The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps and Helping Your Business Win
Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford
What the book is about:
The Phoenix project is a fictional novel about the importance, impact and use of Information Technology in a manufacturing organization. While its definitely not a work of literature, its not a study book either. I felt it’s a book which tells the story of IT and its importance for business success in modern day manufacturing firms from the viewpoint of a CIO/enterprise architect/business consultant.
Bill Palmer is the Director of Midrange Technology Operations for the IT division of an automotive parts company - Parts Unlimited. He is responsible for the availability and smooth functioning of a few services within the organization. Due to problems in their current IT landscape, the CIO and VP of IT Operations of Parts Unlimited are fired and Bill is catapulted to his new role as VP of IT Operations. One of his primary goals as the new VP of IT Operations is to ensure smooth delivery of a high profile, multi-year project called Project Phoenix. Failure to deliver Phoenix could lead to a split in the company with the IT division being completely outsourced.
The book talks of his struggles to understand the problems within the IT landscape, determine tactical and strategic solutions for IT and the business and finally find a path to success for himself, his team and the company. The book ends with Bill being elevated to being the COO of the company and the CEO stating that in the future most successful COOs would come from an IT background.
What it is not:
While it’s a fiction book, its definitely not science fiction. The book references some very relevant business and IT principles: data protection laws, SOX compliance, PCI compliance etc. While it does provide solutions to problems described in the book, its not a 'How to' guide either. The book talks about PDCA: Plan - Do - Check - Act for continual improvement. But it does not talk about how PDCA could be used in different circumstances. Just like PDCA, it points out, refers to and uses different concepts within the Agile-DevOps world.
Who is it for, who would I recommend it to and who might not love it:
This book is a great, easy, quick read. It is suitable for a lot of people within the IT world: enterprise architects, business analysts, consultants, DevOps/DevSecOps consultants, agile coaches could all learn a few things from this book. Developers and solution architects can get a new perspective to how work really happens in an IT organization. On the management side of things, I believe that most CIOs, CxOs can get a decent understanding of how and why IT should blend in with business - although I believe that most of the top leadership do understand that in this day and age.
However, any seasoned IT professional looking to learn new concepts through this book would be thoroughly disappointed.
What I learnt from it:
As someone who works and practices enterprise architecture, this book reemphasises the importance of a close connect between IT and business. Let me try and summarise the key concepts that Bill learnt while growing in to his role as VP of IT Operations:
The idea of Three Ways:
First Way: How to create a fast flow of work as it moves from development in to IT operations.
This is where the author refers to using Lean principles to remove bottlenecks in the workflow.
Second Way: Amplification of Feedback Loops
This is where the author talks about PDCA(Plan-Do-Check-Act) and other lean-agile principles adopted from manufacturing for continuous improvement.
Third Way: Fostering a culture of continual experimentation and learning
The book talks about how security was coded into the development process and the job of the security team was to try and find loopholes in the developed code in an agile manner. In Agile terms, the Definition of Done had security NFRs inbuilt and the security team had a member within the development team to help find loopholes in the code. As more vulnerabilities are identified, the NFRs also improve to include more security and resilience requirements and this leads to a culture of continual learning and experimentation. This is how we implement DevSecOps - by baking in security in to every step of the development process - right from design to code to implementation and testing - rather than keep it as another tick box exercise to finish the project.
IT Service Management
Having worked with ITIL, it was nice to understand IT work management from a different perspective. The book talks about the four different types of work:
- Business Sponsored Projects,
- IT sponsored Internal Projects,
- Operational Changes and
- Unplanned Work
Unplanned Work aka Technical Debt is work which keeps increasing unless addressed on priority.
All Engineers - Engineer
The book draws lots of parallels between software development and manufacturing. For a dyed in the wool IT person like myself, this was a bit disconcerting at first since I believe the problems software engineers solve are far more complex compared to anything an engineer on the manufacturing floor might encounter. And that our work is far more complicated and needs more thought that that of any manufacturing firm. However, as I read through the book and also based on my limited real life project management experiences I have come to agree with the parallels drawn by the author.
I loved that the author (Gene Kim) introduces team members and describes meetings in a certain way - writing about his own thoughts as well as describing others' body language. While this makes the book more interesting, I believe that this is the impact of Gene's consulting background. Reading body language and understanding both verbal and non-verbal signals intuitively are very important traits of any consultant.
I absolutely loved the format of the book. It teaches some important principles of Information Technology and business management in a very easy manner. It provides loads of links or Google-able terms which could be useful for expanding our knowledge in these areas should we choose to do so. Overall, considering it was a quick, easy and fun read of a novel IT novel.