Book Review: The Phoenix Project
By Frédéric Crabbe & Hans Dijckmans
This is a novel which tries to explain the underlying story of how an organisation can go into crisis because IT and software development form a bottleneck for the business. What I like about this book is that it looks at an IT transformation via DevOps (or agile, or any other buzzword you prefer) and is gradually showing the relevance of IT in the enterprise and how interconnected everything is that makes the business run. So calling this a DevOps book is an understatement. The book takes a broad view of DevOps and shows how it can be used as a way to integrate IT into the business rather than being an under-performing cost-centre (the way business often looks at IT). The underlying idea is to take the lean methodologies from manufacturing, and bring them to IT. It also shows that by promoting system thinking (over local optimization), feedback loops and a continuous learning culture. Of course, automation and continuous delivery are necessary intermediate steps for most traditional IT organisations on that journey.
The book tells the story of an IT department manager Bill Palmer, being promoted against his will to Vice-President (VP) of IT Operations within the company Parts Unlimited, a manufacturing and retail company. Parts Unlimited is losing market share quickly and is very much dependent on the successful implementation of a strategic project called the “Phoenix project”. But before critical IT resources within the company can focus on that project, there is a lot of other “IT pain” to be resolved. The book describes Bill’s journey in facing these IT challenges, ultimately giving the IT department a new and positive image within the company. As the book is written in novel style, it offers an entertaining story line and tons of deja-vu moments for most of us. The book is overall relatively realistic in its description of difficulties that IT organisations are facing, but the multitude of problems might be a little more than what you will find in one single IT organisation. Nonetheless, the book is very good in its initial objective, which is to apply the theory of constraints to IT and in showing that IT isn’t that much different from manufacturing. In addition, the added-value of ITIL and DevOps are demonstrated. Organisational anti-patterns that commonly impede business and IT cooperation are nicely described. It outlines you ways to escape the vicious circle by keeping things simple, building trust, making objective observations and trying out new approaches.