blog

An assortment of thoughts.  Mostly tech related.

The Phoenix Project - A very brief review

Talk to anyone involved in the DevOps, Agile, or Continuous Delivery movements and, if they’re readers(!), they’ll all likely recommend The Phoenix Project as a must read.

 The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford

Despite the fact that I’ve had a copy of the book kicking around for over two years, I only recently found myself having a little downtime to sit down and actually read a physical book, so this weekend, I grabbed it off the bookshelf and got stuck in.

Unlike the majority of books on these topics, The Phoenix Project is a novel which tells a story of a dysfunctional car parts manufacturer and retail supplier, all told from the perspective of Bill Palmer who is newly promoted to the role of VP of IT Operations. The book goes on to document the journey of the company through catastrophe after catastrophe and the lessons learned, and the actions taken after each.

I had heard great things about the book, but still had my reservations, wondering how well a story could be interwoven with relevant theory without it being jarring... I had picked it up after I had first gotten a copy but never read much.

I read a few chapters - all conveniently similarly sized and short - and got caught up in ther story. The book is quite compelling (a bit of page turner - even for an IT book!) and very easy to read, and the learnings you gain from it aren’t as blatant as you might first think.

The book uses the company’s manufacturing plant to illustrate a number of lean themes and then how the IT Operations area can take a leaf out of the plant’s playbook and apply some of the lean principles in tackling their IT Ops dilemmas.

Among many themes, the book tackles:

  • Visualising work

  • Controlling WIP (Work-In-Process)

  • Theory of Constraints

  • The Three Ways

  • Four types of work - Business Projects, Internal IT Projects, Changes, and Unplanned Work

I especially liked the only graph the book contains which illustrates wait times based on busy/idle ratios - it powerfully visualises the impact of over utilisation and the importance of building in slack time to improve flow. This will not doubt be super familiar to Lean practitioners, but it was the first time I had come across it.

 Wait time based on % time busy vs % time idle. Credit:  The Phoenix Project Resource Guide

Wait time based on % time busy vs % time idle. Credit: The Phoenix Project Resource Guide

The last section of the book contains a resource guide to educate the reader on a deeper dive into the theories the story touches on. For those who don’t have a copy of the book, you can still read the resource guide…

The book also recommends further reading. Some of which I’ve read, and highly recommend - Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DiMaria, Getting Things Done by David Allen, Continuous Delivery by Jez Humble and David Farley, to name a few.

Of the recommended books, the one that really stands out for me to tackle next is “The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement” by Dr Eliyaho Goldratt. I’ve downloaded the audiobook and look forward to getting through that one next.

I enjoyed The Phoenix Project and recommend it highly to anyone involved in IT. It’s both an enjoyable and educational read and super easy to consume.

Oh…and if you’re not convinced, here’s another The Phoenix Project review with 20 inciteful takeaways.