Thursday, July 6, 2017

Notes to Self - 'The Phoenix Project - A Novel on IT, DeveOps and Helping Your Business Win'

Notes from the book ‘The Phoenix Project – A Novel on IT, Devops and Helping your Business Win’. 

Conclusion: Must read for people working in Information Technology. Click here to check out the book on Amazon India or below for Amazon.com

This book is about how Bill, who is the acting VP of IT operations of an (Imaginary) company called Parts Unlimited, organizes work flow, streamlines interdepartmental communications and serves other business functions of parts Unlimited. Bill does this  under the guidance of Erik , a prospective board member, and Erik’s mysterious philosophy called three ways . People who are aware of Eliyahu Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, as expounded in the seminal classic ‘ The Goal’ will find themselves completely at home with the book. 

A project way behind schedule and budget over-run, an IT department that is not able to respond to business demands fast enough that results in a scenario where IT department that may be outsourced in 90 days, makes it fast paced and entertaining read.  Examples of Audit NC’s , failed system upgrades , Payroll processing delays , Increased time to market , the inability of the organization to respond faster to market needs, taking a beating on quarterly results, decreasing share price, sell rating by analysts and bad press and a host of technical issues makes the experienced IT professional feel completely at home with the book ;-)


But ultimately, this book is about Devops. By showcasing the conflict between Development and IT operations that sets-up failure for the entire IT organization and therefore the entire organization. Devops is brought in as the solution and this results in the organization deploying code quickly into production, with a code deployment lead time measured in minutes or hours  which in turn enables the organization to experiment  and innovate-out their competitors in the marketplace.  Now we may question where reducing code deployment lead times fit in for organizational profit. To quote from the book , “Today technology has become the dominant value creation process and an increasingly important and often the primary means of customer acquisition within most organizations” answers this query.

I have given below some key quotes from the book.

Your job as VP of IT operations is to ensure the fast, predictable, and uninterrupted flow of planned work that delivers value to the business while minimizing the impact and disruption of unplanned work, so you can provide stable, predicable, and secure IT service

Being able to take needless work out of the system is more important than being able to put more work into the system. To do that, you need to know what matters to the achievement of the business objectives, where it is projects, Operations, Strategy, Compliance with laws and regulations, security or whatever.

Remember, outcomes are what matter – not the process, not controls, or , for that matter, what work you complete

Some of the wisest auditors say that there are only three internal control objectives: 

1.  To gain assurance for reliability of financial reporting 
2.  Compliance with laws and regulations, and 
3.  Efficiency and effectiveness of operations.”

CFO Goals
  • Health of Company
  • Revenue
  • Market Share
  • Average order size
  • Profitability
  • Return on assets
  • Health of Finance
  • Order to cash cycle
  • Accounts Receivable
  • Accurate and Timely Financial Reporting
  • Borrowing Costs

Questions for a company
  • Are we competitive?
  • Understanding customer needs and wants: do we know what to build ?
  • Product Portfolio: Do we have the right products ?
  • R&D effectiveness: Can we build it effectively ?
  • Time to Market : Can we ship it soon enough to matter ?
  • Sales Pipeline: We can convert prospects to customers ?
  •  Are we effective
  • Customer on-time delivery: Are customers getting what we promised them?
  • Customer Retention : Are we gaining or losing customers ?
  • Sales Forecast Accuracy: Can we factor this into our sales planning process ?

“ In these competitive times, the name of the game is to quick time-to-market and to fail fast. We just can’t have multiyear product development timelines, waiting until the end to figure out whether we have a winner or loser on our hands. We need short and quick cycle times to continually integrate feedback from the market place

“In any system of work, the theoretical ideal is a single-piece flow, which maximizes throughput and minimizes variance. You get there by continually reducing batch sizes. When lengthen release intervals and increase the number of features in each release, you’ve lost the ability to control variance from one release to the next.

“John Allspaw and Paul Hammond ran IT Operations and Engineering in Flickr. They taught that Dev and Ops working together, along with QA and the business, are a super-tribe that can achieve amazing things. They also knew that until code is in production, no value is actually being generated, because it is merely WIP stuck in the system. They kept reducing batch size, enabling fast feature flow. In part, he did this by ensuring environments were always available when they were needed. He automated the build and deployment process, recognizing that infrastructure could be treated as code, just like the application that development ships. That enabled him to create a one-step environment creation and deploy procedure.

“Business Agility is not just about raw speed. It is about how good you are at detecting and responding to changes in the market and being able to take larger and more calculated risks. It’s about continual experimentation. If you can’t out experiment and beat your competitors in time to market and agility, you are sunk."

“Features are always a gamble. If you are lucky, ten percent will get desired benefits. So the faster you can get those features to market and test them, the better off you’ll be. Incidentally, you lay pay back the business faster for the use of capital, which means the business starts making money faster, too

The Three Ways that Erik uses to guide Bill
  • The First way helps us understand how to create fast flow of work as  it moves from Development into Operations, because that’s what’s between the business and the customer.
  • The second way shows us how to shorten and amplify feedback loops, so we can fix quality at the source and avoid rework.
  • And the third way shows us how to create a culture that simultaneously fosters experimentation, learning from failure, and understanding that repetition and practice are pre-requisites to mastery
Four types of IT Operations work as explained to Bill by Erik:
  •  Business Projects: These are business initiatives, of which majority are development projects. These do get tracked typically by Project Management Office
  • Internal IT Projects: This typically involves infrastructure or IT Operations projects that business projects may create as well as internally generated improvement projects ( upgrade OS, DB). These are not tracked separately anywhere and are subprojects of the Business projects. This creates a problem when IT operations is a bottle neck, because the capacity already committed and capacity available is never known.
  • Changes: These are often generated from the previous two types of work and are typically tracked in a ticketing system , typically separate systems for IT operations and Development) The fact that two different systems exist to handle different parts of the same work does create problems when handoffs are required.
  • Un-Planned work: These include operational incidents and problems, often caused by the previous types of work and always come at the expense of planned work.

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