David Nalley's Blog

Book Review: The Phoenix Project

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I’ve been hearing about the Gene Kim and company working on “The Phoenix Project” for almost a year now, most frequently at places like DevOps Days.

Knowing it was modeled after Eli GoldRatt‘s “The Goal” and how it was essentially a business novel, in which Goldratt uses a story of the troubles of a manufacturing manager to lay out the tenets of Constraint Theory. I first read The Goal more than a dozen years ago, and it wasn’t necessarily the finest piece of literature, but it was a compelling book, and the book and corresponding theory has become a thing of legend.

Fast forward several years and one of my friends and DevOps guru John Willis starts talking “The Goal” in the context of DevOps, and then Ben Rockwood points back further to folks like Edward Deming. So trying to imitate the effect of books like “The Goal” is a very lofty aspiration. I honestly didn’t think that it could be done, particularly if driven around IT.

But then Tuesday, I hear via email and twitter, that the book has finally been released. I was travelling on Tuesday and ordered the e-book that afternoon so that I could perhaps finish it by the end of the week. I started reading it during dinner, and by the time I retreated to my room I was already hooked. The book was captivating. I saw myself at various stages of my life in several of the characters, I could empathize with the problems. I couldn’t stop reading, and actually finished the book that evening.

The basic synopsis of the book is that Bill gets a sudden promotion to VP of IT after two of his superiors are dismissed, and is immediately thrown into the fire with business threatening outages and a vastly overbudget and behind schedule project that is supposed to ‘save the company’. He struggles to deal with the deluge of ongoing problems and get the project back on track, while at the same time political battles rage around him. With the help of Erik, a prospective board member and ‘IT guru’ he dramatically changes the culture and method of operation for both operations and development, and saves the company.

So my thoughts – I think that the book will likely have the same effects as “The Goal” but with a focus on the IT business – or perhaps pushing folks to realize that IT really isn’t so different from manufacturing. I think it should also inspire folks to adopt the DevOps culture.
That said, I don’t expect the kind of timelines that Bill achieved to be normal, and especially without folks like the mentor Erik who has the respect and trust of the executives to shield Bill and advocate for his changes. That said, it is still a tremendous book, and I know Gene Kim and others hope that it will usher in the DevOps revolution to the masses, and I think there is a chance that it will happen.

In short, if you are remotely related to IT, or have any curiosity about DevOps you should be reading this book as soon as possible. I noted that yesterday Gene sent out an email that said that the book was #1 in the Kindle business management section on Amazon, outpacing books like “The Lean Startup” and “Good to Great”

Viva la DevOps Revolution!

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