The Phoenix Project

I concluded today The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win (Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford, 345 pages, 2013), and I think it is a great book.

This is actually a novel around very realistic and relevant organizational aspects and technology. Anyone with experience in IT operations or Software Development will recognize oneself in at least a few or many of the scenes along the story.

Building on the tradition of The Goal, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, it follows an IT middle manager, Bill Palmer, who is suddenly promoted to VP of IT Operations, against his will, and is then confronted with a multitude of issues reflecting the organizational deficiencies and challenges in his company, Parts Unlimited.

Trying to juggle multiple issues thrown at him, Bill gets eventually the guidance of a mysterious board member candidate, Eric Reid, who guides his thoughts along understanding how much IT resembles manufacturing, and how flow, feedback, and continuous improvement (the Three Ways) can help turn the business around, and achieve the ultimate financial goals it so desperately needs.

I find the book a great source of inspiration and practical insights on how to direct a company towards DevOps practices, which was in great part promoted by this very book and its set of authors.


Only the Paranoid Survive

I recently concluded Only the Paranoid Survive – How to Exploit the Crisis Points that Challenge Every Company and Career (Andrew S. Grove, 224 pages), and it was great.

Andrew Grove is a legend. His is probably most known for his leadership during the time Intel moved

away from being a memory chip company, due to harsh Japanese competition on that market, in the mid-1980’s, to become the world’s leader in processing chip. Looking back, this may sound natural. But achieving it was all but so. The whole identity and soul of Intel, which Andrew helped founding, was based on memory chips. Moving away from it took an arduous period of 3 years, and really strong fighting by Andrew and, on the beginning, only a handful other managers that accepted the idea.

This is one of the stories the book discusses, with lots of insights on these strategic inflection points (which can actually last years!) which a company, or even an individual, has to go through sometimes. Several inflection points in retrospective become difficult to put the finger on exactly when it actually happened, as Andrew very well describes, because there is a process of changes going on before and after, and it can all turn out into a messy process. But totally necessary, if a company or person in crisis wants to survive and thrive.

Andrew has himself a fantastic personal story, having lived under Nazi and Soviet occupation in Budapest before emigrating to the US at the age of 20, where he managed to conclude a PhD in Berkeley, and later became the third CEO of Intel (1987-97). Yet, I found inspiring his clarity of thinking about his own limitations during his time as a leader of Intel, and how he for example gives credits to plant manufacturing managers for starting taking practical decisions in allocating more processing chip production even at the time when he himself had difficulties in admitting the company needed a drastic change. His humility and openness are remarkable.

And the book also takes on the importance of constant learning and being “paranoid” about changes that may impact one’s business. With the caveat that Andrew points out that even employees should see themselves as a business, selling some service in a competitive and ever-changing environment.

So, because of all of that and lots more that I fail to describe, I think this is a great book, that is worth the time for someone looking for solid substance in a technology world that is fluently unpredictable.