Scaling an API programme through API coaching

One of the challenges encountered with API programmes is effectively scaling a Center of Excellence (CoE) or Center for Enablement (C4E). Often, a CoE/C4E will be comprised of people that are both passionate and experienced in API design. However, these people have finite time available to answer API-related questions from teams across the organisation. This bottleneck often results in slow response times and lost opportunities to help teams when they need it. API coaching is a strategy to equip people all over the organisation to better support teams when and where they need API guidance. Let’s take a look at the role of API coaches and how you might consider incorporating them into your API programme.

What are API coaches?

While the API CoE/C4E wishes to help every team with their API design needs immediately, limited resources present scaling issues. Members of a CoE/C4E are unable to keep up with the latest initiatives across the organisation. They may lack some context of the specific domain area, requiring more time to be effective when offering API design feedback.

API coaches enable an API program to scale across the organisation by offering one-on-one engagements and self-service resources. Typically, API coaches are comfortable with designing APIs and facilitating API design discussions with teams.

An effective API coaching programme recognises that the API CoE/C4E cannot be available all the time, instead opting to equip qualified coaches with the resources they need to support teams within their area. The CoE/C4E provides a central place for API coaches to raise issues or gain assistance, but otherwise operate independently.

While some API coaches may be a side-of-desk role in addition to other responsibilities, many API coach programmes designate dedicated API coaches within a specific line of business or business unit. They apply their deep knowledge of the area as part of their coaching efforts, making engagements more effective and contextually relevant.

Where does API coaching happen?

API coaching is typically structured in one of three ways:

  • Global API Coaching that is dedicated within the C4E to offer general API design guidance across the organisation
  • Domain API Coaching that focuses within a specific domain area, line of business, or business unit. Domain-level API coaches are more familiar with the day-to-day needs and specifics of their assigned area compared to global API coaches
  • Hybrid coaching that mixes the two models, allowing for centralised coaching when domain API coaches are unavailable or need additional assistance

The types of API coaching

An API coaching programme may offer one or more of the following services to the organisation:

  • Community Engagement – Offer quick turnaround Q&A via a chat session. Some programmes may consider offering a StackOverflow topic for wider community reach in the future. Both of these services require assigning rotating coverage to avoid missing someone’s inquiry
  • API Office Hours – Weekly meetings attended by API coaches that offer brief interactive Q&A guidance to teams as-needed. Interactions are typically limited to 10 or 15 minute discussions, with anything requiring more details to move to a dedicated coaching session
  • API Design Coaching Session – A 1-hour API design discussion focused on a specific area of a team’s API design challenges. Teams request an API coach from the pool of the available coaches, then work out the scheduling details with the coach.
  • API Design Reviews – For organisations that have mandatory API design reviews before promoting an API to production, API coaches are the first line of review before the final determination is made. In some organisations, API coaches may be given approver status that allows them to perform design reviews and approve them for promotion to production
  • API Design Engagement – a “white glove” engagement where a team is assigned an API coach to facilitate design sessions. These engagements are demanding and are often applied to high-profile and/or high-priority initiatives that benefit from additional hands-on design guidance

Is API coaching a good fit?

Designing and implementing an API coaching programme requires time and effort. The API CoE/C4E must put focused effort into designing sufficient resources and processes to support API coaches. Doing so will ensure that the coaches feel supported and limit the number of times they have to reach out to the CoE/C4E for assistance. Organisations embarking on this journey must ensure they have support from their managers and executives so that sufficient resources are available to grow the programme once established. Otherwise, the API coaching initiative will languish.

Getting started with API coaching

Does API coaching seem like a good fit for your organisation? Be sure to start small, perhaps with one or two coaches to start. Establish the necessary resources and processes to help them be effective. Communicate their availability on an as-needed basis at first, then seek to promote the programme to a broader audience when they are ready. As the programme grows, be sure to capture metrics and case studies that demonstrate the positive results of having an API coaching programme. This will help to justify the effort put forth and quantify the number of new API coaches required as demand increases.