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How platform groups get stuff completed

17 min read

The success of an inside platform is outlined by what number of groups undertake it. Which means a
platform group’s success hangs on their potential to collaborate with different groups, and particularly to get
code modifications into these groups’ codebases.

On this article we’ll take a look at the totally different
collaboration phases that platform groups are inclined to function in when working with different groups, and
discover what groups ought to do to make sure success in every of those phases.
Particularly, the three platform collaboration phases we’ll be are
platform migration, platform consumption, and platform
evolution. I’ll describe what’s totally different in every of those phases,
talk about some working fashions that platform groups and product supply groups
(the platform’s customers)
can undertake when working collectively in every section, and take a look at what cross-team collaboration patterns work
greatest in every section.

When contemplating how software program groups collaborate, my go-to useful resource is the great
Team Topologies e-book. In chapter 7 the authors
outline three Group Interplay Modes: collaboration, X-as-a-service, and facilitating.
There’s, unsurprisingly, some overlap between the fashions I’ll current on this article
and people three Group Topology modes, and I will level these out alongside the best way. I will additionally
refer again to a number of the common knowledge from Group Topologies within the conclusion to this
article – it truly is a particularly beneficial useful resource when fascinated by how groups work
collectively.

Platform Supply groups vs. Product Supply groups

Earlier than we dive in, let’s get clear on what distinguishes a platform group
from different forms of engineering group. On this dialogue I’ll typically check with
product supply groups and platform supply groups.

A product supply group builds options for a corporation’s prospects – the
finish customers of the product they’re constructing are the corporate’s prospects.
I’ve additionally seen a majority of these engineering group known as a “function
group”, a “product group” or a “vertical group”. On this article I will use
“product group” as a shorthand for product supply group.

In distinction, a platform supply group builds merchandise for different groups contained in the
firm – the top customers of the platform group’s product are different groups
throughout the firm. I will be utilizing “platform group” as a short-hand for “platform supply group”.

Within the language of Group Topologies, a product supply group would sometimes be characterised
as a Stream Aligned group. Whereas the Group Topologies authors initially outlined
Platform Group as a definite topology, they’ve subsequently come to see “platform”
as a broader idea, fairly than a definite method of working – one thing I very a lot agree with. In
my expertise in terms of Group Topologies terminology a superb platform tends to function as both
a Stream Aligned group – with their platform being their worth stream – or as an Enabling group, serving to
different groups to succeed with their platform. In actual fact, in most of the cross-team collaboration patterns we’ll
be on this article the platform group is appearing in that Enabling mode.

“Platform” > Inner Developer Platform

There’s a whole lot of buzz in the mean time round Platform Engineering, primarily
targeted on Inner Developer Platforms (IDPs). I wish to make it clear that
the dialogue of “platforms” right here is considerably broader; it encompasses different inside merchandise
resembling an information platform, a front-end design system, or an experimentation platform.

In actual fact, whereas we might be primarily involved with technical platforms, a whole lot of the concepts
introduced right here additionally apply to inside merchandise that present shared enterprise capabilities – a cash motion
service at a fintech firm, or a product catalog service at an e-comm
firm. The unifying attribute is that platforms are inside merchandise utilized by different groups inside a company.
Thus, platform groups are constructing merchandise whose prospects are different groups inside their firm.

platform groups are constructing merchandise whose prospects are different groups inside their firm

Phases of platform adoption

Okay, again to the various kinds of cross-team work. We’ll look
at three situations that require collaboration between platform groups
and product supply groups: platform migrations, platform consumption, and
platform evolution.

As we take a look at these three phases, it is necessary to notice two particular
traits: which group is driving the work, and which group owns
the codebase
the place the work will occur. The solutions to these two
questions vastly have an effect on which collaboration patterns make sense in every
state of affairs.

Platform Migrations

We’ll begin by platform migrations. Migrations contain
modifications to product groups’ codebases in an effort to change over to some new
platform functionality.

We see that in these conditions it is a platform group that is driving the
modifications, however the possession of the codebase that wants altering is sits with a special group – a product group.
Therefore the necessity for cross-team collaboration.

Examples of migration work

What forms of modifications are we speaking about? One comparatively easy
migration could be a model upgrade- upgrading a shared part
library, or upgrading a service’s underlying language runtime.

A typical, bigger migration could be changing direct integration of
a third get together system with some inside wrapper – for instance, shifting
logging, analytics, or observability instrumentation over to utilizing a
shared inside library maintained by a platform group, or changing
direct integration with a fee processor with integration by way of an
inside gateway service of some sort.

One other sort of migration could be changing an present integration right into a deprecated
inside service with an integration into it is substitute – maybe shifting from an previous Person
service to a brand new Account Profile service, or migrating utilization of a
credit-puller and credit-reporting service to a brand new consolidated
credit-agency-gateway service.

A ultimate instance could be an infrastructure-level re-platforming –
dockerizing a service owned by a product group, introducing a service
mesh, switching a service’s database from MySQL to Postgres, that kind
of factor.

Notice that with platform migrations the product group is commonly not particularly motivated
to make these modifications. Generally they’re, if the brand new platform goes to supply some
notably thrilling new capabilities, however typically they’re being requested to make this shift
as a part of a broader architectural initiative with out truly getting an enormous quantity of worth
themselves.

Collaboration Patterns

Let’s take a look at what cross-team
collaboration patterns
would work for platform migration
work.

Farm out the work

The platform group might File a Ticket within the
product groups’ backlogs, asking them
to make the required modifications themselves.

This strategy has some benefits. It’s scalable – the
implementation work may be farmed out to all of the product groups whose
codebases want work. It’s additionally trackable and straightforward to handle – typically
the ticket submitting may be completed by a program supervisor or different venture
administration sort.

Nonetheless, there are additionally some drawbacks. It’s actually sluggish –
there might be lengthy lead occasions earlier than some product groups get round
to even beginning the work. Additionally, it requires prioritization
arm-wrestling – the groups being requested to do that work typically don’t
obtain tangible advantages, so it’s pure that
they’re included to de-prioritize this work over different duties that
are extra pressing or impactful.

Platform group does the work

The platform group may decide to make modifications to the product group’s
codebases themselves, utilizing three comparable however distinct patterns –
Tour of Duty, Trusted Outsider, or Internal Open Source.

With Tour of Duty, an engineer from the
platform group would “embed” with the product group and do the work
from there.

With Trusted Outsider and Internal Open Source the product group would settle for pull
requests to their codebase from an engineer within the platform group.

The excellence between these final two patterns lies in whether or not
any engineer can contribute to the product
group’s codebase, or solely a small set of trusted exterior
contributors. It is uncommon to see product supply groups make the
funding required to help the complete inside open-source
strategy, however common for contributions to be accepted by a
handful of trusted platform engineers.

Simply as with taking the file-a-ticket path, having the platform
group do the work comes with some execs and cons.

On the plus facet, this strategy typically reduces the lead time to
get modifications made, as a result of the group that wants the work to be completed
(the platform group) can also be the one doing the work. Aligned
incentives imply that the platform group is more likely to
prioritize their work than the product group which owns the codebase
would.

On the unfavorable facet, having the platform group do the migration
work themselves solely works if the product group can help
it. They both should be comfy with a platform engineer
becoming a member of their group for some time, or they should have already spent
sufficient time with a platform engineer that they belief them to make
modifications to their codebase independently, or they should have made
the numerous funding required to help an inside
open-source strategy.

One other unfavorable is that this do-it-yourself technique isn’t
scalable. There’ll at all times be much less engineering capability on the
platform group in comparison with the product supply groups, and never
delegating engineering work out to the product groups leaves all that
capability on the desk.

Actually, it’s kind of extra sophisticated

In actuality, what typically occurs is a mix of those
approaches. A platform group tasked with a migration might need
a program supervisor file tickets with 15 product supply groups after which
spend some time frame cajoling them to do the work.
After some time, some groups will
have completed the work themselves however there might be stragglers who’re
notably busy with different issues, or simply notably
disinclined to tackle the migration work. The platform group will
then roll up their sleeves and use a number of the different, much less scalable
approaches and make the modifications themselves.

Platform Consumption

Now let’s speak about one other section of platform adoption that includes
cross-team collaboration: platform consumption. That is the
“regular state” for platform integration, when a product supply group
is utilizing platform capabilities as a part of their day-to-day function
work.

One instance of platform consumption could be a product group
spinning up a brand new service utilizing a service chassis
that is maintained by an infrastructure platform group. Or a
product group could be beginning to use an inside buyer analytics
platform, or beginning to retailer PII utilizing a devoted Delicate Information
Retailer service. For instance from the opposite finish of the software program stack,
a product group beginning to use parts from a shared UI part
library is a kind of platform consumption work.

The important thing distinction between platform consumption work vs platform
migration work is that the product group is each the driving force of the work, and
the proprietor of the codebase that wants altering – the product group has a broader purpose of its
personal, and they’re leveraging the platform’s options to get there. That is in distinction
to platform migration the place the platform group is making an attempt to drive modifications into different group’s codebase.

With platform consumption With the product group as each driver and proprietor, you may suppose that this platform
consumption state of affairs mustn’t require cross-team collaboration.
Nonetheless, as we are going to see, the product group can nonetheless want some help
from the platform group.

Collaboration patterns

A worthy purpose for a lot of platform groups is to construct a completely self-service
platform – one thing like Stripe or Auth0 that’s so well-documented and
simple to make use of that product engineers can use the platform while not having
any direct help or collaboration with the platform group.

In actuality, most inside platforms aren’t fairly there,
particularly early on. Product engineers getting began with an
inside platform will typically run into poor documentation, obtuse
error messages, and complicated bugs. Usually these product groups will
throw up their arms and ask the platform group to pitch in to assist
them get began utilizing the options of an inside platform.

When a platform shopper is asking the platform proprietor for
hands-on help we’re again to cross-team collaboration, and as soon as
once more totally different patterns come into play.

Skilled providers

Generally a product group may ask the platform group to
write the platform consumption code for them. This could be as a result of
the product group is struggling to determine tips on how to use the
platform. Or it could possibly be as a result of this strategy would require much less
effort from the product group. Generally it is only a misunderstanding
the place the product group does not suppose they’re presupposed to do the work
themselves – this will occur when shifting right into a devops mannequin the place
product groups are self-servicing their infra wants, for instance.

On this state of affairs the platform group kind of turns into a bit of
skilled providers group throughout the engineering org, integrating
their product into their buyer’s methods on their behalf.

This skilled providers mannequin makes use of a mix of
collaboration patterns. Firstly, a product group will sometimes File a Ticket
requesting the platform group’s providers. This is similar
sample we checked out earlier for Platform Migration work, however
inverted – on this state of affairs it is the product group submitting a ticket
w. the platform group, asking for his or her assist. The platform group can
then truly carry out the work utilizing both the Trusted Outsider or
Internal Open Source patterns.

A typical instance of this collaboration mannequin is when a product
group wants some infrastructure modifications. They wish to spin up a brand new
service, register a brand new exterior endpoint with an API gateway, or
replace some configuration values, in order that they file a ticket with a
platform group asking them to make the suitable modifications.

This sample is often seen within the infra house, as a result of it
perpetuates an present behavior – earlier than self-service infra, submitting
a ticket would have been the usual mechanism for a product group
to get an infrastructure change made.

White-glove onboarding

For a platform that is in its early levels and missing in good
documentation, a platform group may decide to onboarding new product
groups utilizing a “white glove” strategy, working side-by-side with
these early adopters to get them began. This may help kickstart
the adoption of a brand new platform by making it much less onerous for the product
groups who go first. It will probably additionally give a platform group actually beneficial
insights into how their first prospects truly use the platform’s
options.

This white-glove mannequin is often achieved utilizing the Tour of Duty
collaboration sample – a number of platform engineers will
spend a while embedded into the consuming group, doing the
required platform integration work from inside that group.

Fingers-on does not scale

We are able to see that the extent of hands-on help {that a} platform
group wants to supply to shoppers can differ so much relying
on how mature a platform’s Developer Expertise is – how nicely it is
documented, how simple it’s to combine and function towards.

Within the early days of a platform, it is sensible for platform
consumption to require a whole lot of power from the platform group
itself. The developer expertise remains to be a bit of rocky, platform
capabilities are maybe nonetheless being constructed out, and consuming groups
are maybe a bit of skeptical to speculate their very own time as guinea
pigs. What’s extra, working side-by-side with product groups is a
good way for a platform group to grasp their prospects and what
they want!

Nonetheless hands-on help does not scale, and if broad platform
adoption is the purpose then a platform group should spend money on the
developer expertise of their platform to keep away from drowning in
implementation work.

It is also necessary to obviously talk to platform customers what
help mannequin they need to anticipate. A product group that has obtained
white-glove help within the early days of platform adoption will look
ahead to having fun with that have once more sooner or later until
knowledgeable in any other case!

Platform Evolution

Let’s transfer on to take a look at our ultimate platform collaboration section: platform
evolution
. That is when a group utilizing a platform wants modifications within the platform itself, to fill a niche within the platform’s
capabilities.

For instance, a group utilizing a UI part library
may want a brand new sort of <Button> part to be added, or for
the present <Button> part to be prolonged with further
configuration choices. Or a group utilizing a service chassis may need that chassis to emit extra
detailed observability info, or maybe help a brand new
serialization format.

We are able to see that in Platform Evolution section the group’s respective
roles are the other of Platform Migration – now it is the product
group that is driving the work, however the modifications have to happen within the
platform group’s codebase.

Let us take a look at which cross-team
collaboration patterns make sense on this context.

File a ticket

The product group might File a Ticket with the platform group,
asking them to make the required modifications to their platform. This
tends to be a really irritating strategy. Usually a product group solely
realizes that the platform is lacking one thing in the mean time that
they want it, and the turnaround time for getting the platform group
to prioritize and carry out the work may be method too lengthy – platform
groups are sometimes overloaded with inbound requests. This results in
the platform group turning into a bottleneck and blocking the product
supply group’s progress.

Transfer engineers to the work

With enough warning, groups can plan to fill a niche in
platform capabilities by briefly re-assigning engineers to work
on the required platform enhancements. Product engineers might do a
Tour of Duty
on the platform group, or alternatively a platform engineer might
be part of the product group for some time as an Embedded Expert.

Transferring engineers between groups will inevitably result in a
short-term impression on productiveness, however having an embedded engineer
can improve effectivity in the long term by decreasing the quantity of
cross-team communication that is wanted between the product and the
platform groups. The embedded engineer acts as an envoy,
smoothing the communication pathways and decreasing the video games of
phone.

This equation of mounted upfront prices and ongoing advantages means
that re-assigning engineers is an choice greatest reserved for bigger
platform enhancements – shifting an engineer to a different group for a
couple of weeks could be extra disruptive than useful.

These kinds of short-term assignments additionally require a comparatively
mature administration construction to keep away from embedded engineers feeling
remoted. With an Embedded Knowledgeable – a platform engineer re-assigned
to a product group – there’s additionally a danger that they turn into a common
“further hand” who’s simply doing platform consumption work, fairly than
actively engaged on the enhancements to the platform that the
product group want.

Work on the platform from afar

If a platform group has embraced an Internal Open Source strategy then a
product group has the choice of straight implementing the required platform modifications
themselves. The platform group’s function could be principally consultative,
offering design suggestions and reviewing the product group’s
PRs. After just a few PRs, a product engineer may even acquire sufficient
belief from the platform group to be granted the commit bit and turn into
a Trusted Outsider.

Many platform groups aspire to get to this case – would not it
be nice in case your prospects have been empowered to implement their very own
enhancements, and prevent from having to do the work! Nonetheless, the
actuality of inside open-source is much like open-source on the whole
– it takes a shocking quantity of funding to help exterior
contributions, and the massive majority of shoppers do not turn into
significant contributors.

Platform groups needs to be cautious to not open up their codebase to
exterior contributions with out making some considerate investments to
help these contributions. There may be deep frustration all
round if a platform group proudly proclaim in an all-hands that
their codebase is a shared useful resource, however then discover themselves
repeatedly telling contributors from different groups “no, no, not like
THAT!”.

Conclusion

Having thought of Platform Migration, Consumption, and Evolution, it is clear that there is a wealthy selection in how
groups collaborate round a platform.

It is also obvious that there is not one right type of collaboration. One of the simplest ways to work collectively relies upon not simply on
what section of platform adoption a group is in, but additionally on the maturity of the interfaces between groups and between methods.
Anticipating to have the ability to combine a brand new inside platform in the identical hands-off, as-a-service mode that you simply’d use with a
mature exterior service is a recipe for catastrophe. Likewise, anticipating to have the ability to simply make modifications to a product supply
group’s codebase once they’ve by no means accepted exterior contributions earlier than isn’t an affordable assumption to make.

be collaborative, however just for a bit

In Group Topologies, they level out that the easiest way to design good boundaries between two groups is to initially work collectively
in a targeted, very collaborative mode – consider patterns like Embedded Expert and
Tour of Duty. This era can be utilized to discover the place the perfect boundaries
and interfaces to create between methods, and between groups (Conway’s Legislation tells us that these two are inextricably entwined).
Nonetheless, the authors of Group Topologies additionally warn that it is necessary to not keep on this collaborative mode for too lengthy. A platform
group needs to be working exhausting to outline their interfaces, seeking to transfer rapidly to an “as-a-service” mode, utilizing patterns like
File a Ticket and Internal Open Source. As we mentioned within the Platform Consumption part,
the extra collaborative interplay fashions merely will not scale so far as the platform group is anxious. Moreover, collaborative modes
impose a a lot larger cognitive load on the consuming groups – shifting to extra hands-off interplay types permits product supply groups
to spend extra of their time targeted on their very own outcomes. In actual fact, Group Topologies considers this discount of cognitive load as
the defining function of a platform group – a framing which I very a lot agree with.

Navigating this shift from extremely collaborative to as-a-service is, in my view, one of many greatest
challenges {that a} younger platform group faces. Your prospects turn into comfy with the high-touch expertise. Constructing nice documentation is tough.
Saying no is tough.

Platform groups working in a collaborative mode needs to be maintaining a climate eye for scaling challenges. As the necessity for a shift
in the direction of a extra scalable, hands-off strategy seems on the horizon the platform group ought to start signaling this shift to their prospects.
An early warning as to how the interplay mannequin will change – and why – provides product groups an opportunity to organize and to begin
shifting their psychological mannequin of the platform in the direction of one thing that is extra self-sufficient.

The transition may be painful, however vacillating makes it worse. A product supply group will recognize clearly
communicated guidelines of engagement round how their platform suppliers will help them. Moreover, eradicating the crutch of hands-on
collaboration gives a robust motivation to enhance self-service interfaces, documentation, and so forth. Conway’s Legislation is in impact right here –
redefining how groups combine will put stress on how the group’s methods combine.

A platform group succeeds on the again of collaboration with different groups, and that collaboration can take many kinds. Choosing the proper
kind includes contemplating the kind of platform work the opposite group is doing, and being sensible concerning the present state of each groups
and their methods. Getting this proper will enable the platform group to develop adoption of their platform, however as that adoption grows the
group should even be intentional in shifting to collaboration modes which are much less hands-on, extra scalable, and decrease cognitive load for the
shoppers of that platform.


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