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

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Once an organization gets to a certain size, it becomes critically important to keep operations nimble to deliver against customer expectations. The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win is a fictional story that helps one understand the complexities of operations.

It is written by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford and is a fictional story about how a company deals with IT Operations challenges and migrating from a dysfunctional organization into a high performing and optimized one using the concepts of Total Quality Mangement, Lean, and Systems Engineering. It has been called a modern day version of The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement Paperback by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and is the number 1 seller in its categories on Amazon.

Operation goals for the enterprise

Although, the book doesn’t provide a high level framework, it does a good job of telling a a fictional company addresses the 5 Operations goals outlined by COBIT, a useful framework for thinking about operation goals:

  • Optimization of business process functionality
  • Optimization of business process costs
  • Managed business change programs
  • Operational and staff productivity
  • Compliance with internal policies


This book focuses on creating a story in which concepts such as TQM, Lean and Systems Engineerign can be introduced and dicussed. Situations are described from multiple points of view including perspectives of the CEO, CFO, marketing, product management, development, information security, as well as operations itself.

As an overview, it is a quick read and light on details but where it shines is in telling a story and establishing people and their priorities. It does a good job of discussing operations challenges and providing a manufacturing analogy of work process, including how to manage constraints and blocking work.


Types of Operations Work

Early in the book, attention is spent on describing the types of work within an organization.

  • Business projects
  • IT projects
  • Changes
  • Unplanned work

Theory of Constraints

The Theory of Constraints focuses on addressing constraints which are the slowest part of the process and gate the overall efficiency of the process. The goal is to work on optimizing the work around constraits to use those resources the most efficiently. A key component of this theory is the Five Focusing Steps:

  1. Identify the constraints
  2. Exploit the constraints: “make sure that the constraint is not allowed to waste any time. Ever. It should not be waiting for any other resource for anything, and it should always be working on the highest priority commitment the IT Operations organization has made to the rest of the enterprise. Always.”
  3. Subordinate everything else to the constraint
  4. Elevate the constraints
  5. Find the next constraint and repeat

Additional Reading: Wikipedia, Comparison with Newbold and Schragenheim, Description.


The following are some excerpts from the book that I found useful. The Kindle is a great way to take notes this way.

Change Management

sA ‘change’ is any activity that is physical,logical, or virtual to applications, databases, operating systems, networks, or hardware that could impact services being delivered.

Preventive Work

Properly elevating preventive work is at the heart of programs like Total Productive Maintenance, which has been embraced by the Lean Community. TPM insists that we do whatever it takes to assure machine availability by elevating maintenance…. Improving daily work is even more important than doing daily work…. it almost doesn’t matter what you improve, as long as you’re improving something. Why? Because if you are not improving, entropy guarantees that you are actually getting worse, which ensures that there is no path to zero errors, zero work-related accidents, and zero loss.

Unplanned Work

Unplanned work kills your ability to do lanned work, so you must always do whatever it takes to eradicate it.

Work Components

Every work center is made up of four things: the machine, the man, the method, and the measures.

Resilience Engineering

Resilience engineering tells us that we should routinely inject faults into the system, doing them frequently, to make them less painful.


Overall, this is a good overview book for understanding the cast of characters within a company as they interact with operations and is a good book for understanding the challenges operations face. Armed with this context, additional reading is necessary to dive into the details of solving these multiple goals. I give this a 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a quick fun read (just a few days part tie on the Kindle) and provides some context for the challenges Operations faces.

Further Reading

The Phoenix Project references a number of works within the story including the following:

The following books are related operations books written by the authors:

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