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Structural Agility With Engineering Ops

Ruth Hadari
Agile Advocate, Engineering Ops Expert
Posted on
Oct 22, 2020
Updated on
Nov 3, 2021
Table of Content

Companies that use agile development are like a forest - The sprint cycle stresses efficiency and short, rigid timelines, but with continuous sprint engagement, it can become hard to see the forest for the trees. 

The difference between being lost in the woods and finding your way safely out is your sense of direction. Some teams have an innate sense of how to navigate smaller projects. Others need a compass to guide them. The role of engineering ops is to provide the direction necessary to keep your project on track.  

What is Engineering Ops?

Software engineers think systematically. Solid design requires linear thinking. But problems arise that are outside the purview of your typical software development team. These problems include customers who suddenly change development requests, IT issues, and even acts of god. There are any number of external factors that can affect your development cycle in a qualitative way, and that can be difficult for software engineers to overcome.   

According to GoodFirms, nearly 54% of software developers identified customers who change their mind and their product requirements as being the single biggest challenge that they face. The second biggest challenge, clocking in at nearly 18%, was the need for a continual performance management program. At the other end of the spectrum, 6.5 % of respondents cited integrating technology and facilitating exchange between different platforms as a significant hurdle. Together, these three factors dominate the challenges software development teams face because they don't necessarily have a straightforward, systematic solution. 

That's where engineering ops comes into play. 

Engineering ops goes by many names: technical program manager, technical project manager, and release manager but it is synonymous with an operational engineer. It is ultimately a broad category. An operational engineer is someone who oversees the big picture items, someone who can keep track of all the project's moving parts, including:

  • Job roles
  • Data analysis
  • Changes in project requirements or priorities
  • Distribution of resources
  • Tracking and interpreting sprint results
  • Communicating with stakeholders
  • And most importantly, managing people and their stress level

To start a career in engineering ops, a person should have at least a Bachelor's degree in engineering and knowledge of software development. An operational engineer is an individual that can keep track of work on a structural basis. They excel at analyzing processes and big picture operations; they specialize in identifying areas of opportunity and working with key stakeholders to improve workflows and efficiencies on a macro level. Most importantly, they're able to communicate hard-to-understand software development concepts into layman's terms. 

An engineering ops professional is your software development team's compass and guide. 

More Than Just a Project Manager

It would be easy to call the engineering ops professional just another project manager, but there are some important differences between the two roles. 

A project manager typically keeps the overall project on track while looking for ways to maximize the team's efficiency and streamline their workflow. There is a distinct focus on automating software development. According to Tech Beacon, the role of project manager is all about crafting repeatable processes that minimize wasted time and resources.  

In reality, being successful at software development requires a great deal of creativity, particularly when it comes to problem solving. The real issues that hinder the development cycle aren't all that predictable; they require on-the-ground agility and a fresh perspective. 

Engineering ops isn't a system bent on reforming your sprint team's work methods. The operational engineer serves as a quarterback, making adjustments as needed, calling the audible when they see the blitz coming. The operational engineer is able to deploy any and all company resources to address architectural issues as they arise, all while keeping the greater project goals in focus. 

Why Engineering Ops is Important to Your Agile Process

If your company employs an agile process, the goal is delivering component units of work at speed while continuously improving their process. That requires an intense focus as well as introspection come retro time. Engineering ops serves as a high-level support for all your company's scrum teams, one that can iron out the large-scale, programmatic wrinkles ahead of individual scrum activities. 

How exactly does an operational engineer do that? By using data to address problems with your company's overall sprint process. That comes in the form of interpreting all information available and using it to establish a more functional team synergy. Through their efforts and skills, they can create better functioning scrum teams and give struggling employees extra coaching opportunities to bring them up to speed.

On the topic of data, engineering ops can also encourage communication between different departments and software. Data silos are a problem that every company runs into from time to time. A data silo occurs when information and metrics aggregate and get stuck in one particular system or department, preventing vital information from being disseminated company wide. It's the job of an operational engineer to make data work for them. To do that effectively, they need to work out methods that facilitate the exchange of information between disparate systems. 

The role of engineering ops is more complicated than numbers and data, however. A significant part of the role requires people skills. A good operational engineer must be able to translate difficult, job-specific concepts to upper-level management, and even the public at times, in terms that they can understand. 

Engineering ops' most important function, however, is to add predictability to your process. Continual performance improvement is at the core of the sprint process, and that's where engineering ops shines: methodically refining your practices to create a more streamlined, data-driven, and predictable team with the true "agility" to deal with a complex workload.  

Improving Your Operations Through Engineering Ops

Project management is nothing new. It's an age-old concept meant to bring order, structure, and efficiency to a development team. Instead of a compass, it uses a bulldozer to level the forest and the playing field. 

Engineering ops is a new and emerging trend in the world of software development. It employs a more creative and subtle approach driven by data and holistic problem solving to help guide your project to completion when your team starts to lose sight of the goal. The role of engineering ops is built to integrate with the agile mindset and works in synchronicity with improvement activities like the sprint retrospective. Through engineering ops, you'll not only add efficiency to your processes, but a structural, company-wide agility as well. 

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