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The Phoenix Project

The short version: read Gene Kim, Kevin Behr & George Spafford's The Phoenix Project because it is a book you can't put down about IT services! Can you imagine?  That's really all you need to know.

The long version is that The Phoenix Project picks up where Eliyahu M. Goldratt's The Goal left off and brings it to the world of IT services. And how important is that now that IT services are so critical? The Goal is one those books that I have bought many times because I constantly give it away. I see that The Phoenix Project will be similar (though ebooks make this more difficult!).

While the key message of the book is applying the theory of constraints to IT workflow, I'm going to address two underlying messages that I think are key: sunk costs and keeping it simple.

Understanding sunk costs is incredibly important, especially in IT. In the book, the company is betting its survival on a massive software project. It has spent millions on it. However, those millions are a sunk cost. If it makes sense to start over from scratch, do it! Software is very interesting. In some instances, it makes a lot sense to keep a piece of software running despite the accrued technical debt (mostly for non-technical businesses or cash-cow situations). Just look at all the mainframe apps around. In other cases, you should plan on completely re-writing software well before obsolesce. In particular, if you are acquiring a software company you might want to plan on a total re-write in your cost analysis.

I think most devops proponents would argue that devops reduces cycle times so much that the project is being constantly rewritten. So, you avoid any technical debt. 

The other sub-theme I like in The Phoenix Project is the use of simple, often paper-based solutions to big problems. The change management software is replaced by a kanban-esque system of index cards pasted all over a conference room. This setup allows the managers to immediately see where issues are cropping up. Tech geeks think that all they need is the latest greatest task manager app and boom, they are productive. I'm guilty of swapping out to-do list apps - it's a great way to clear out the detritus! In truth, starting simple is the best path.

The Phoenix Project is a great novel. I suspect that it will have two phases of sales. First, most IT people will read it. Then, IT people will give it their family members. No more "He does something with computers"!

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