Staying relevant with an iterative API governance strategy


API governance refers to the implementation of policies that standardize how APIs are designed, built, and deployed across an organization. It can be challenging, however, to develop an effective API governance strategy—especially at enterprise scale. It’s important to avoid boiling the ocean; that is, API governance champions should start small and build incrementally in order to keep their efforts relevant across the entire organization.

The first step is to take inventory of the teams, APIs, and artifacts in your organization’s API landscape. Then, you can draft blueprints that capture how APIs are being delivered and operated within the most successful teams. You’ll want to conduct as many conversations across teams and domains as possible—while keeping the big picture in focus. You should also identify the outputs emitted by each blueprint’s infrastructure, services, and tooling in order to ensure you have the necessary observability to inform next steps.

Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that your platform-led API governance strategy—like your APIs themselves—will constantly evolve. It’s therefore critical that you version your API governance strategy to prepare for change and remain relevant.

In this post, we’ll explore each of these best practices in more detail.

Ensure everything is discoverable

You can’t govern what you can’t find, which is why API governance should always begin with discovery. You’ll want to start with teams and their workspaces before moving on to APIs themselves. As you map this landscape, it’s important that you not only index all of the artifacts that exist within the identified workspaces and repositories, but also gather as much information as possible about the relevant API lifecycles. These efforts will lay the groundwork for an iterative API governance strategy that makes API artifacts and operations discoverable, shareable, and reusable across your organization. They will also lead to meaningful changes in where and how your developers work—and establish discovery as a default part of the governance process.

Map what’s in motion with team blueprints

As your API landscape comes into view, the next step is to map out the basics of how successful teams are operating—with an emphasis on how they are designing, developing, deploying, and managing their APIs. These blueprints will provide the seeds that can grow into a more mature API governance policy, and they can also be used to educate and enable other teams on best operational practices.

It’s important to work closely with the relevant existing teams as you produce these blueprints in order to properly showcase how they get things done. Setting API governance in motion through a bottom-up, team-led effort also ensures early alignment and gives teams a real stake in your organization’s larger API governance journey.

Stay connected through conversations

Conversations are crucial to the success of your API governance effort. Reaching out to teams, building relationships, and talking to both business and technical stakeholders will uncover essential insights that can be used to make important decisions. Organizations should therefore implement a simple and sustainable engagement strategy that codifies how these conversations will be documented and used to shape API governance.

Intentional engagement helps ensure that your conversations will have a positive impact on the first version of your API governance strategy—and establish feedback loops that will guide future API governance efforts. Regular conversations between API governance champions, leadership, and teams will also help everyone stay in-sync with what is going on across a platform in an API-first world.

Improve observability to inform next steps

API observability refers to the ability to identify any outputs from your API operations and use them to understand the state of your API landscape. The more outputs you can tap, the more insight you will have into what’s going on. This makes the ability to access history and activities across API workspaces—and to pipe results from collection runs into APM, where they can be monitored—an essential part of API governance. Teams won’t always have the time or bandwidth to report on their activities, but observability helps automate the pipeline of information that is necessary to keep API governance alive and effective.

Embrace change by versioning governance

Change is an inevitable part of working with technology, and the modern API lifecycle is all about optimizing for operational change at scale. This makes versioning an essential part of an API governance strategy. Versioning allows leaders to not only establish a plan for handling changes to their API governance strategy, guidelines, and rules, but also effectively communicate about these changes in order to maintain alignment and stay on track. In fact, versioning is so important that, even if you have implemented discoverability, created blueprints, and conducted conversations across teams, your API governance efforts will not remain relevant on the ground without it.

A step-by-step journey

API governance facilitates cross-organizational collaboration, streamlines API workflows, and helps businesses remain relevant in dynamic and highly competitive industries. An effective API governance strategy doesn’t come together overnight, but if you approach the process one step at a time, your organization—and your customers—will reap the benefits for years to come.

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