The Phoenix Project Book Review

Tara Calihman March 07, 2013

When we saw there was a novel about the IT revolution, we were intrigued. You mean it’s a real story? Not a textbook or a handbook or a guide? We honestly didn’t believe it either until we started reading it. The book is called _The Phoenix Project _and is authored by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford. It tells the story of an IT manager at a large company, Parts Unlimited, and the challenges he undergoes trying to organize workflow and improve interdepartmental communications. He needs to save the IT department before it gets outsourced.

A few of us at VictorOps read the book and when we were finished, we sat down to do a good old-fashioned group review. Over beers.

Some things we liked…

  • Women! In case you missed it, there is a shortage of women in technology. Which is why we were pleasantly surprised at the number of ladies that feature prominently in this story. Granted, one of the major antagonists of the book is a woman, but at least she’s in marketing. The women in IT and other tech departments are represented as rather kick-ass ..something we’d love to see more of in IT real life and fiction.

  • An excellent primer. If you’re looking for something that gives a solid explanation of how IT, developers and operations work together, this is a really good beginning book. Complex business strategies and manufacturing processes are broken down into simpler ideas, both adding to the story and giving a bit of education to the reader along the way. Lots of good information about the interplay between IT and different parts of the company.

  • 4 types of work. We loved how the authors describe these, mainly because there was one type of work that we had definitely seen before: unplanned new work. As veterans of Devops, we’ve seen outages, releases and product pushes that have gone horribly wrong, causing much time and money. When things don’t go as planned, there is always more work that has to be done to fix and then implement the changes.

  • Theory of Constraints. This basically states that when you make changes in the system anywhere but the bottleneck, you’re wasting time and not really solving anything. Once again, this was something that rang true for us all. Whether you’re fixing a manufacturing line or an IT department, you need to find the root of the problem. Everything else is secondary and doesn’t actually help.

  • The revolution is coming. So we felt a little cheesy talking about the “revolution” but we did agree with the general idea behind the slogan. It’s time for IT to get plugged into the rest of the company and to be a major player in achieving business goals. IT is not the scary basement where you send support tickets.

What we didn’t like…

  • Change is never this easy. This story portrayed a company that has to change it’s entire way of doing business. While not made out to be a simple process, the characters in the book all just go along with the changes and adopt the new ways without any major hitches. In real life, it’s never works like this. There will always be employees who grumble and complain and never actually follow new protocol. The book neglected to mention that sometimes intent isn’t enough. You have to put the right tools in people’s hands and provide a solid framework if you want them to change the way they do their jobs.

Despite our one complaint, this book resonated with us. Mainly because here at VictorOps, we’re working on a way to help aid the IT revolution and resulting paradigm shift. How can we bridge the gap between the utopian universe presented in the book and the traditional DevOps way of doing things? Isn’t there a way to make change easier and problem-solving more efficient?

Oh yes, there is. Just you wait.

And while you’re doing that, read this book.

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