Avoiding Lone FinOps Purgatory: When and how to grow your FinOps team

By Dann Berg

Published or Updated on

We are hiring sign outside building Photo from Usplash

This post was originally published on the Vantage blog, where I am currently the Director of Community.

Being the first FinOps hire at a company can be a very rewarding challenge, but there inevitably comes a point when it’s time to grow the team. Depending on the experience of the FinOps Practitioner, this threshold might be obvious or it might be fuzzy.

This can lead to what I call Lone FinOps Purgatory. This is when a solo FinOps Practitioner remains a solo FinOps Practitioner long after the point at which the team should have grown. The result of Lone FinOps Purgatory is stagnation, boredom/burnout, and decreased morale.

Lone FinOps Purgatory happens when a company believes that the current level of FinOps function is “good enough,” and the FinOps Practitioner (who understands the greater potential for value) doesn’t have a way to properly justify further investment from the company.

It’s time to demystify the process of growing a team. There are two parts we’ll cover: identifying when it’s time to grow, and justifying that growth to senior leadership.

Two ways to grow a team

There are two easy ways to justifiably grow a team:

  1. There is a new, specific function that you’d like your team to perform
  2. There is current, recurring work that you’d like to hand off

You can make a case to grow your FinOps team if you can identify a new, specific function that you’d like your team to do. For example, a cross-company initiative to overall tagging, a new team-specific cost showback program, or a major re-architecting of an application (or applications) to reduce cost.

This is a slightly harder approach to growing your team, because you’ll want to define a complete function out of theory instead of out of practice. You’ll need to understand the value that you want to provide to the company, how to execute that vision, and be able to find a new employee who is able to execute on that vision.

Often, this is the type of growth that happens when a company does an opportunistic hire. If there is a high-value candidate on the market and a company wants to hire that candidate even though there isn’t a specific open role for that candidate at the time, then the new employee is being hired to create net-new value.

Alternately, and much more easily, you can justify FinOps team growth when there is recurring work that you are currently performing that is taking time away from you providing new, additional value to the company.

Often, providing value in the FinOps organization works like this:

  1. Explore an analyze the data
  2. Make a valuable discovery
  3. Present that discovery to the relevant team or group
  4. The team or group finds it high value
  5. This analysis becomes recurring work

If you’re a solo FinOps Practitioner, this means that on a long enough timeline, your entire day will be filled with recurring work, and none of the independent analysis/exploration that allowed you to provide that initial value.

This also means that your company believes that you provide value, because of the recurring work that you’re doing, and thus doesn’t have a motivation to grow the team or allow you the space to find additional avenues of value.

This is where Lone FinOps Purgatory happens. A solo practitioner spending all their time performing recurring work, of high value, to a satisfied company. But with no opportunity or potential for growth (career-wise for the Practitioner, or function-wise for the company).

It’s at this point that a FinOps Practitioner should consider making a case to grow the team, by handing off recurring work and freeing up their own time to both oversee this new candidates and have time to explore new ways to provide value.

Making a case for growth

Once you’ve identified that you can provide additional value to the company by growing the FinOps team, it’s time to work on two distinct documents: detailed documentation of your process for performing your recurring work and a business case that justifies this growth to the company.

Note: just because you have a solid business case, it doesn’t mean you’ll be approved to hire an additional team member. This can depend on factors outside your control, like the economic climate, how your company is doing, and what head count budgets are like.

Documenting your work process

Creating detailed documentation of your work process may feel weird if this isn’t something you’ve explicitly written before. In many ways, it can feel like you’re giving up your secrets, giving away the information that makes you, as an employee valuable.

But the process that you created isn’t yours, it’s the companies’. And documenting this process in a form that can be executed by a third party is the best way to provide value to the company beyond the work itself. There is no professional benefit to gatekeeping this information. Documenting your processes, and finding a way to delegate that work and create new value, is the best way to grow and advance in your career.

Headcount business case

Once you have clear process documentation, it’s time to create a business case to justify additional headcount. You should do this as soon as you identify the need — you don’t need to wait for right economic conditions. Sharing this document, on the other hand, should be strategically timed in order to have ethe highest chance of success.

If you are at a large enough company, there may be an existing headcount justification template that you can use to make this business case. Explore shared drive files or talk to your manager in a one-on-one if you think you should explore this route.

It’s much more likely, however, that you’ll be starting from scratch and making this file yourself. A business case for headcount is an actual document that has the following information:

  • The current recurring work that you are doing, and the value that work provides
  • The amount of time that work takes each week (should be 20 - 30 hours)
  • How this recurring work has growth potential with someone else owning the process
  • Additional avenues of value you hope to explore once you have time

When writing this document, it’s important to remember that no one else is in-the-weeds with your FinOps work every day, and so no one else understands the space as well as you. Use this document to get them up-to-speed, and explain concepts that may seem really basic to you. Your goal should be to bring people into your world of FinOps, allowing them to speak as intelligently about your work as you can.

Once you have a draft of this document, you’ll want to share it strategically. Your first step should be sharing it with your manager for feedback. At this point, you’re legitimately looking for feedback, not yet trying to actually make your case.

Your manager’s feedback will dictate future action you need to take. The worst case is that this is completely dismissed out-of-hand, in which case you now have new information about the lack of growth potential. This can be valuable for you personally, in terms of your own FinOps career and growth potential.

Ideally, your manager will have feedback for you in terms of the strength of your case (and how to improve it), and when it might make sense to push on this harder (ie there may be the potential for new headcount next quarter). Use this as an opportunity to improve your document and ready it for a future point when it may be shared more broadly.

If the company is open to additional headcount, the business case document that you created will provide the ammunition needed to justify an additional FinOps hire to senior management. It should be socialized. Your manager may share it with their manager, or even more broadly. You’ve given them the tools to tell the powers-that-be that additional headcount should go to FinOps, rather than another team.

It can be frustrating feeling stuck in Lone FinOps Purgatory. But instead of feeling defeated, you should see it as an opportunity for personal professional growth. The ability to identify when a team needs to grow, and to justify additional headcount at a company are valuable skills. If you’re feeling stagnant in your career, don’t wait for external means to help push you forward. Take the initiative yourself and see if you can convince your company to grow your FinOps team.

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