5 minutes of React

Podcast about React hot topics and JavaScript ecosystem

#22 - The Phoenix Project

September 18, 2018

I recently read a book called “The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win”.

All in all, it is very inspiring book. So I would highly recommend you give it a read.



I recently read a book called “The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win”.

It’s a fictional story of an IT department in a large auto parts retail company.

The first half of the book was a blast: it realistically portrays the whirlwind of chaos and red tape so typical for large enterprises, where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Take that episode when one department pushes their migrations to production and leaves another team battling conflicts in their release.

Or when they have to update to a new version by morning, before the stores open up, and by the looks of it they’ll need a whole day or two.

Each and every business manager calls IT and support directly to deal with their absolute top priority task right here and right now.

Everyone is too busy to write tests, and there are none. Or the tests that do exist take way too long as the release deadline is drawing near.

Not to mention the nitpicky security guys with their countless restrictions.

Many of us find these situations more or less familiar. I certainly do, and this is what made this book so exciting, almost like a thriller: you never know which system is going to fail next.

The other half of the book is about sorting things out. The team discovers the theory of constraints, kanban, and lean production. They improve cooperation between departments, build up a stronger team spirit, and eventually get back on track.

Now, here’s what I didn’t like.

The second half of the book paints a rosy picture of transformation, and it’s just too good to be true.

Another issue is the time frame. The story takes place over three or four months that turn out to be enough to get from a complete mess to a top-notch IT department. We’re talking about a large enterprise that employs thousands of people, with several hundred working in IT. It’s a huge company with its own complex organizational structure and bureaucracy. What’s more, not just the IT department as a whole, but also the individual characters change as if by magic, like the security douchebag who spends a night drinking at the bar, then suddenly stops being a pain and turns into a helpful team player. How’s that for a metamorphosis?

Finally, the main character doesn’t feel very plausible. In part one he gets promoted from a middle management position straight to VP of IT Operations (apparently after his predecessor resigns). That’s a major leap up the career ladder to the point where he’s now the boss of his former boss. We know nothing about how good he was at his previous job, but here all of a sudden he shines as a leader, direct and consistent, and, if need be, ruthless and uncompromising. What was a natural like that doing plodding away in the back office?

But so be it — after all, it’s a fictional novel that doesn’t pretend to be a biography or tell a true story. The book is a compelling and easy read, and it took me just a couple of days to finish.

All in all, The Phoenix Project is very inspiring book. It truly makes you want to do things right. As the saying goes, no pain, no gain. So I would highly recommend you give it a read.

However, if the book doesn’t seem that compelling and doesn’t hook you right away, there’s little point in ploughing through it as it won’t give you any unique insights or recommendations on how to run an IT department. A few concepts like kanban are mentioned here and there as the protagonist discovers them, but there’s little more than vague depictions.

For precise techniques, you would need something different — like the DevOps Handbook, for instance.

That’s it for this literary episode. Shout out in the comments if you like it, and I’ll grab another book to review.

Read books and prosper!