SRE Report 2023: Are we Aligned? Yes. No. Maybe.
Each year of the SRE Report, there’s a trend or anti-pattern that leaps out and makes us pause and reflect. This year, we saw a misalignment between practitioners and management in several key areas.
Each year of the SRE Report, there’s a trend or anti-pattern that leaps out and makes us pause and reflect. Last year, for example, we found a huge drop in global toil levels. With the whole world working from home for a full year, it made sense that global toil levels would drop, right? But this year, despite the great reopening underway, toil levels dropped even further - it's a paradox, one which no doubt will require its own scrutiny.
In this year's report, a curious pattern emerged when we dug deeper into how roles/ranks (e.g., individual practitioners (IPs) versus C-suite executives) answered specific opportunity or challenge questions. A running theme behind the averages was a misalignment between practitioners and management in several key areas.
Value received from AIOps
For a second year, we asked respondents to rate the value they received from Artificial intelligence for IT Operations (AIOps). This year’s data tallied with last year’s - with the majority of reliability practitioners responding that the value received from AIOps is low or none. When we analyzed the responses by rank, however, we found that 59% of executives said they received moderate or high AIOps value. On the other hand, only 20% of IPs said the same.
Reading left to right in each of the categories, the skew of the general trend goes in completely different directions. A not insignificant 45% of the respondents said they were unsure, so the gulf in opinion could be even wider.
How much of a problem is tool sprawl?
Next up, we asked how large a problem tool sprawl was. Despite what is regularly touted in the industry press, nearly 60% of respondents stated that tool sprawl was a minor or non-existent problem for their company. However, when we analyzed the responses by rank, we found a similar pattern to the AIOps question. 43% of IPs stated that tool sprawl is a moderate or serious problem, compared to just 22% of executives.
There are good reasons why this may be the case. Business leaders often consider only the tools on the balance sheet, whereas in practice, IPs sometimes silently cobble together tools to achieve a spot result - tools which are completely invisible to executives. It’s also important to align on what counts as tool sprawl. In the report, we defined tool sprawl not simply as the number of tools in the stack, but a comparison of the received value of the tools in the stack versus their cost. So if the received value is higher than the cost, can there really be a tool sprawl problem to speak of?
Perception of blamelessness
This year, we partnered with Blameless to analyze how organizations learn from failure. The headline finding here was that organizations that operate with a “just culture” are 500% more likely to be Elite performing organizations. Digging deeper into the data, however, revealed yet another perception gap across roles.
Managers and executives less frequently put their organizations into the highest levels of blamelessness, with only 10% saying they are extremely or very blameless. Conversely, 45% of engineers consider their organizations tend toward the higher end of the blameless spectrum. How is this dichotomy to be explained? Do managers and executives see “blamefulness” as driving a more accountable culture? Or is there a different perception of what blameless means in practice among these groups?
Productivity suite preference
The difference of opinion between management and IPs was obvious in other situations as well. When asked which personas preferred Google Workspace to Microsoft 365 (one of our survey tactical engagement questions), the only respondents to prefer Google Workspace were individual practitioners. Cue: hearty chuckles from IP survey readers.
Impact of The Great Resignation
We asked how much of an impact The Great Resignation had on a range of aspects, including morale, productivity, talent hiring/retention, innovation velocity and relationship building, almost a quarter of respondents said talent hiring and retention were the most seriously impacted, which is hardly surprising. What was intriguing, however, was seeing how different personas had different tendencies in their answers.
The Great Resignation’s impact on talent hiring or retention seemingly was felt more strongly by managers and senior managers. Notice the contrast with executives who skew sharply toward “no” or “minor” impact.
Communication and Collaboration
Commenting in the SRE Report on the disparity between business leaders and executives, Adriano Velasco Nunes, CEO and Co-Founder of Stagefy, points the finger of blame at a lack of communication.
“In looking at the disparity between how individual practitioners (SREs) and executives regard several core SRE tenets, such as the value of AIOps and whether or not tool sprawl is a challenge, it illustrates not only a lack of communication between the groups but also their different priorities and perspectives.” Adriano Velasco Nunes, CEO and Co-Founder of Stagefy
Responses to our communication and collaboration question in the survey suggest Adriano is onto something. Respondents communicated and collaborated markedly less with sales and marketing teams, followed closely by executives. A potential barrier to bridging this communication gap is that achieving common ground on what constitutes business value is notoriously challenging.
When we asked, “What is the number one challenge hindering successful reliability implementations?” as an open-ended question, “Business value is hard to realize” came in third place. So how do you bridge the gap between SREs’ fixation on “speeds and feeds” on one hand and business leaders' laser focus on “showing business value” on the other?
Time to have new or better conversations
An opportunity exists for executives and IPs to find new avenues to communicate and collaborate, reevaluate feedback loops and align to define shared goals and objectives. Adriano, quoted earlier, says, “Greater communication to improve alignment is essential, as is improved clarity in setting business goals across teams. Not to mention that accountabilities regarding tools also need to be clearly defined so that maximum value is derived from every tool.”
A top recommendation in the report is to make specific capabilities the focus of new, better, or more agile conversations.
“Remember that specific capabilities are the gateway to greater alignment and positive business outcomes. They bridge the gap between “speeds and feeds” on one end of the spectrum versus “business value” on the other.”
Beware too of politics, personal beliefs and biases, which have a habit of causing personas to defend their view. So, when reevaluating communication and feedback loops, ensure a just culture of openness, sincerity, and transparency.
What’s the bottom line?
How concerned should we be about these perception gaps in the grand scheme of things? Employees and business leaders misaligning is hardly something new. When the CEO asks at the close of a meeting, “Are we aligned?” everyone invariably nods and then often executes their own interpretation of said alignment. Could these perception gaps, however, be signs of deeper rifts developing between IPs and executives?
During “The Great Resignation”, the balance of power was firmly in the hands of employees. With the threat of a global recession on the horizon, however, The Great Resignation seems to have morphed into The Great Regret for many. Apparently, a quarter of Americans who quit during the 'Great Resignation' regret their decision, with many finding it harder than expected to find a new job. With the balance of power shifting back to executives, how will these misalignments around core SRE tenets be examined and rectified?
Analyzing how different roles answered specific questions was a first in the history of the SRE Report and led to some thought-provoking insights. Needless to say, we’ll be keeping a close eye on more potential dichotomies next year.