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FinOps Foundation Insights

There Are No Runners

June 20, 2024 | Article: 5 minute read

Key Insight: While you can get to a Run state for individual FinOps Capabilities, your entire practice can not exist in a perpetual Run state across all Capabilities. Clouds, business strategies, and the economy are changing all the time. Mature FinOps practices have the ability to prioritize Capabilities that are important right now, and deprioritize others as changes occur. The FinOps Framework Capabilities each contain a Maturity Assessment that Practitioners can use to perform continuous assessment of organizational need for that Capability.

J.R. Storment announces that “there are no runners” at FinOps X 2024.

If you attended FinOps X in San Diego this year, you were greeted with banners, key cards, and a Keynote presentation bearing the phrase There Are No Runners. In this article, we explain what this phrase means, and why it is important for FinOps Practitioners to understand.

Change is constant

Runners is a term some have used to describe an organization that has reached a high maturity level in the FinOps Maturity Model. While an organization may be operating at a Run state for individual Capabilities, the environment is continuously changing. New areas of focus come into view (e.g., carbon-aware FinOps), new resources and technologies become available (e.g., Artificial Intelligence), mergers and acquisitions occur, and macroeconomic conditions shift business strategies. These changes require the organization to reassess their operations for each Capability, which may reveal that a Capability previously operating at a Run state is now at a Walk or Crawl.

Further, there is always room for improvement. Even when talking with organizations that are not facing major change, we find that self-described Runners have challenges and are looking to improve in certain Capabilities.

Running is not the goal

The FinOps Foundation recently published an article cautioning against using the phases of maturity to describe one’s FinOps team or practice. This is because FinOps Maturity is not a measure of how good your FinOps practice is. Crawling is not bad. Running is not good. And walking is not somewhere in between. Maturity does not equal goodness, quality, or even experience.

This is true for one’s overall practice, and it is also true for each Capability: Running in a Capability does not mean you are doing it well. In fact, if your organizational needs could be met with Walk level activities, then one might say you are actually wasting time and resources to run a more complex operation, when you should be using the time and resources elsewhere. Simply put, what is good is doing what you need. Organizations should perform each Capability at the minimum state that enables the organization to get value from cloud operations.

Running should describe the breadth of what your team can do in a Capability. Running means something different for each Capability. Each Capability in the Framework includes a Maturity Assessment that details what this function looks like at the Crawl, Walk, and Run states. Take Anomaly Management as an example. Its description lists the activities expected of this Capability at each state of Maturity. In the Crawl state, organizations are manually checking for anomalous spending and may only require rudimentary alerts. In the Walk state, they may be using tools that alerts them and helps to diagnose anomalies. In the Run state, various thresholds of alerting to different stakeholders, and automated mechanisms to resolve alerts might be established. You can see how operating at a Run stage in Anomaly Management could be excessive for an organization with only a handful of engineers.

Maturity Assessment for Anomaly Management:

It may be helpful to think of the states of FinOps Maturity as ranging from simple to complex. Simple is not necessarily bad or good. Complex is not necessarily bad or good. More mature organizations can handle a wider variety of challenges and a more complex environment than those who are less mature.

Some organizations may feel that they are operating at a Run state in nearly every Capability. But the nature of cloud operations is very dynamic. As the environment around you changes, and business goals shift, so do your operational needs. A new cloud, new application architecture, or new acquisition can quickly change the organization’s goals and requirements. FinOps teams can go from Running to Crawling again with a single change that adds complexity to their environment. This is not just okay, it should be expected.

What does There Are No Runners mean?

Just as the Crawl, Walk, Run maturity model reminds FinOps teams to start simply, There are no runners underlines the point that getting to Run is not the goal, and it’s not the end of the line. Even if a team is operating some or all Capabilities at a Run state, the organization’s needs will change. A high-performing FinOps team responds to their shifting environment by continuously reexamining the Maturity Assessments for each Capability and finding opportunities to reduce operational burden where possible. This may mean adopting new skills to deal with more complexity, or may entail simplifying the organization’s use of cloud to move from Run state to Walk or even Crawl. This is not something to be feared, but to be expected and celebrated. The ability to shift in response to changing needs is the true mark of a good FinOps team.

FinOps Maturity: Like tending a garden

We can think about managing our FinOps practice like we think about tending to a garden. There are many important activities (Capabilities) that one might need to perform in order to bear fruit (achieve cloud value), including watering, fertilizing, aerating, weeding, pruning, etc. Some of those activities require more attention (and knowledge) than others. For example, if your soil is very hard and dry, you may need to water and aerate well before planting seeds, but very little weeding is needed at that time. Later, conditions will have changed, so a gardener must adjust the time and energy put into each gardening activity. Aerating may no longer be critical, but pruning becomes very important.

The introduction of a new greenhouse (cloud provider) to the garden brings a new set of challenges the gardener is unfamiliar with which resets the maturity they have in their gardening practice, as the gardener learns the watering, fertilizing, and pruning practices that relate to this new style of growing plants.

Being a good gardener is not about doing all of these activities to the maximum degree at the same time. Instead, it’s about focusing your attention on the activities that are going to yield the most fruit. The best gardeners are those who do just the right amount of each activity at just the right point in time.

Why does this matter?

It is important for FinOps Practitioners to understand that there is no finish line. The ever-changing nature of cloud operations requires teams to stay curious, agile, and on the lookout for shifting business needs. A big benefit of cloud is the agility it enables, and FinOps Practitioners must meet agile operations with continuous assessment of need. The danger for FinOps Practitioners is “resting on one’s laurels” by reaching a Run state and failing to re-assess needs or learn new skills.

FinOps Practitioners can learn a lot from the model security professionals exemplify. Cloud security teams are constantly developing new approaches to scan their environment for potential threats, and constantly evolving their guidance on how to build secure systems. Similarly, FinOps Practitioners should constantly scan the environment to look for changing conditions that may require different processes or activities, and provide guidance to their stakeholder Personas on how to keep the cost of cloud use in mind.

What should you do differently?

The FinOps Foundation published a process that Practitioners can use to assess their Capabilities with the Maturity Model. FinOps Practitioners should cycle through this simple process regularly. When reviewing the Crawl, Walk, and Run criteria for each Capability, Practitioners should ask themselves if moving toward a new state of Maturity for a Capability will actually drive more business value, and avoid working toward a Run state simply to achieve a Run state.

The key word is assess, as in continuous assessment of the organization’s needs is how one truly realizes success with FinOps. Maintaining a culture of continuous iteration and improvement, with constant reflection on whether or not you are focusing on the right activities, using the right KPIs, and prioritizing the right Capabilities, is how FinOps Practitioners help the organization achieve the most value from their cloud investments.

We hope you come away with the following understanding:

  1. Running is not good or bad
  2. Maturity is a reflection of the complexity an organization faces in its cloud use
  3. Even if Running in a Capability, your needs will change such that Running may not always be ideal
  4. Regular re-assessment is the goal for FinOps teams
  5. Performing all Capabilities as needed (not all at a Run) is how you perform FinOps well

The future of FinOps is integrated

FinOps teams in the early days of cloud scrambled to catch up with innovative and explosive cloud growth. FinOps started in many organizations dealing with the results of a disordered cloud experiment that just got more complicated as time went on. Early FinOps teams needed to manage complexity in response.

Today, FinOps teams are able to influence system engineering, cloud platform and strategy, application architecture, even decisions about what products to launch in the first place. FinOps is becoming more and more integrated into the fabric of both IT and the organization as a whole. FinOps teams are in a position to assess the full cost—not just in IaaS cloud services, but in data center private cloud costs, licenses, carbon, and opportunity cost—of an organization’s IT plans.

As we look toward the future of FinOps, one thing is clear: there is no finish line. Teams that have success with FinOps are continuously assessing the organization’s needs, and constantly shifting activities in response to their changing environment in an effort to simplify decision making. Successful teams understand that there is no end state to reach, because FinOps, like the nature of cloud operations, is integrated into a continuous cycle of operations.

  • FinOps Foundation Perspectives

Related assets

Key 2024 Changes to the FinOps Framework FinOps Maturity: Using the Model to Assess your Capabilities FOCUS 1.0 is Now Available. Practitioners and Clouds Continue Adoption.