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Platform Engineering and the Hype Cycle: Traversing the Trough of Disillusionment (Webinar Recap)

Last week, Abby Bangser hosted Cat Morris and me for a webinar focusing on "Platform Engineering and the Hype Cycle: Traversing the Trough of Disillusionment." Abby set the scene for the discussion, and Cat provided the viewpoints of a platform implementer and I took the perspective of an analyst.

You can download the slides via the Syntasso Speaker Deck and watch the webinar recording via LinkedIn or the YouTube embedding below.

Read on for a brief webinar summary and to learn why you need to care about traversing the trough of disillusionment with platform engineering!

Platform engineering and the trough of disillusionment

Abby opened the presentation by introducing the Gartner Hype Cycle as a model for technology diffusion and adoption. She quoted Mark O'Neill, Gartner's Chief of Research for Software Engineering, who commented on our webinar event:

"Now that Platform Engineering is close to the peak of the Hype Cycle, there is only one way for it to go: down! But Platform Engineering still has significant hype so it will take some time to reach the Trough of Disillusionment. What draws trends into the dreaded Trough are public examples of failures, and/or negative sentiment about the technology in the community. So we are tracking that."

Abby mentioned that the Syntasso team have begun to see platform engineering challenges being shared in forums like Reddit.

We're starting to hear of platform failures

The important question to ask is, what can we do about this?

Key platform engineering challenges

Although it is perhaps inevitable that platform engineering as a concept will hit the trough of disillusionment, Abby provided an overview of three important challenges for platform builders to help minimise their chances of falling too deeply into the trough. She suggested focusing on the following:

  • Removing roadblocks for developers

  • Codifying and sharing organisational policies

  • Avoiding platform decay

For the remainder of the webinar, Cat explored these challenges from an implementer's perspective, and I provided commentary from the perspective of an analyst.

Three key challenges for platform engineering

Removing roadblocks for developers

For the first challenge, "removing roadblocks for developers," Cat suggested that platform engineering teams focus on lowering developers' cognitive load and "serving the many, not the few."

She provided context from a KubeCon EU talk, "Unlocking Banking Innovation," by Chris Plank, Enterprise Architect at NatWest Group, and Derik Evangelista, Principal Engineer at Syntasso.

"Natwest, had great platforms for those trying to do complicated stuff but that still required a lot of knowledge and didn't actually help the majority of their engineering teams."

Removing roadblocks for developers

I introduced the findings of the Accelerate State of DevOps Report 2023, framing my discussion around "50% of respondents can deploy less than once per week."

Platform teams often navigate a healthy tension between providing a platform's “proof of value” to dev teams and avoiding the “build it, and they will come” antipattern. My advice included creating an "enabling team" (from Team Topologies) and focusing on overcoming constraints and pain points identified by interviewing customers of the platform, i.e. talking to developers.

Codifying and sharing organisational policies

I began the discussion of the next challenge, "codifying and sharing organisational policies," by quoting the Harness State of DevEx 2024 report: "42% of developers say they can't release code to production without risking failure." The same report also shared that 59% of developers say application security requirements limit their ability to release code frequently. Clearly, the "shift left" philosophy we hear so much about isn't working as intended.

Codifying and sharing organisational policies

Cat doubled down on this commentary by saying that security breaches are a big deal and have financial, regulatory, and reputational risks. Often, compliance and governance approaches within enterprise software delivery are "human-centric," and scaling this is an issue.

In successful projects she has worked on, Cat saw that even rudimentary codification and automation of compliance checks and security scanning could positively impact developers' cognitive load and confidence in shipping.

Avoiding platform decay

For the final challenge, "avoiding platform decay," I leant into another recent Gartner report from Bill Blosen and Annie Hodgkins, "How to Set Effective Value Metrics for Platform Engineering" (which is paywalled). Establishing goals and measuring progress is key to any platform engineering effort.

I discussed using leading indicators, such as platform adoption rates, developer onboarding times, and "time to nth pull request," to make early course corrections when building a platform. I also shared my learning about using lagging indicators, such as application retention rate, near misses mitigated, and return on investment, to drive stakeholder engagement.

Avoiding platform decay

Cat cautioned that from an implementer perspective, we all know that measuring things may help, but in practice, this drops to the bottom of the to-do list while you’re firefighting. And platform teams working within a large enterprise are often firefighting.

Both Cat and I gave a shout-out to Abby, who had previously presented an entire webinar on the topic of platform decay. We encourage you to read the summary blog post if you are interested in this topic.

Wrapping up

Concluding the webinar, Abby reminded attendees that platform engineering will inevitably enter the "trough of disillusionment." This is simply part of the technology adoption lifecycle. Being intentional about designing and building your platform "as a product" is key to mitigating many of the risks associated with platform engineering.

platform engineering is about to enter the trough of disillusionment

Your platform should support the following goals:

  • Provide “everything as a service” to help rapidly and sustainably deliver value to end-users

  • Automate manual processes in reusable components

  • Manage and scale your digital platform and resources as a fleet

Learn more

You can learn more about building platforms as a product from these resources:

Any questions? Please get in contact!

Thanks to all attendees for asking great questions during the live event. We are always keen to answer more, and so please reach out to us via the Kratix OSS Slack or on social media!

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