There was a Teams discussion at work and this book was mentioned, so I thought I would give it a go. I must admit I was a little nervous about it because I really didn’t like The Unicorn Project (see here) and it kind-of put me off reading anything else with Gene Kim’s name associated with it.
There are two forwards. The first by Martin Fowler and the second by Courtney Kissler. By the time I finished reading the forward by Courtney Kissler I felt really hyped up and I couldn’t wait to get into it. Reading it back now I’m not sure why it resonated with me so much, but it did…
The book is split into two main parts. The first part discusses the conclusions from the research. I think there are endless quotable moments here. I started to write some down, thinking I could incorporate some into this post, but there were too many, so I decided not to. 🙂 If you’ve read other books on DevOps and Lean, there won’t be a lot that is new to you, but these conclusions are evidence-based, rather than just speculation and rose coloured spectacles views of projects gone by. One of the things that irritates me with some books is I wonder how much is real, and how much is rewriting history to fit the narrative. Evidence based feels more real.
The second part of the book was more focused on the evidence that was gathered that lead to the conclusions. That sounds like it could be a little dry, but I think it worked quite well.
The Bad and the Ugly
I don’t have anything really negative to say about the book. The bad and the ugly is more down to the way I felt as the book came to a conclusion. When I’m reading these books I get a bit lost in them, and feel like I can make a difference. I’m all enthusiastic, but when they are over I come crashing down to earth. Discussions of culture change driven from the top, with senior management developing a culture of learning, leave me desolate. Discussions of the teams and people needed for success make me wonder if we have the raw materials to do this. It just seems insurmountable…
There was one section that mentioned working with 3rd party apps, and I was really interested to see what they said, but it was rather vague and disappointing, which I could have predicted. That was probably my only real gripe, but the book was unapologetically focused on software development, so I can’t really hold this point against it. 🙂
If you are into the whole DevOps, Lean and organisational transformation stuff I think it’s worth taking a look. You aren’t necessarily going to walk away with new insights, but you might get a better understanding of how you can quantify a transformation you are taking part in. It’s also nice to be reminded of stuff you’ve read before…
I had a credit on Audible, which I’ll explain later, so I gave it a whirl.
I don’t know if it was the writing, or the voice acting, but The Goal has so much more personality than The Phoenix Project. I can barely believe I’m saying this after the amount of praise I’ve given to The Phoenix Project over the years.
The Goal is centred around manufacturing. It’s about the productivity issues in a failing factory. Despite being part of the tech industry, I feel the focus on manufacturing actually makes it easier to follow. There’s something about picturing physical products that make things seem clearer to me. This, and the fact many of these concepts were born out of manufacturing, are no doubt why The Phoenix Project makes repeated references to manufacturing.
I realise some people will prefer The Phoenix Project, because it more closely resembles what they see in their own failing technology organisations, but I think I’ve changed my opinion, and I think The Goal is now my favourite of the two.
The DevOps Handbook (Again)
Another thing I mentioned in my review of The Unicorn Project, was how much I disliked The DevOps Handbook. That seemed to surprise some people. So much so, I started to doubt myself. I couldn’t bring myself to read it again, so I decided to sign up for Audible and get it as my free book. That way I could listen to it when driving to visit my family at weekends.
I was not wrong about this book. In the comments for The Unicorn Project review, I answered a question about my attitude to The DevOps Handbook with the following answer.
“I found it really boring. I guess I was hoping it would be more of a reference or teaching aid. I found it really dry and quite uninformative for the most part. It mostly felt like a bunch of people “bigging themselves up”. Like, “When I worked at X, things were terrible, and I turned it around by myself and now things are fuckin’ A!” Similar to this book, I think the important messages could be put across in a tiny fraction of the space.”
There are undoubtedly valuable messages in The DevOps Handbook, but my gosh they make you work hard to find them. If they removed all the dick-waving, there wouldn’t be much left.
Another thing I found annoying about it, was it didn’t feel like it really related to my circumstances. I work with a load of third party products that I can’t just scrap, much as I’d like to. I found myself thinking these people were probably just cherry-picking the good stuff to talk about, and forgetting the stuff that was harder to solve. I’ve written about this type of thing in this post.
The messages in the “good DevOps books” are universal. They help you understand your own problems and think your own way through to solving them. I don’t think The DevOps Handbook helps very much at all.
So that’s twice I’ve tried, and twice I’ve come to the same conclusion. Stick with The Goal and The Phoenix Project. There are better things to do with your time and money than wasting it on The DevOps Handbook and The Unicorn Project. That’s just my opinion though!
PS. By the time I had waded through The DevOps Handbook a second time I had already got a new credit for Audible, which is why I tried The Goal on Audible, rather than reading it. I’m glad I did.
PPS. There are a few cringeworthy gender stereotypes in The Goal, but remember when this was written…
Having complained about how the female lead character was used in The Unicorn Project, I figured it was time to read this book and see it done properly again.
I’m not going to include any full-on spoilers, but some things might give the game away, so don’t read this if you’ve not already read the book.
During the first sequence in the book I got a pretty good idea what was coming and I was like, “No. No. Nooooooooo!” I’m not going to say what it was, but it was a major kick in the gonads…
Tiffany Aching is a great character. It would be so easy for a lesser writer to make her a Mary Sue, but Pratchett keeps her multi-dimensional. Sometimes strong, clever, and at times ruthless. Sometimes self-doubting and almost naive.
As you would expect for this part of the disc (world), there are a number of familiar characters. It’s wrong to say any character in Discworld is “my favourite”, as it changes with each book, and sometime several times in a single book. This book contained several of my favourite characters. Some old and some new. 🙂 There was also a brief appearance by Horace, a Blue Lancre cheese made by Tiffany, who was known to eat mice, and as it turns out is capable of fighting alongside the Nac Mac Feegle. I’m ashamed to admit I had forgotten about him until he was mentioned in a scene.
This was quite an emotional roller coaster ride of a story. Partly because of the story itself and the characters involved. Partly because it was the last of a 41 book series, which I loved. Partly because of the reason for why it was the last book.
Oh well. Happy days!
For those that don’t know, here’s a little bit of history…
Despite having a degree and a PhD, I had somehow managed to remain pretty terrible at reading. I suspect a mild case of dyslexia maybe. In 2006, at the tender age of 37, I decided to force myself to start reading in an attempt to improve.
I started by reading The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. In 2007 I started to read the Discworld series and got hooked. I read all of the books (very slowly) that existed until I was done, then kept reading each new one as they arrived. I’ve dipped in and out of other things since then, but by far the majority of the books I’ve read in my life were part of this series. We are fast nearing the end of 2019, and that part of my reading life is now over. 🙁
For those that care, I am substantially better at reading now. Part of that is practice of course. Part of it is not beating myself up about being crap at reading anymore. Part of it is the additional confidence public speaking has given me. I’m still pretty terrible at reading out loud, but I’m less bothered by the mistakes now. 🙂
So for the part you played in that process, thanks Terry!
I loved The Phoenix Project, but absolutely hated The DevOps Handbook, so I was a little reluctant to start reading The Unicorn Project, as I was really worried I would hate it, and it would tarnish the memory of The Phoenix Project.
Overall it was fine, but IMHO it was nowhere near as good as The Phoenix Project.
I’m not going to talk details here, but instead talk about my feelings about the book. You don’t have to agree. 🙂
Let’s talk about Maxine
In The Phoenix Project, Bill was an experienced manager, but he was asked to take over a role that was totally out of his comfort zone. He was mentored by Eric, who helped to develop him in his new role using “The Three Ways” and giving him an understanding of the 4 types of work, and how they affect productivity. Bill was gradually introduced to the three ways, one at a time, and we as the reader went on that journey with him and his colleagues. There was a definite story arc and a clear development of his character.
In The Unicorn Project, Maxine is a super God-mode developer/architect that has done pretty much everything before, and is totally amazing at almost everything. The first two chapters tell us this repeatedly. At the start of the book she is already the finished article. As a result of this there seems little in the way of character development here. Where do you go from amazing? When she does interact with Eric, he basically brain-dumps “The Five Ideals” in one shot to Maxine and friends, and they pretty much run with it. The story arc and development of Maxine as a character, and most of the other characters also, is weak in comparison to Bill’s story from the first book.
You see this problem in reality TV competitions. If a person’s first audition is “too good”, they won’t win the show. The show is built around the journey. The alternative is to craft a back story that fakes a journey, which is why they didn’t mention Kelly Clarkson had already recorded demos and turned down 2 record contracts before she auditioned for American Idol. The character arc is built around the journey from waitress to diva.
The lack of “progress” of the lead character is the biggest problem with this book from my perspective. I know it’s a DevOps book, but it’s not a reference book. It’s meant to be like The Phoenix Project, which uses a story to convey the message.
I like the fact there is a female lead character, and I certainly understand the problem with making her a newbie, mentored by an old white guy :), but I think this situation caused a problem with the story line, and ultimately how “The Five Ideals” were presented to us as the reader. The concepts and meaning of them should have been drip fed to us, like they were in the first book. Almost making us feel like we’ve discovered them for ourselves.
As far as I see it, one of the following would have solved this problem.
Leave Maxine as a super God-mode developer, and have her introduce the rest of the characters in the development teams to “The Five Ideals”. Maybe she learnt “The Three Ways” from Eric in the past, and developed them further, giving them a more development focused slant? I guess how you play this depends on how wedded you are to the idea that Eric is involved in this part of the company transformation. She could have just figured this stuff out for herself.
Make Maxine less capable, and have a female mentor that teachers her about “The Five Ideals”, allowing her story arc to be similar to Bill’s, and allowing us to go on the journey with her. If you need a link back to Eric, you can always make this mentor one of Eric’s proteges or a former colleague. Hell, make her the person who taught Eric.
Make Maxine less capable and let Eric mentor her, like he did with Bill. Yes, people will criticise the fact you showed her as less capable, but the development of her character would have been more interesting.
So the problem isn’t the fact the lead character is a woman. There is no journey!
Why do you care about the story?
The great thing about The Phoenix Project was we learned about The Three Ways and the types of work as part of the story. It was not a technical reference book, but allowed someone new to the concepts to understand them, and see why they were important. I think a lot of people from a less technical background could pick up the book and see exactly why this stuff made sense. It was in itself a good tool to promote change.
The main purpose of The Unicorn Project is to tell us about “The Five Ideals” and how they relate to the three horizons framework. I don’t think it did a good job of that. When I finished the book I found myself asking, “Did they really explain any of this stuff properly?” I Googled some of the concepts to make sure, and learned more in a couple of pages than I did in the whole book.
I feel like you would get more value out of reading The Phoenix Project, then following it up with this interview with Gene Kim.
It’s interesting that in the interview Gene Kim says, “Maxine who is a very talented architect, knows the five ideal patterns.” From where? Just from what Eric said? OK. Is she meant to be relating what Eric tells her to what she already knew? If so, how did she find this stuff for herself? I feel like that journey is a lot more interesting, and likely more informative than what we actually got. After all, that journey is the one we saw Bill make in the first story.
After reading the interview I can see what was actually meant to be happening here was Maxine was just observing what was going wrong, whilst already knowing the solution. Eric was effectively irrelevant to her progress. In fact, her progress was not the point. It was the progress of the project that was the point. I don’t think I got that from the book at all, and if that were the case, why not go with my first suggestion and make her the “Eric” of this book? I think that would have worked a lot better! Maxine is Yoda. That works for me.
As it stands, I don’t think you can give this book to someone and say, “This is why DevOps matters”, in the same way you could with The Phoenix Project. If that’s what it was meant to be, then I think it has probably failed. If it’s a rallying call for people who already know about DevOps, then it’s probably not too bad, but could have made most of the important points in a blog post.
I see some very gushy comments about how “amazing” the book is. That is not the book I read, although you will read the word “amazing” all the time in it…
What really matters I guess
The Five Ideals are pretty much a different take on The Three Ways. The Phoenix Project and The Three Ways probably feel more infrastructure focused, while The Unicorn Project and The Five Ideals are more development focused. At least, that’s what my boss tells me. 🙂 That might make The Five Ideals more attractive to a section of the audience, as they may feel more relevant. Being someone that bridges the infrastructure and development gap, I think they both apply equally well really, but I can see how they might have a different appeal. They are different ways of stating the same thing.
There are some great messages in this book, and I agree with the vast majority of them. If you can focus on “the message”, I think you will enjoy it a lot more than me. Having said that, it feels really badly written compared to The Phoenix Project. To the point where I can hardly believe these two books are by the same author. Better editing, and maybe reducing many chapters to two thirds or half their current size, could have given this more punch and made it much better. Better than The Phoenix Project? I don’t know, but as it stands it feels like a pale imitation of it. I keep wanting to say the word “clumsy”, and everything about it feels that way. Having said all that, there were a couple of chapters towards the end which were quite exciting, so it’s not all bad.
Despite all this, I think it will be a valuable source of quotes, or paraphrased statements, and similar to The Phoenix Project, it will be used to help effect change in stubborn organisations. For that alone I guess we should be grateful.
I wonder how I would have felt if I had read this book first?
I’m interested to know what others felt. Maybe I was just expecting too much, having been such a big fan of The Phoenix Project, which I guess you already figured out. 🙂
I waited a long time before starting this book because I heard from several sources that it wasn’t very good and I didn’t want to ruin what has been an awesome 39 book series. I finally bit the bullet and I’m really glad I did because I really enjoyed it. Maybe some literary types can argue some difference between the earlier books and this one, but as far as I can see it’s the same Discworld stuff I’ve enjoyed all along.
Steam trains have come to Discword and most of the world has fallen under their spell. I used to love toy trains as a kid, so I could relate to this. 🙂
For a quick recap, Harry Dresden is a wizard for hire. Look him up in the Chicago Yellow Pages. Magic is real. Ghosts are real. Fairies are tall, so beautiful it’s almost painful to look at them, and are so divorced from mortals that they seem evil. All the gods you’ve ever heard of are real. All the things that go bump in the night are real too…
In this book Harry is forced to work with some of his enemies to pull a bank job with a difference!
I love Harry Dresden and I love The Dresden Files. The books are always fast and furious, sometimes a little predictable, but in a good way, and ultimately really fun. I think every book has also had moments that have been genuinely emotional and inspirational.
If you liked the previous books you will love this. If Harry Dresden is not your kind of guy, there is something wrong with you… 🙂
I’m reading Skin Game by Jim Butcher and a couple of things jumped out at me last night. First, one about interpreting facts.
“You have an array of facts in front of you that can fit any of several truths. You have to choose what you’re going to allow to drive your decisions about how to deal with those facts.”
The next one is about fear.
“… fear is a terrible, insidious thing… It taints and stains everything it touches. If you let fear start driving some of your decisions, sooner or later it will drive them all. I decided that I’m not going to be the kind of person who lives her life in fear…”
Nothing really new here, but occasionally your hear the right words at the right time and they hit you with extra meaning…
A little over a year ago, I wrote a review of a book called Girl 99 by Andrew P. Jones. I got an email from the author a few days ago to say his latest book, Untogether Lives, was released on Kindle, so I downloaded it straight away. Here’s what it’s all about.
Untogether Lives is a collection of fourteen stories that peek through the curtains of an eclectic cast, struggling to keep mind, body and the world around them together. From an amputee shoe thief, to an unlikely arsonist, to a sexually frustrated quadriplegic.
Predominantly dark and occasionally disturbing, these stories are not for the faint-hearted, but neither are they without humour. Not everyone in Untogether Lives gets a happy ending, and not everyone survives – but, hey, that’s life for you.
I loved it! It seems strange saying that when the subject matter is so dark, but it’s true. The writing style works really well for me. The content is very different to what I normally read, but it was good being taken out of my comfort zone. What really amazes me is the amount of connection I felt to some of the characters, even in the shorter stories. Despite the darkness, there is humour in there too. This book is definitely not for the sensitive souls out there, but I think it is a great collection of stories. I’m looking forward to the next book from the author!
The Hyperion Cantos is essentially two stories. The first one split over the first two books and the second split over books three and four. The two stories are separated by about 300 years, but there are some links and even common characters. Throughout the books the characters and scenarios were consistently interesting, but the books themselves were not always so consistently good to read. The Rise of Endymion is a good example of that. There are some totally excellent sections of the book and some that could just do with being cut completely. There was a section describing the mountain ranges of a planet and I just found myself thinking, “WTF is the author expecting readers to think here? It’s a string of made up names for mountains that don’t exist. What a waste of words…”
Despite the issues, I was extremely interested to see how things turned out. Who lived, who died, did the Pax/Church get exposed and overthrown… In that sense, the book delivered very well.
On reflection, the series reminds me a lot of the Dune series. A combination of exceptional high points and some rather lacklustre sections that test your loyalty. 🙂 Both series are well worth the effort though…
After finding the last book a little patchy at times, this one returned to the same sort of pacing and thrust that made me love the first book. This story picks up nearly 300 years after the last one ends. The daughter of one of the characters from the previous book entered one of the time tombs and appeared in Hyperion 274 years later. Since then things have changed throughout the former web worlds and the church has a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. The last thing they need is a little girl, with the power to topple their stronghold on the galaxy, messing things up for them.
The timeline does jump around a little and there are always a couple of stories happening at the same time, but it is a lot more direct and easier to follow than the last book. I think this was helped by the fact I was able to read is in relatively few sittings. OK, they were spread over the best part of a month, but at least each time I picked it up I got through quite a few pages.
I’m really looking forward to the last book in the series. Fingers crossed it ends strongly…