Site Reliability Engineering needs product managers

I first heard of Amazon’s Cloud Centre of Excellence (CCOE) concept back in 2016, to say I was cynical would be an understatement. There was a fad, back in the late nineties – early 2000’s to call your team a centre of excellence. As with all such things many of the teams who adopted the moniker were anything but.

Earlier this year, I was at Just Eat, and our Amazon account manager mentioned the CCOE again. We had a good relationship and he fully understood the product-focussed SRE transformation that I was bringing to Just Eat. Again I scoffed at the idea. Just Eat have been in AWS for a while, they have all the fundamentals locked down. Just Eat’s cost management and infrastructure efficiency is the best I’ve ever seen. The security model is sound and well implemented. The deployment tooling is mature and capable and unlike many who migrate to AWS Just Eat are still innovating, they didn’t just stick with the services that were in place when they first migrated. What did we need a CCOE for?

I suspect Amazon have this problem all the time. We’re all busy, we’re trying to satisfy multiple different stakeholders who all have conflicting requirements. We’re trying to grow our team’s capabilities and improve the current solutions while also exploring new capabilities. It can be hard to look up from all that to see the opportunities that are being offered to you.

This is particularly embarrassing for me to admit. I maintain that SRE teams need technical directors because someone needs to be free from the details so they can focus on the longer term strategic goals. Unfortunately I had a bit of detail I couldn’t delegate at the time and I missed the opportunity that Amazon presented me with.

If you haven’t read my book, Next Gen DevOps, you might not know what I’m talking about when I talk about product-focussed SRE.

I maintain that the software we use: Ansible, Chef, Cloudformation, Docker, Dynamo, Kinesis, Kubernetes, Puppet, Packer and all the others are not what’s important. What matters to the organisations we work in are the outcomes we deliver from the products we build with these tools. What matters to developers are that they have reliable, consistently configured environments. What matters to finance teams are that we are demonstrably using infrastructure efficiently. What matters to our engineers is that they can see how what they’ve built contributes to the business’ success and their personal growth.

These are the things that provide value to our customers, the developers, finance people, and security teams. Not the software, languages, configuration and infrastructure that go into making them. These products need vision, roadmaps, budgets, and objectives and key results.

Product-focussed SRE describes an SRE function that recognises that their products exist to server their customers first and foremost and be grounded in real customer needs before we even consider the technology.

Amazon describe the Cloud Centre of Excellence as:

CCOE

(https://docs.aws.amazon.com/whitepapers/latest/cost-optimization-laying-the-foundation/cloud-center-of-excellence.html)

I’ve highlighted the bit that I missed.

I already knew Amazon shared my view about product-focus. It was obvious, EC2 exists because Amazon needed a fast way to provision servers for Amazon.com. Jeff Bezos’ insistence that all teams built their services with APIs made it possible for Amazon to sell EC2 as a service for the rest of us and the cloud was born. However the Cloud Centre of Excellence takes this idea a step forward, they are now recommending that their customers adopt a product-focus too.

This article was co-written with Anthony Fairweather Product Manager for SRE at Just Eat when we were discussing it he gave me this lovely little snippet (that I suspect he wrote for a presentation):

“In the platform team @ Just Eat we’ve embedded a continuous cycle of user engagement (with our engineers) and a prioritisation methodology that ensures we’re always focussing on the outcomes that deliver the most value. Our definition of value is fluid, depending on the business context we are operating in and the risk profile we’re carrying. Think of this like a pendulum that swings between reliability and development velocity.” Anthony Fairweather

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