This document outlines some general best practices that have been key to Backstage's success inside Spotify. Every organization is different and some of these learnings will therefore not be applicable for your company. We are hoping that this can become a living document, and strongly encourage you to contribute back whatever learnings you gather while adopting Backstage inside your company.
The true value of Backstage is unlocked when it becomes THE developer portal at your company. As such it is important to recognize that you will need a central team that owns your Backstage deployment and treats it like a product.
This team will have four primary objectives:
Maintain and operate your deployment of Backstage. This includes customer support, infrastructure, CI/CD and, as your Backstage product grows, on-call support.
Drive adoption of customers (developers at your company).
Work with senior tech leadership and architects to ensure your organizations best practices for software development are encoded into a set of Software Templates.
Evangelize Backstage as a central platform towards other infrastructure/platform teams.
The last objective deserves more attention, since it is the least obvious, but also the most critical to successfully creating a consolidated platform. When done right, Backstage acts as a "platform of platforms" or marketplace between infra/platform teams and end-users:
While anyone at your company can contribute to the platform, the vast majority of work will be done by teams that also have internal engineers as their customers. The central team should treat these contributing teams as customers of the platform as well.
These teams should be able to autonomously deliver value directly to their customers. This is done primarily by building plugins. Contributing teams should themselves treat their plugins as, or part of, the products they maintain.
Case study: Inside Spotify we have a team that owns our CI platform. They not only maintain the pipelines and build servers, but also expose their product in Backstage through a plugin. Since they also maintain their own API, they can improve their product by iterating on API and UI in lockstep. Because the plugin follows our platform design guidelines their customers get a CI experience that is consistent with other tools on the platform (and users don't have to become experts in Jenkins).
Example of tactics we have used to evangelize Backstage internally:
Arrange "Lunch & Learns" and seminars. Frequently offer teams interested in Backstage development to come to a seminar where you show, for example, how to build a plugin from scratch.
Embedding. As contributing teams start development of their first plugin it is often very appreciated to have one person from the central team come over and "embed" for a Sprint or two.
Hack days. Backstage-focused Hackathons or hack days is a fun way to get people into plugin development.
Show & tell meetings. In order to build an internal community around Backstage we have quarterly meetings where anyone working on Backstage is invited to present their work. This is a not only a great way to get early feedback, but also helps coordination between teams that are building overlapping experiences.
Provide metrics. Add instrumentation to your Backstage deployment and make metrics available to contributing teams. At Spotify we have even gone so far as sending out weekly digest email showing how usage metrics have changed for individual plugins.
Pro-actively identify new plugins. Reach out to teams that own internal UIs or platforms that you think would make sense to consolidate into Backstage.
KPIs and metrics
These are some of the metrics that you can use to verify if Backstage has a successful impact on your software development process:
Onboarding time Time until new engineers are productive. At Spotify we measure this as the time until the employee has merged their 10th PR (this metric was down 55% two years after deploying Backstage). Even though you may not be onboarding engineers at a rapid pace, this metric is a great proxy for the overall complexity of your ecosystem. Reducing it will therefore benefit your whole engineering organization, not just new joiners.
Number of merges per developer/day Less time spent jumping between different tools and looking for information means more time to focus on shipping code. A second level of bottlenecks can be identified if you categorize contributions by domain (services, web, data, etc).
Deploys to production Cousin to the metric above: How many times does an engineer push changes into production.
MTTR With clear ownership of all the pieces in your micro services ecosystem and all tools integrated into one place, Backstage makes it quicker for teams to find the root cause of failures, and fix them.
Context switching Reducing context switching can help engineers stay in the "zone". We measure the number of different tools an engineer have to interact with in order to get a certain job done (e.g. push a change, follow it into production and validate it did not break anything).
T-shapedness A T-shaped engineer is someone that is able to contribute to different domains of engineering. Teams with T-shaped people have fewer bottlenecks and can therefore deliver more consistently. Backstage makes it easier to be T-shaped since tools and infrastructure are consistent between domains, and information is available centrally.
eNPS Surveys asking about how productive people feel, how easy it is to find information and overall satisfaction with internal tools.
Fragmentation (Experimental) Backstage Software Templates help drive standardization in your software ecosystem. By measuring the variance in technology between different software components it is possible to get a sense of the overall fragmentation in your ecosystem. Examples could include: framework versions, languages, deployment methods and various code quality measurements.
Additionally, these proxy metrics can be used to validate the success of Backstage as the platform:
Nr of teams that have contributed at least one plugin (currently 63 inside Spotify)
Nr of total plugins (currently 135 inside Spotify)
% of contributions coming from outside the central Backstage team (currently 85% inside Spotify)
Traditional metrics such as visits (MAU, DAU, etc) and page views. Currently ~50% of all Spotifiers use Backstage on a monthly basis, even though the percentage of engineers is below 50%. Most engineers actually use Backstage on a daily basis.
Again, any feedback is appreciated. Please use the Edit button at the top of the page to make a suggestion.
Note! It might be tempting to try to optimize Backstage usage and "engagement". Even though you want to consolidate all your tooling and technical documentation in Backstage, it is important to remember that time spent in Backstage is time not spent writing code 🙃