The Phoenix Project - book review

Before leaving on holiday, I compiled my summer holiday reading list. I was prepared. I was ready. My goal was to read as many books as possible while still enjoying the beautiful weather and spending time with the family. I thought it would be challenging to go through the whole list! I didn't, but I got really close. Especially after breaking my thumb, in a terrible incident (not really, I fell of a swing! Wes you read that right), I found myself with a lot of extra time. The painkillers helped with the pain and bruised ego:)

The very first book I read was the Phoenix Project. The authors, Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford, are the same ones responsible for The Visible Ops Handbook. This is another brilliant book that I'd highly recommend.

It's important to note that the Phoenix Project is not a developer book per se. In fact, it has little to do with software development work and more to do with managing the IT operations. The story is presented through the eyes and mouth of newly-assigned VP of IT Operations Bill Palmer. Bill, who works for Parts Unlimited, an imaginary company, is tasked with fixing the synonymous Phoenix Project. Phoenix is the company's new operations platform and is in serious trouble. Everything that can go wrong does, from features, to performance etc. The usual story in disasterous IT projects. Bill definitely has a full plate! The story reeks of the classic "too big too fail" and "the bigger they are the harder they fall". It's a story that anyone with a few years in the IT industry can easily relate to.

Bill's adventure is both captivating and refreshing. It had me glued from the second page. No suprise there as it follows the same successful format that The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. That's another classic book worth your time. The fact that the Phoenix Project can be considered both technical and a novel at the same time is probably the reason I enjoyed it so much. Consequently, even if you're not interested in the technicalities and concepts presented, the story alone is enough to make this book a page-turner.

From a technical standpoint, I loved everything about this book. I may not be in DevOps, but getting an insight on how things click together in an organisation is a revelation. I've worked in a lot of projects to understand about politics and friction in teams. Yet, seeing it from a CTO's (or VP of IT) perspective is ...revealing. I've learned a lot about project management and efficient operations in the same way the Bill did. The important concepts are presented in stages so they are not overwhelming. You have enough time to contemplate and understand the newly presented ideas. Each concept is accompanied by practical implementations and eventually tangible outcomes. Each stage is self-contained so there is a familiar pattern:
Beginning -> middle -> End

Even though it's a novel, there's small character development. All fictional characters are there to serve a purpose and that, they do well. Sometimes you may notice personality exaggeration or inflation, but I found it amusing and well tied to the overall story. The length of the book is good and even though I'm a slow reader, I finished it in a short period of time.

The biggest benefit I got out of it was getting a better insight on how big(ger) scale projects hang together. I also learned how important team dynamics are and how they can make or break a project. The story highlights the upper management's responsibility in removing friction and getting all moving parts working together in a smooth, productive way. Overall, I feel that I can be a better developer because I have a better understanding of the bigger picture of project management.

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? If you have any other great book recommendations, leave them in the comments. We are here to learn and grow, so let's get to it together.


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