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2.5 Coaching

A product delivery organization consists of many people who are organized in teams. The SRE transformation process has a clear goal to establish SRE as the central methodology for production operations in the teams. However, running the SRE transformation is not like running a project with predefined milestones to be tracked. Rather, the SRE transformation process is a network of induced changes and feedback on the changes cast in parallel at different teams and individuals. Many teams will be transforming at the same time, but the changes and feedback loops will be unique per team and individual. This is illustrated in Figure 2.6.

Figure 2.6

Figure 2.6 SRE transformation process

Now, how do you set up the SRE transformation process in the way shown in Figure 2.6?

One way to run the SRE transformation is by means of coaching. According to Wikipedia, “coaching is a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance.”3 It follows that coaching works with people and teams on an individual basis. This is the kind of approach needed for being empathetic and structured at the same time when running the transformation.

What makes coaching particularly interesting in the context of the SRE transformation is that it already exists as a discipline at both the organizational and team levels. According to the Institute of Coaching, “Organizational coaching aims at fostering positive, systemic transformation within organizations.”4 Within the broad theme of coaching, organizational coaching is a well-established discipline.

Team coaching, on the other hand, is a more recent and less structured discipline. It gained significance in the past decade. According to TPC Leadership, “team coaching is the art of facilitating and challenging a real team to maximize its performance and enjoyment in service of meaningful organizational goals.”5

That is, coaching as a discipline with distinct subdomains of organizational coaching and team coaching is going to be a suitable approach for running the SRE transformation. Both types of coaching would be applied simultaneously and would work in tandem. However, when choosing organizational and team coaching as a methodology to run the SRE transformation, the question is, who would do the coaching? Who can act as a coach if the organization is new to SRE? Would external coaches be required? Would it be possible to develop internal coaches? If so, who would develop the internal coaches? Different approaches are possible here.

External coaches can be valuable to bring a fresh experience-based SRE perspective to an organization and quickly establish an understanding of SRE basics across the board. However, SRE coaches with experience doing successful SRE transformations are really difficult to find in the industry. This is because the first original SRE book by Google, Site Reliability Engineering: How Google Runs Production Systems, was only published in 2016.6 Given that SRE transformations are taking several years to achieve in larger organizations, the pool of available coaches is going to be rather small.

Another aspect is that precisely because an SRE transformation takes several years to run in a larger organization, employing external coaches for the transformation time frame is hardly a financially viable option. It follows that coaches for SRE transformation need to be found and grown internally.

Which options would the coaches have to learn about SRE and bring themselves to a level that is necessary to coach others? Both the aforementioned Google book Site Reliability Engineering and Google’s The Site Reliability Workbook: Practical Ways to Implement SRE7 are a great and necessary starting point. These books will show potential coaches what needs to be done to achieve SRE with the sophistication and scale of Google. Additional books by former Googlers—Implementing Service Level Objectives: A Practical Guide to SLIs, SLOs, and Error Budgets8 and Real-World SRE: The Survival Guide for Responding to a System Outage and Maximizing Uptime9—provide additional in-depth experience perspectives on SRE.

It is our aspiration that this book in particular will show potential coaches how SRE can be put in place in an organization that has never done operations the SRE way before. Further, the coaches can network with others at relevant conferences and industry events. Two conferences can be of special interest: SRECon10 by USENIX and the DevOps Enterprise Summit11 by IT Revolution. These conferences can be a great place to develop relationships with others practicing SRE or running SRE transformations. These relationships might lead to opportunities to visit other companies that are further along in the SRE journey. Seeing is believing, and seeing another company running the SRE process in a sophisticated manner can significantly boost one’s own transformation. 12

Finally, the coaches can learn while running the SRE transformation in their own organization. In a larger organization, teams will inevitably adopt SRE at different speeds. Taking the learnings from the teams that lead the SRE transformation and transporting them to the teams catching up is a very valuable part of coaching. It enables the coach to gain experience and the teams to learn from each other.

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