Avoiding the DevRel ROI Trap with Better Strategic Alignment

What’s the first question when a developer advocate meets a developer advocate?
What’s the first question when a developer advocate meets a developer advocate?

The endless search for the holy metric

Numerous studies, tweets, and conferences indicate that the battle for the measurability of DevRel is far from over. DevRel professionals still spend their time looking for the killer DevRel KPI — a golden metric that would lead to salvation and justification of their’s team existence once and for all.

What if KPIs are not *always* the answer?

I’m not saying KPIs are not important, I’m just saying that we shouldn’t solely rely on them and that we shouldn’t spend our youth defining them.

A recipe for a perfect strategy

To put things in a broader context, allow me a little detour and let me share a simplistic model of what I consider a good strategy:

DevRel strategy = Company Strategy ∩ Developers’ Needs ∩ What developer avocados are good at
A perfect DevRel strategy recipe that’s strikingly reminiscent of Ikigai
  • doing someone else’s job, or
  • worrying about being unable to explain your actions, or
  • not doing DevRel work at all.
DevRel strategy != Other people’s jobs, not advocating for devs’ needs, things not aligned with company strategy

Strategic alignment tools

If you do a quick search through the web, you’ll stumble upon more than one methodology for strategic alignment. At Kentico, we were lucky enough that our management team decided to adopt OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) across the whole company. This enlightened decision came more than 2 years ago and I think we’ve made good progress since then and learned to avoid the biggest traps through time.

OKRs helped us pick our battles and become active participants in the broader company strategy.

The relation between KPIs and OKRs

Let me get one thing straight — OKRs and KPIs are not contradictory concepts, neither are they replacements for one another. Au contraire, they can play together nicely and complement each other. But it’s necessary to understand the difference and learn when to apply one or the other.

Real-world implementation of OKRs for DevRel

Planning

Every year, we’re presented with a couple of very high-level annual objectives by the management team. These, usually 3–5, objectives change slightly every quarter but the core goals typically remain the same.

The order of steps during the planning session is essential. We first take into consideration the company strategy, and only then we try to map our skills and our knowledge about developers to it in order to come up with the right mix of activities.

Tracking

Once we’re happy with the definition of our OKRs, we track progress on a weekly basis. This consists of two components — first, we check-in the progress to Perdoo (the OKR management software we use), and second, we assemble a short report for the weekly department newsletter. Since we all contribute to the same high-level objectives, there is always something relevant and meaningful to report. These bullet-ins are usually not very number-heavy — they feature product updates, customer success stories, influencer highlights, partnerships, etc. If our colleagues want to dive into details, they can go to Perdoo and browse through the hierarchy of objectives and sub-objectives, check how we are progressing in terms of numbers.

Regular updates close the gap between the executives and teams.

Lessons learned

There are a few things we learned along the way that make the DevRel team more efficient and credible when it really comes to metrics and measurability:

  • We learned to settle for less-than-ideal metrics, sometimes for metrics influenced indirectly. We favor simplicity over excessive accuracy.
  • We learned not to depend on other teams when it comes to collecting data for reporting. Often, people like customer success managers or sales reps have the data you’re looking for but they’re also often swamped with work so they forget to report it.
  • We learned to pay attention to how people within the company understand our work and goals. If we notice, e.g. during a retrospective meeting, that there is a lack of information or understanding somewhere, we don’t hesitate and set up an OKR to change that. Hint: a good way to solve this issue is to collaborate on a project with the given person or team.
  • We learned to introduce new KPIs only when we see a repetitive pattern that we can measure in the long-term and that gives us actionable info. We revise our KPIs regularly and drop metrics that are no longer relevant. We monitor things like API and SDK adoption, Developer NPS, adoption of 3rd party tools, and some essential community metrics.

How strategic alignment helped our DevRel

Strategic alignment, and especially OKRs, significantly helped change the perception of DevRel in our company. OKRs testify about our ability to adapt to the company strategy. And the fact that we are aligned with the company strategy means that we have (success) stories to tell every week — stories that everybody actually understands and can relate to. This tremendously helped establish the trust of both peers and stakeholders and prove value to them. Ultimately, it means less stress for all involved parties.

If culture eats strategy for breakfast, then strategy eats metrics for brunch.
If culture eats strategy for breakfast, then strategy eats metrics for dinner the night before. 😀

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