As is hopefully obvious to anyone who has ever found themselves on this site, this is a blog about fiction. (I like to think that the clue’s in the title.) It is a record of the novels and short story collections that I read.  Anyway, my point is that I do not ordinarily make mention of the non-fiction books that I read.

However, today I have decided to make an exception. Or – as the word ‘novel’ does appear in the book’s subtitle – a semi-exception. Today I am featuring The Phoenix Project, or to give the book its full title: The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win.

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

Clearly this is a book written with the intention of teaching its audience about a particular topic (in this case DevOps and how to re-think IT) and could very naturally have been written in a traditional textbook style with different chapters focusing on different aspects of the overall topic. However, in this case, the authors decided to use a narrative to convey their polemic. This is especially surprising in this case because there are three authors, and as you will know, novels are almost exclusively written by a single person.

Before I get on to reveal what I thought of this book, I will mention that I have read some other instructional type books that have tried a narrative approach, but sadly they have not always done so to great effect. This is not to criticise the idea: I am absolutely convinced of the power of good storytelling, but of course you have to have the storytelling / writing talent to pull it off.

So, how did The Phoenix Project fare?

Well, you would probably not want to read it for its literary qualities alone, but I have to say that the narrative approach is actually used to good effect here. The narrative makes it extremely easy for the reader to read 30, 40, 50 pages at a time all about common IT problems (and later their solutions). And whilst the characters are hardly going to be studied for their subtle complexity and startling metaphysical insights, they do help the authors to demonstrate how the theory they are talking about impacts real people and organisations. As I was reading the book, I certainly found myself thinking about who the Bills, Sarahs, Brents, etc. were in organisations I have worked for!

 Okay, enough about the style of the book, what is it actually about? (If you have no interest in the world of IT, then feel free to stop reading now!)

When we meet Bill, he has just been promoted (against his will and better judgement) from an IT middle manager to VP of IT Operations. Within a very short space of time, the company’s payroll system fails a few hours before staff are due to get paid. This is obviously a big deal. Then, in scrabbling around to try to fix this catastrophe, the IT department somehow bring down the storage area network (SAN). Troubleshooting is nigh-on impossible because all sorts of changes have been made to production systems without proper controls. On top of this, the auditors have identified a whole raft of IT failings, and the highest profile IT project (Project Phoenix) – which is meant to give the failing company a fighting chance of becoming successful again – is already way over budget and way over time.

Needless to say, Bill finds himself in a very unenviable position, with the company’s CEO, executive board, business units, and development teams all very angry and blaming Bill and his team. If there is any hope of Bill and the company surviving, something needs to change. In fact, many things do. And fast.

Thankfully, some help is at hand in the form of a rather eccentric guru type figure named Erik. Wearing various dishevelled outfits and often munching on doughnuts, Erik appears now and then to offer Bill some wise words and to talk about The Three Ways…

If anyone reading this blog does work in IT, or in a business unit that heavily depends on IT (and which business units do not these days?!) then I would definitely recommend this book. It definitely does a good job of highlighting some of the perennial problems that exist in most IT departments. It also convincingly argues that focusing on individual issues in isolation is never going to make the IT department truly healthy and productive; that for this, broader solutions thinking is needed.

If you are interested in finding out more about the book, or The Three Ways advocated by Erik, or how the DevOps movement can help your IT department enable your business to win, head over to the IT Revolution website: http://itrevolution.com/books/phoenix-project-devops-book/

Right, now back to reading some proper novels… Next up, some William Faulkner.

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