From the moment that I arrived in Vegas for VMworld 2016 I started hearing about this book The Phoenix Project. At first I thought that my ears were playing tricks on me when I heard that it was a DevOps novel. This weird reality sunk in when during the opening day keynote address John Spiegel, IT manager at Columbia Sportswear spoke about the virtues of this book. (segment begins right around 51min)
Given all the chatter around this book, I ordered it from my seat before Mr. Spiegel had even left the stage. The primary message from Mr. Spiegel and the session in general was “treat IT as a factory, focusing on efficiency’s, optimizations”. This is obviously a very important message, but I’d argue that anyone who works in IT and hasn’t recognized, learned, embodied this message, or at a minimum isn’t working towards it… well… there’s probably other fundamental messages that should be more relevant to them.
There is an underlying theme to the presentation, Mr. Spiegel’s talk and in this book that resonated very strongly with me and that is is to take an Outside-In approach to IT. Instead of focusing on a technology or a framework as many in IT are prone to do, we need to look at the problems (and successes) that people throughout the Organization experience. Take that newfound knowledge to figure out how we can use technology to positively affect their experiences and therefore positively drive the goals of the business. Once articulated it’s a pretty simple concept to internalize: if you don’t know the business, its positives and its problems then how can you possibly be most effective in helping the Organization move forward?
One particular individual in The Phoenix Project recognizes this reality in a rather dramatic fashion and goes from the stereotypical vision of “IT as the department of ‘no'” to one who actively seeks engagement. He takes the empathetic approach of trying to understand both the pains and successes of his business and how he can use his technological skills to affect change for the positive. There is a realization that by attempting to apply strict dogmatic InfoSec principles he just may slow things down. Once his mindset shifts to an Outside-In approach, he’s able to get a far greater level of cooperation, able to implement more of the principles he cherishes, all the while moving the business and his personal/career objectives forward at a faster pace!
The inside out approach is just one piece of this fantastic book. The novel format is one that I haven’t seen in IT improvement books before, and it certainly makes for an engaging read. Don’t mistake this book for a deep-dive into any frameworks or technologies. Rather it creatively addresses many of the common challenges which need addressing in order for you to develop a high performing IT organization. If you’re looking for a guide on how to begin implementing a DevOps framework and culture in your organization, then disregard the sub-title as this probably isn’t the best book for you.
If you’ve ever been bogged down in the quagmire of firefighting, been unable to break the cycle of finger pointing, struggled to come up with fresh approaches to the struggles of working in a large IT org or even if you’re just someone who works with IT, then this book should be a must read for you.
PS: If you’ve found this interesting, perhaps you’d like to check out my thoughts on Implementing ITIL written by the same authors.