What the Phoenix Project can teach you about DevOps and IT
In business today, we not only have to accept change, we have to embrace it. I recently read a book called 'The Phoenix Project' that resonates well with my own experience of dealing with changing demands and challenges when running major projects.
If you work in the technology sector in particular, there's a lot you can learn from the Phoenix Project about how to enhance your IT tools and processes to achieve business success.
A novel about DevOps?
The idea of a novel about DevOps (Development and Operations) certainly seemed like an intriguing idea when I first discovered it. There's no doubt that DevOps is having a significant impact on the technology sector, application lifecycle management, and software development overall. Could a story really capture all that’s required to explain DevOps meaning?
It's a movement that is sometimes viewed as being at odds with traditional Information Technology (IT) management, sitting alongside Lean and Agile as a different way of dealing with the creation, delivery, and management of technology applications.
The book, written by Gene Kim (alongside Kevin Behr and George Spafford) is the story of an IT manager who suddenly finds himself promoted into a senior role at a fictional American company 'Parts Unlimited'.
Reporting directly to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Bill has 90 days to fix an over-budget, failing initiative code-named The Phoenix Project. If Bill fails in his quest to deliver the project, the CEO will outsource his entire IT department!
There are many different industry perspectives on what DevOps means. 'The Phoenix Project' takes a broad view of DevOps. It shows how DevOps is used as a way to integrate IT into the business rather than being a function that runs alongside it. There isn’t a whiff of “agile development vs. DevOps” to be found in its pages.
Bill's journey is one of figuring out how to improve communication and effectiveness across the IT organisation so that it is not longer viewed as an under-performing cost to the business. This drive to transform IT from being a 'business-burden' to a 'business-enabler', is a scenario the vast majority of Chief Information Officers (CIO) and Chief Technology Officers (CTO) can relate to.
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The Three Ways
The book also shows how analogous IT is to more traditional processes such as manufacturing. One of its key concepts is "the three ways" that underpin DevOps:
- The importance of looking at the performance of the system as a whole
- The need to enable and amplify feedback loops
- A focus on creating a culture of continual experimentation and learning
A structured approach
Given the stark situation of the company at the start of the book, the future looks bleak; they absolutely needed a DevOps transformation. Bill works with a series of stakeholders in the book to get the project back on track - but it’s clear from years of learning with our clients that a structured approach to delivering a DevOps project reaps benefits. Bringing in the right stakeholders early in the project, and making sure that you have buy-in from the right people both at the top and the bottom of the organisation is key.
What I learned from 'The Phoenix Project'
One of the key take-aways of the book is the importance it places on the need to focus on increasing the speed to deliver value from projects as well as being pragmatic about how this is achieved.
The need for speed can easily dominate the company’s focus during a DevOps transformation - as - surely doing everything faster makes the organisation more agile and dynamic, right? But just going faster isn’t the solution - we need to do it safely and carefully - all of which can be done with intelligent use of technology.
Deploying quality software for functionality such as Continuous Integration, Source Code Management, and Cloud Orchestration is key, as is ensuring that work is managed effectively, with wikis, ticket and project management. Joining these with tools such as Adaptavist's ScriptRunner accelerates the development process safely by allowing you to quickly make new connections between applications and workflows.
While focused on transforming parts of an organisation with modern ways of working, it’s easy to forget that successful transformations cast the net way wider than just development and operations. We can be cynical about overloading the term DevOps by adding other teams and departments to the portmanteau, but DevSecOps has really stuck, and for good reason. We work in a global environment where it’s less a matter of “if”. There’s a global industry behind ethical hacking, and disclosure of security vulnerabilities has led to many a public outcry. These concerns apply to anyone putting a website on the public Internet.
The Phoenix Project is a great read, telling the human story of how to do things differently and deliver quality software quickly and safely following the DevOps model.
If you've already read The Phoenix Project, connect with us on social media @Adaptavist and let us know what you found most interesting or surprising.