Back in February I wrote a blog about how Amazon recommended the Phoenix Project about five minutes before I walked into Mike McGarr‘s office only to realize he was reading the book himself. I ended up reading the book, now twice cover-to-cover and I’m ready to share my thoughts…
I don’t know if I’ve ever really given a book review in the past. I know over the year’s I’ve recommended books like Seth Godin’s The Dip, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Blink, as well as Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick or any of the Patrick Lencioni books, though my favorite was Three Signs of a Miserable Job. What I’ve come to realize is that I like books that are relevant to career, survival, instinct, etc…that are presented as stories. The stories can take different formats. Patrick Lencioni and Gene Kim (Phoenix) tell their stories as fictional narratives with underlying business messages. Gladwell, Heath and Godin tell non-fictional, mini-stories about real people to relay their points. I’ve come to conclude I like both styles. I’ve also come to conclude that I don’t like books that read like college text books. None of the books above read like a boring text book
Let’s cut to the chase…I think you should read this book because it’s a riveting story that 99.99999% of all people not living under a rock can relate to. You don’t have to be in technology, manufacturing, business, etc…to find a kinship with the characters and storyline of the book. If you are reading my blog, most likely you are some form of technologist, whether that be a software developer or engineer. So this story will resonate like no other. You will find yourself associating character’s with real people from your own life experiences. I found myself chuckling over and over as I realized that I experienced or am experiencing (present day) many of the same challenges that the protagonist, Bill Morris and his team were facing.
I also took a lot of notes and performed a lot of reflection. I quickly realized that over time I managed to become quite complacent with my own work and the work of my team. I had a lot of in-flight work. I had no controls in place with regards to accepting work. Priorities were managed by who screamed the loudest. I kept asking myself, how in the world did we ever get any work done?
There are a ton of underlying themes and messages in the book. I took a few key points away from the book. These points ranged from knowing the origins of my work, controls of work being accepted or rejected, the flight/progress of work, prioritization of work, continuous improvement (kaizen) and the relevance of practice of work (kata). I’ll cover the three most important below.
Origins of Work
Work needs to be better categorized from where it’s coming. Work that comes from a customer or key stakeholder has different controls than let’s say a self-created initiative. The author’s call-out four types of work: Business, IT Operations, Changes and Unplanned work. It’s that fourth type of work (unplanned) which is the silent killer to a team. In my own work scenario, I’ve narrowed down work to three types: External (Client), Internal (infrastructure) and Unplanned.
Controls of Work
I’ve never gone so far to create a process for work to be accepted or rejected. I’ve definitely rejected work in the past, but never a formal process. What I didn’t realize that by not having a formal process for accepting work, it creates a high-degree of chaos in terms of a backlog of work. The stuff just keeps piling up until it gets done. When work piles up, priorities get mucked.
Work in Progress
The biggest take-away thus far for me has been an interest in learning about Kanban. All of my teams are using a Kanban tool, essentially a board that visualizes work, queues up tasks and acts as a pull-based approach in which we pull work in to the group. This comes as a result of the controls of work being put in place. We can visualize our actual WIP (Work in Progress). We have awareness of unplanned work (which takes a long time as it requires 100% transparency). We can help each other prioritize the work of the team.
I have two books that I’m actively reading. The first is The Goal by Eli Goldratt which is eerily similar in genre to this book. Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints is referenced constantly throughout the book. The second is Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business which is more of a HowTo on Kanban.