The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim

In the past two years, I’ve listened to a lot more podcasts. Serial started things off, and it’s been getting out of control. I’m listening to something 90% of my time in transit, and I fall asleep to podcasts almost every night. A few months ago, I heard about this book on Partially Derivative, and I was intrigued that someone would write a book about devops, especially a fiction book. There was no doubt that I’d check this out.

1) “‘When will you be in the office? I’d like to meet as soon as possible.'” – Head of HR

Crushing the dreams of WFH.

2) “Something seems wrong in a world where half the email messages sent are urgent.” (and on a related note: “‘Maybe we make another field called ‘extremely urgent?'”)

I’m glad that the “Mark as Important” function was practically unused at my company. Ironically, the only emails ever tagged important were IT emails about upgrades.

3) “First, you take an urgent date-driven project, where the shipment date cannot be delayed because of external commitments made to Wall Street or customers. Then you add a bunch of developers who use up all the time in the schedule, leaving no time for testing or operations deployment. And because no one is willing to slip the deployment date, everyone after Development has to take outrageous and unacceptable shortcuts to hit the date.”

I’ve never worked with separate Dev and Ops teams, but this is work in a nutshell. Someone makes a promise. Things go wrong. Duct tape then right out the door.

4) “‘I need you to help create the solution. Otherwise, you’re part of the problem.'” – Bill

Work life 101.

5) “‘We also have all the calls going into the service desk, whether it’s requests for something new or asking to fix something. But that list will be incomplete, too, because so many people in the business just go to their favorite IT person. All that work is completely off the books.'” – Patty

I’m guilty of this, and IT is really a thankless job.

6) “‘Every time that we let Brent fix something that none of us can replicate, Brent gets a little smarter, and the entire system gets dumber.'” – Bill

Siloed knowledge is toxic to any team.

7) “‘I’m concerned that we no longer have sufficient version control – we’ve gotten so sloppy about keeping track of version numbers of the entire release. Each time they fix something, they’re usually breaking something else. So, they’re sending single files over instead of the entire package.'” – William

The way we work is fundamentally broken. No matter what we’re working on, we should have version control.

8) “‘It’s harder than ever to convince the business to do the right thing. They’re like kids in a candy store. They read in an airline magazine that they can manage their whole supply chain in the cloud for $499 per year, and suddenly that’s the main company initiative.'” – Chris

To the cloud!

9) “‘Any improvement not made at the constraint is just an illusion.'” – Erik

Interesting point that I hadn’t really thought about before.

10) “‘Features are always a gamble. If you’re lucky, ten percent will get the desired benefits. So the faster you can get those features to market and test them, the better off you’ll be.'” – Erik

Let’s see if this is true.

The premise of this book is amazing, and it’s especially relevant in light of the Equifax fiasco. It seems incredible that such a large company can make such terrible mistakes, but it’s probably more incredible that we don’t see even more disasters. IT is hard and more important than ever. Unfortunately, the story gets a bit stale in the second half, and the introduction of Erik as a character ruins the whole story. Still, I definitely recommend this to everyone, especially those outside of IT. The author understands the struggles of modern day work, and I enjoyed the sense of validation.

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