Book Review – The Phoenix Project



The Phoenix Project

ISBN: 978-0988262591


Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford


Anyone in IT


The novel is thought of as the modern day version of The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. The novel describes the problems that almost every IT organization faces, and then shows the practices of how to solve the problems, improve the lives of those who work in IT and be recognized for helping the business win. The goal of the book is to show that a truly collaborative approach between IT and business is possible.

The novel tells the story of Bill, the IT manager at Parts Unlimited. The company’s new IT initiative, code named Phoenix Project, is critical to the future of Parts Unlimited, but the project is massively over budget and very late. The CEO wants Bill to report directly to him and fix the mess in ninety days or else Bill’s entire department will be outsourced. With the help of a prospective board member and his mysterious philosophy of The Three Ways, Bill starts to see that IT work has more in common with manufacturing plant work than he ever imagined. With the clock ticking, Bill must organize work flow streamline interdepartmental communications, and effectively serve the other business functions at Parts Unlimited.

This is a book about Lean, DevOps, Systems Thinking, The Three Ways and similar management philosophies.


Intermediate – advanced.

Karen’s Comment:

I put the level of this book at Intermediate and beyond because I think you have had to have been in IT for a little while to recognise the characters and the environment in which they operate. Patty, the Director of IT Service Support, who implemented an ITIL Change Management process so bureaucratic that everyone circumvented it. Brett, the Lead Engineer and single point of failure because he holds all the knowledge. John, the Chief Information Security Officer, whose attempts to improve security mean that nobody can get anything done. Sarah, SVP of Retail Operations – the prime villain in the story and purveyor of Shadow IT. A project over budget and extremely late but necessary to save the future of the business. No time for testing or deployment. Unstable test and QA environments. The list goes on. Any of that sound familiar?

This book is an easy yet a longish read at 300 pages. I do recommend reading this book but remembering that it is intended as a piece of fiction to introduce us to some key concepts. It isn’t a book that is going to enable you to implement those concepts but will inspire you with the need to do so. I found the fictional characters a little wearing towards the end as the bow got stretched a little too far. Patty who implemented the bureaucratic change management system suddenly seems to know more about lean tools and techniques that anyone else. John who drops out into a drunken haze suddenly becomes enlightened and gets an instant makeover.

To quote Jez Humble (author of Continuous Delivery) in his review of the book – “If I had one criticism it’s that unlike real life, there aren’t many experiments in the book that end up making things worse, and it’s this process of failing fast, learning from your failures, and coming up with new experiments that is instrumental to a real learning culture”.

I agree with the IT Skeptic’s review of this book. A big missing piece is reference to the cultural and organisational change that would be needed to make the required changes in this fictional organisation.

What this book did do was to give me a thirst to read so much more like ‘The Goal’, ‘Continuous Delivery’ by Jez Humble and Dave Harley, ‘’Visible Ops’ by the same authors as this book and the highly awaited “The DevOps Cookbook”. It served its purpose in creating that appetite and desire for more knowledge about the concepts introduced in the book but not explored in depth.

A great resource in support of this book is the IT Revolution Press Phoenix Project resource blogs Part 1 and Part 2. This is where the source of the knowledge that this book teased me with really exists.

I liked this book as opposed to loving it but what I will love is what it has introduced me to. I learnt a lot.

I recommend it for anyone interested in improving IT. It’s powerful if not grounded in real life.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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