The Phoenix Project Book Review
By Michael Hedgpeth · February 2, 2015
The Phoenix Project Book Review

As I’ve looked into devops more and more over the past few months, the book The Phoenix Project has come up over and over. I finally bought it when Matt Stratton at Chef basically insisted on it in his very awesome reading list to ramp yourself up on devops.

I haven’t been into fiction very much, but over the summer I read A Man in Full as a means of integrating stoicism into my own philosophy. That book lit up my imagination and helped me absorb the stoic themes in a way that would be difficult had I just read an outline of stoicism. I was awakened to the reality of how fiction can transform your mind deeply by awakening all aspects of the mind during learning.

So I was very excited to read the book. And the book did not disappoint in changing my outlook on my own career and what is possible for those around me. It taught me a few basic lessons that I believe will transform my behavior in the future:

  • Have a respect for the system. Up until I read this book I treated an inefficient system like it was garbage. Let’s get rid of the inefficiency! This is dumb! What I realized by reading the book is that in order for you to effectively and profitably change a system, you must have a respect and understanding of why it is the way it is. If you don’t know why it is this way, you can realize that it is an inefficient system, but you will not effectively change it.
  • Measure, Measure, Measure. The main character in the book has a great respect for measurement. People say you can’t manage what you don’t measure. I think that can be taken too far, but there is a reality in it: if I can’t measure the reality of the system, it will be very difficult for me to (1) convince people that a more efficient change is needed, and (2) know that the changes I am making are having their desired effect.
  • Take a Breath and Count to 2. One of the nice things about the book that taught me a lesson is when the main character interacts with various antagonists, who are obviously being reckless, dumb, and incendiary, the main character will take a breath and count to 2. Then respond. And when he responds, it’s with facts and an attitude of doing what’s best for everyone. I desperately want to exhibit this kind of tact and patience. I get so passionate about my ideas that I can forget to have patience, be calm, and move the ball forward.
  • Find the Bottleneck Constraint. In the book there is a legendary character named Brent. Brent can do everything. He can fix problems in seconds that everyone has spent days trying to understand. He knows why this server is the way it is, and the answer lies in activities from 2002. Brent has everyone asking him for everything and the business is at its knees due to Brent’s inability to clone himself into fifty other people. In the book, the main focus was on getting Brent isolated and his work properly documented, prioritized, and managed. Brent remained a hugely valuable member of the team, but they couldn’t grow until his workload was under control. And once Brent had his priorities under control, he was able to do some special things for the company.

I really enjoyed the Phoenix Project and recommend it to anyone wanting to lead change in their organization using lean principles. It reaches the reader in a way that a nonfiction book can’t: you can feel the tension. You drop the F-bombs right there with the reader. You feel the desperation as the core concepts come to life. And therefore when you face similar situations, you have a whole new world of awesome manufacturing theory available to you.

This book was one of the best software-related books I’ve ever read. If you want to be a leader, please get a copy and read it. Then invite me to lunch and let’s talk about it; maybe we can change the world together.