Bridging the Gap Between Executives and Individual Practitioners
December 01, 2022

Leo Vasiliou

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You could argue that, until the pandemic, and the resulting shift to hybrid working, delivering flawless customer experiences and improving employee productivity were mutually exclusive activities. Evidence from Catchpoint's recently published Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) industry report suggests this is changing.

According to the report, Elite performing organizations (according to DORA maturity metrics) emphasize customer experience reliability without ignoring the importance of employee experience reliability. In fact, Elite performing organizations were found to be 260% more likely to substantially focus on Customer Experience reliability versus Low-performing organizations.

SREs are at the center of this intensified reliability drive, charged with improving the reliability of services and solving infrastructure and operational problems. In outlining the challenges they face in successfully implementing reliability initiatives, talent hiring was the most prominent, alongside lack of end-to-end visibility and complexity of architecture. However, a running theme behind the findings was the misalignment between practitioners and management.

The Stark Dichotomy Between Individual Practitioners and Executives

In multiple critical areas, the report revealed a gulf in the point of view between Individual Practitioners (ICs) and Executives. To illustrate, consider one of the report's researched topics: Tool sprawl. The question: "How large of a problem is tool sprawl for your company?" Note the difference in responses below.

While both groups had a net "Not at all" or "Minor" response to whether tool sprawl is a problem, the delta between the personas is noticeable.

In the example below, respondents were asked to rate the value received from Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations (AIOps).

Going left to right in each of the two categories, note how the skew of the general trend goes in completely different directions. A question remains whether the 45.4% who are unsure would have made this gulf in opinion even wider.

The polarity between management and ICs was obvious in other situations as well. When asked which personas preferred Google Workspace to Microsoft 365, the only respondents to prefer Google Workspace were Individual Practitioners.

The same trend occurred in relation to communication and collaboration within organizations, a core DevOps culture asset. The data showed that respondents communicate and collaborate markedly less with sales and marketing teams, followed closely by executives and customer support. Only 24.9% said they collaborated with executives often.

Why Do ICs and Executives Disagree So Broadly?

This question was raised by Google's Steve McGhee, who contributed to the SRE Report. "One interpretation," he says, "is that Execs are looking at the bigger picture, and ICs are focusing on a smaller portion, missing the context. That's certainly the traditional (Taylorist) model employed at many Enterprises today, but we can do better. By providing transparency, context, and rationale around budgets, revenue and loss, teams can better understand trade-offs made "above them" instead of simply throwing POs up to management to see what sticks."

Bridging the Gap

Executives and ICs need to find new opportunities to communicate and collaborate, reevaluate feedback loops, align to define shared goals and objectives, and drive accountability for data-driven decisions versus making them based on authority or funding alone.

But what do these new, better, or more agile conversations look like in practice?

1. Focus on capabilities

Individual capabilities are the gateway to positive business outcomes. With business leaders' drive to show business value on one end and ICs' fixation on "speeds and feeds" at the other end of the spectrum, focusing on what individual capabilities are required and why is vital. Questions like "How do we ensure we can guarantee user experiences are not disrupted when we change a component in our application or Internet stack?" will go a long way towards achieving alignment.

2. Ensure a blameless environment

Consider improving your culture by implementing an "agile conversation" approach to overcome cognitive bias and fear. One finding from the report was that enterprises operating with a "just culture" are 500% more likely to be Elite performing organizations. So, when reevaluating communication and feedback loops, ensure a just culture of openness, sincerity, and transparency.

3. Remove bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values. It's easy for personas within organizations to defend their perspective, especially when stark differences of opinion exist. As you evaluate feedback loops and find new ways of communicating, avoid letting personal bias get in the way.

What Does the Future Hold?

Evidence suggests that hybrid work policies make the communication and collaboration necessary to produce reliable, resilient systems even harder to fulfil. When asked what facet of work life had been affected the most by sustained work-from-home policies, 44.7% of respondents said "Relationship building" was much or somewhat worse.

Despite that, nearly 50% of respondents claimed that innovation velocity was "about the same" and productivity was 31.3% net "better" since working from home. Is maintaining this level of innovation sustainable in an environment where Executives and ICs disagree so broadly or when building relationships is harder to do? Time will tell.

Leo Vasiliou is Director of Product Marketing at Catchpoint
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