I’ve just finished reading “The Phoenix Project,” by Kim, Behr and Spafford. To be honest, it was on my reading list but had I not picked up a copy at Camp DevOps I don’t know that I would have ever read the book. My main issue with books of this ilk, such as “Who Moved My Cheese” and “The Energy Bus,” is that the story is often contrived for purposes of delivering the learning points. So, I was surprised by how much I was able to relate to the issues in Phoenix giving it an air of reality I was not expecting.
Phoenix follows the life of a new VP of IT Operations through his early weeks on the job. Plucked from obscurity as the Director of Mid-range Computing after his management chain was seemingly asked to depart the company, Bill’s eyes are opened to a world of heroics and chaos that surrounds him in IT and has had detrimental impact on the company’s financial and competitive performance. For anyone who has logically questioned, “how can that happen?” in their own companies, the authors do a great job of illustrating the paths that lead to the unimaginable outcomes we see every day in our own IT world.
That said (spoiler coming), I ask the authors, did we really need to make Bill’s dad an alcoholic? Sorry, completely tangential point, but interestingly, one of the few times where I thought the authors had reached into their “drama box” for reasons that are still unclear. Nonetheless, after reading this book, I reflected upon the content that is being created around DevOps movements and realize that there is a polarization effect occurring.
Camp 1 I categorize as the “lean camp”. This camp represents those that believe DevOps should be the application of lean manufacturing principles on IT. In this perspective IT is represented as a critical hub through which business is enabled and transacted. In accordance with this perspective, work enters the hub through multiple endpoints and must be prioritized and coordinated in order to ensure that a) critical IT resources are sourced appropriately and with maximum value to the business and b) constraints and bottlenecks are minimized, thus allowing work-in-progress to complete successfully. Anyone who has studied any aspect of logistics, manufacturing or supply-chain management understands the number of variables involved in this type of scheduling, but applying this to IT is significantly more challenging since it requires the cooperation at both the 30,000 foot view and the 10 foot view, with the latter required to understand the impact of scheduling conflict and help foster collision avoidance that could lead to outages.
Camp 2 I categorize as the “bandwagon camp”. This camp represents individuals that are using DevOps as a lever for their careers. Certainly, DevOps is the hot topic of the day and having it on the resume is certainly good for a few extra brownie points and higher salaries. Ask these individuals what DevOps is about and you hear answers, such as, “it’s about changing the culture in IT,” “it’s about getting development and operations to cooperate more effectively,” or my personal favorite, “it’s about automation.” The truth is that DevOps needs aspects of all of these factors but driven under an umbrella of work described in the Camp 1 description above. Acted on independently under the guise of DevOps and we will see DevOps nose dive into Gartner’s trough of disillusionment very quickly.
Will things get fixed in Camp 2? Probably. Certainly implementing controls around who can make changes and when they can occur may help many businesses limit the unplanned work that is crippling their ability to address other work efforts. However, since this is not the focus of the DevOps effort, unplanned work will continue to come from other areas, it’s just the nature of the beast and without correcting the actions that foster unplanned work, it will continually have a negative impact on the business.
The authors of Phoenix have done a fantastic job of providing IT leaders with a goal for their DevOps programs. If they are wise, they will rapidly adopt the principles defined therein and make sure that all other so-called DevOps efforts in the company are aligned for purposes of reigning in the chaos and free-wheeling efforts of rogue IT employees. I recently met with a VP of IT for one of the major food distribution companies. I was awed by how effectively his IT organization operates, but now I realize, that his company is primarily a logistics and supply-chain company that happens to move food. It only makes sense that the principles they use to run their business would be adopted for IT as well; especially with their IT leaders coming from other parts of the business. In combination with Phoenix, the meeting locked it for me that the lean principles are key to positioning IT as the business enabler needed to be competitive in the current era.