(I’d like to thank Jordyn Bonds for contributing to the discussion leading to this article)
Several reports have painted an overwhelmingly optimistic portrait of platform engineering. They portray it as a remedy to solve all efficiency challenges. However, the on-the-ground reality often proves far more nuanced. In this post, we will closely analyze findings from the State of Platform Engineering 2023 Report to highlight inconsistencies between the surveys’ rosy outlook and real-world complexity.
The aim is not to disparage platform engineering, but to shine a light on the complexities inherent to the approach of which surveys provide limited insight.
Anticipating potential platform engineering obstacles smooths the journey considerably, and makes considering alternative approaches more appealing. Let’s explore the data to reveal where surveys may oversimplify the path ahead:
Costs Up, Returns TBD
Platform engineering is designed to enhance productivity and efficiency. However, 32% of users did not experience any speed up, despite the considerable costs associated with team size, migration, and hiring skilled engineers.
Acceleration? Not So Fast
Over two-thirds (68%) of respondents reported an increase in development velocity after adopting platform engineering, however a whopping 31% reported that velocity stayed the same, decreased or couldn’t be measured. Moreover, 34% reported that cycle time is slower than expected, contrary to the positive outlook presented.
Almost half (47%) cited empowering developer teams as a goal of platform engineering, even though 90% report that developers had not been previously overloaded with [infrastructure] work, suggesting that the goals and realities are either misguided or unaligned.
Some Gains, Big Risks
The report outlines where platform engineering has reportedly helped, however 78% of respondents have concerns about whether their platform team can keep pace with the evolution of the product teams using the platform, a concern that can lead to a significant central point of failure that affects the company and all product lines.
What is it exactly? And why don’t people want it?
Though 94% agree platform engineering enables DevOps benefits, examining the data reveals real-world adoption may prove more complicated. 51% find the concept confusing, suggesting inconsistent understanding. 44% prioritize clarifying platform team expectations, implying uncertainty around their role. 51% have platform teams only 3 years old or less, meaning limited experience to evaluate usefulness.
32% cite resistance and poor communication as major obstacles, potentially from high transition costs. 18% adopted platform engineering not from need or strategy but questionable external pressure. Taken together, these statistics imply that despite confidence in platform engineering, practical understanding, implementation and adoption come with underappreciated complexity and challenges.
The State of Platform Engineering 2023 Report presents an optimistic view of platform engineering adoption. However, close analysis reveals they’re adopted due to external reasons and a more nuanced reality behind the touted benefits like increased efficiency, developer productivity, reliability, and velocity.
Significant real-world challenges temper these benefits, including high costs with slower to no speed improvements and confusion about roles and responsibilities, coupled with long-term sustainability worries.
The report provides limited insight into on-the-ground complexity. The aim of this post is not to discourage platform engineering, but to help anticipate challenges, weigh tradeoffs, and consider emerging alternatives.
In our next post, we’ll dive into those challenges, trade offs, and emerging solutions. To get a notification about the next part in the series, sign up below.