Book Review: The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project - a business novelLate last year I was lucky enough to get an early preview of The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win. Written by what seems to be the holy trinity of the DevOps movement—Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford—the book has only recently been released and is already #1 in Amazon’s Information Management category. I can see why.

The business novel genre is not somewhere I’d normally find myself. Comedic autobiographies and Clancyesque action-fiction is where you’ll generally find me. But when the manuscript landed in my inbox, I started reading straight away. The Phoenix Project tells the story of an IT manager, Bill Palmer, being assigned the hapless task of fixing a chaotic and messy IT environment within 90 days.

When I met with Gene last October, we talked about our past experiences, we talked about our hopes and dreams, and we talked a lot about IT and the similarities between it and manufacturing. Indeed, The Phoenix Project is inspired by well-known predecessor of the genre, The Goal, by Eli Goldratt. And that’s why I’m late to the party with my book review, because I wanted to read The Goal, too. Well, I’ve read it now, so where’s my honorary MBA?

All kidding aside, The Phoenix Project absolutely succeeds in what it was set out to do—teach us good business and IT practices through storytelling. In fact, I’ve already had occasion to draw on scenarios from the book to help my own decision making in the workplace.

Even ignoring the DevOps angle to this story, so much of this book will feel familiar. You’ll feel like you’re reading about your own organisation. Every one of Bill’s colleagues are so amazingly representative of my own past IT colleagues, it’s a little discomfiting. Clearly, we are all just archetypes copied and pasted from one IT department to another across time and space. In terms of the characters, I came away from the reading with one small criticism. At one point in the book obstructive Chief InfoSec Officer, John Pesce, goes off the rails and is uncontactable, but then resurfaces a few days later, clean-shaven and helpful. We aren’t given an explanation and I closed the book still wondering what made him change his ways. Sequel? Nonetheless, my one gripe doesn’t impact the central plot.

The Phoenix Project is a compelling case study in failing fast and continuous improvement in IT operations. Experienced managers will love this; CIOs need to read this.

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