A while ago my collegue Martijn Ten Heuvel gave me a copy of The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford. He asked if I could return it after reading after a week or two or so, but I don’t read that fast. I bought my own (digital) copy, and read this book in record time anyway.
The book starts as your ultimate IT Operations horror scenario. In fact it’s quite a thriller. If I picture the worst events I’ve encountered in 17 years IT Operations combined, that is what protagonist, Bill Palmer, encounters as new VP of IT Operations. Fragile old applications that fall over at the drop of a hat, every new deployment of key applications basically require lots of rework to get them working and only one guy that knows how to solve the issues every time. Many weekends and nights are spend to get things working. On top of that the site of Bill’s employer, Parts Unlimited, at some point even leaks credit card data.
Although it’s your ultimate nightmare scenario, there are many recognisable events. Like the way IT Operations is juggling with changes, projects, IT projects and unplanned work. Also recognisable is how IT Operations gets the blame for lots of issues that have their origins in updates of the application. Eventually Bill meets Eric, who becomes member of the board and who tells Bill to look at IT as a manufacturing process, not unlike the manufacturing done by Parts Unlimited. At the manufactory’s work floor they’ve changed course more than a decade ago. They identified their bottlenecks and tried to find ways to work with them efficiëntly and started working according to methods also used at Toyota, like using kanban boards.
In the second half of the book, Bill and his team get more and more grip on work in progress, unplanned work and projects. Bill and the manager of the development team, Chris, conclude that the chaotic and buggy delivery of the last update of Phoenix is not to be repeated. So they start to collaborate.
A fun part is where Bill decides to ask heads of the business what they want the most from IT. And when they add things up, Bill and Chris find out they can deliver that much faster outside the Phoenix project. In fact, nobody specifically seemed to have asked for Phoenix at all.
All with all, it’s quite a readable book and gives you an idea what it means to do things like DevOps. I definitely have to read it again some time.