I began reading The Phoenix Project with no preconceptions, other than having been told that it is a great book, and hearing it mentioned many times on Eric Wright‘s GC On Demand podcast.
Written by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Stafford, it is told as a first-person narrative from the perspective of Bill, a middleware team manager who is promoted into a senior IT management role for a business in jeopardy. Through his experiences and a guiding hand from another key character, together we work through the problems facing the business, the IT department and the individuals within.
The story is told in an easy to read, informal style, and I made quick work of it over the course of just a few days. I really enjoyed it on numerous levels:
- I recognised every single character in the book as somebody I have worked with (or indeed currently work with!). I guarantee you will feel the same!
- The book was pretty well written, and the story arc itself was compelling. I was really rooting for Bill to succeed in his endeavours! (But did he? You will have to read the book to find out!)
- The authors obviously have a great sense of humour! Quotes such as “Show me a dev who isn’t crashing production systems, and I’ll show you one who can’t fog a mirror. Or more likely, is on vacation.” had me laughing out loud on the train in front of other passengers!
- The book is approachable and not elitist. You could pick it up as a cable monkey or an IT director (or maybe even a Sales person!!!), and relate to the concepts and methods described.
- I learned a huge amount about different methods for handling and improving processes around WIP (Work in Progress), such as the Theory of Constraints or the use of Kanban boards (I am currently testing this with my pre-sales customer workloads using Trello, but I’m told Kanbanize is also very good). Resilience Engineering (think Netflix Simian Army) and numerous other techniques are also covered, along with the overarching “Three Ways” (very Zen!).
- I actually picked up a few key tips which could be applied directly to my pre-sales design and requirements gathering workshops with my customer stakeholders.
- Finally, it didn’t feel “preachy”, which is always a risk when trying to sell an idea / concept as your main theme and I was initially concerned that the book would be ramming DevOps culture down my neck throughout. This could not be farther from the truth, and the full DevOps concepts do not come into play until the story is almost complete. There are many lessons to be learned throughout the story, which could be applied to any organisation!
Here are another few choice quotes from The Phoenix Project, both humorous and insightful:
|“The only thing more dangerous than a developer is a developer conspiring with Security. The two working together gives us means, motive, and opportunity.”
“How can we manage production if we don’t know what the demand, priorities, status of work in process, and resource availability are?”
“You just described ‘technical debt’ that is not being paid down. It comes from taking shortcuts, which may make sense in the short-term. But like financial debt, the compounding interest costs grow over time. If an organization doesn’t pay down its technical debt, every calorie in the organization can be spent just paying interest, in the form of unplanned work.”
“On the other hand, if a resource is ninety percent busy, the wait time is ‘ninety percent divided by ten percent’, or nine hours. In other words, our task would wait in queue nine times longer than if the resource were fifty percent idle.”
In case you hadn’t felt like I was positive enough about The Phoenix Project yet, I would say that this book should be provided as mandatory training to every person working in every IT department today, from the guys plugging in cables to the CIO!
If you do read and enjoy the book, I highly recommend also reading The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. I was a little surprised, to say the least, that this appears to be a very similar story, following a similar arc and some almost identical characters to The Phoenix Project. That said, I am half way through it at the moment and still thoroughly enjoying it, though I am not too worried about missing the movie version!
The Goal delves even deeper into the Theory of Constraints and explains some of the tools we can use to mitigate, bypass or remove constraints in a system. All of these tools and methods can be applied as easily to IT as they can to production lines, which (without stating the bleeding obvious) is exactly the point of The Phoenix Project!
Anyway, if you want to do yourself a favour both in terms of your career development, but also a really compelling story and a thoroughly decent book, you could do a lot worse than spending £5 on the Kindle Edition of The Phoenix Project!
Where To Get Them
For anything technical, I like to buy ebooks these days for both portability and the fact that I wont be chopping down trees needlessly. Both of the above titles are available very inexpensively on Kindle:
Sincerest apologies for one of the most click bait-y blog titles I’ve ever posted! Even worse than this one. Honestly, I feel ashamed!
I’ll get my coat…