systems for the new expectations, EngOps takes the parts of the developer experience that feel individualized—collaboration, learning, documentation—and turns the experience into scalable systems that can be replicated by anyone in the organization.

Measuring Engineering Operations Impact

Engineering Operations prioritizes the developer experience better than productivity tools because they create solutions, processes, and systems that build breathing space back into the accelerated process. By streamlining the bureaucratic needs of engineering teams and increasing efficiencies for tackling glue work, Engineering Operations reallocates the cognitive load to favor creating code.

Metrics like engineering retention, satisfaction surveys, and team engagement are where the effects of Engineering Operations can be measured.

EngOps identifies the problems faced by growing engineering organizations, verifies the solution fits the culture and goals of the team, and implements the right tools to aid, automate, and scale the solution system-wide. 

Solutions that create an environment that min-maxes developer velocity and flow state can on the surface seem unrelated. When in fact the measurable metrics that engineering organizations care about lie in parallel to the solutions championed by Engineering Operations. For example, reorganizing the team’s calendar system to create less work meetings results in more uninterrupted time to focus on commits, which can be measured in developers giving higher job satisfaction scores in HRIS surveys.

Another example is Engineering Operations taking charge of technical onboarding, resulting in new hires more quickly integrating with their teams and roles, creating a deeper sense of ownership of their products. This affects the metrics of higher retention, more volunteering to participate in onboarding mentorship, and more engagement overall.

Establishing more transparent levels for engineering roles and responsibilities results in greater developer autonomy and increased psychological safety to take risks, experiment and create. This shows up in developer feedback, that they have a greater connection to the product, to team features, and to the needs of customers.

Even implementing new systems, practices, and tools – like how to track engineers’ flow states – can be championed by EngOps practioners doing the legwork before getting buy-in from engineering teams and management. 

In essence, Engineering Operations refines and iterates on the bespoke organizational processes that engineering teams naturally developed over time, and enables these processes to work at scale. Anyone joining the engineering team from this point forward can clearly see what’s needed, what’s expected, and what the team’s goals are, intuitively. No translation or archaeological digs into the code required.

Today’s engineering challenges are complex and multifaceted, that’s why growing engineering teams benefit from adding Engineering Operations, who can champion an environment workflow that actually improves developer experience. 

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