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The Phoenix Project book club - Chapters 1 and 2 podcast

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During the pandemic, the team stayed close to our audience by reading a chapter from The Phoenix Project each weekday. 


SPEAKERS:  Wesley Chai, Alexander Gillis, Ben Lutkevich, Margaret (Peggy) Rouse, Kaitlin Herbert

Wesley Chai  00:04

Hello and welcome everyone to the virtual book club. My name is Wesley, and we have Ben, Alex, Kaitlin and Peggy here with us. We're all technical writers on the team at TechTarget. Today we will be covering chapters one and two of The Phoenix Project, which is a business and information technology (IT) novel by Gene Kim, George Spafford, and Kevin Behr. This book is commonly referred to as the DevOps bible. So, let's talk a little bit – what’s happening in the book so far?

Alexander Gillis  00:30

In the first chapter, we meet the protagonist, Bill Palmer. He is the director of mid-range technology operations at an auto parts company called Parts Unlimited. Midrange technology includes servers used in industrial control systems and manufacturing plants. Bill suddenly -- and quite reluctantly -- gets promoted to VP of IT operations by Steve Masters, the company’s CEO.

Wesley Chai  01:02

What do you like about the book so far? What stood out to you?

Alexander Gillis  01:09

One of the first things that stood out to me was the narrative structure of the book. Instead of being like a dry textbook that focuses on  technical skills, the book emphasizes the importance of communication between team members. I like that there is a lot of in-depth discussion about each character and that we get to see the characters interact.

Ben Lutkevich  01:32

Yeah, I like the narrative format too. In addition to observing interactions between the characters, you also get to hear Bill's inner monologue about all the challenges he's facing. He's kind of thrust into a situation he doesn't know a lot about. I don’t really know what it would be like to be in Bill’s role, so it was really helpful for me to learn the information in an engaging manner I could relate to.

Wesley Chai  01:54

Yeah, I mean, I think the narrative works really well also. It's an effective way to illustrate that DevOps is a culture, not a specific technology that you can buy. And the story really does give you a peek into how each small change on the back end can significantly impact business goals. So...what do we know so far about the company and this mysterious Project Phoenix?

Peggy Rouse  02:41

We know it's a mess! The book starts off with a press release. Companies always want press releases to be about good news -- but in this case, it’s very bad news. We learn that he company’s stock price has gone down 19% in the last 30 days and investors want leadership changes. The mysterious Phoenix Project is years behind and there’s speculation the company will be split up. We learn that CEO Steve Masters has been given six months to turn the company around. The analyst writing the press release wonders if Sarah Moulton, the VP of Retail at Parts Unlimited, will be the next CEO.  And we’re left wondering who is going to save the day – will it be Steve? Will it be Bill, the new VP of IT Operations? Or will it be Sarah?

Ben Lutkevich  03:57

You think this level of mess -- this situation is realistic? Does it really happen?

Peggy Rouse  04:04


Kaitlin Herbert  04:06

Yeah, I think it clearly shows the challenges that companies who use the Waterfall method for software development face every day. DevOps is responsible for changing the way software is written, tested and deployed. It’s impossible to be Agile when you're using waterfall because you won't have working software until the end of the project.

Ben Lutkevich  04:22

Agreed. The waterfall method seems to lead to a lot of siloed departments in Parts Unlimited. And those information silos mean the folks who work there don't really know where problems are coming from. When the payroll outage happens, for example, nobody has a complete view of the whole system so everyone just sit around blaming each other for being the cause of the problem. What do you guys think about the company’s structure and how it affects character interactions in the first few chapters?

Kaitlin Herbert  05:00

I think we see how different personalities affect the culture of work and how knowledge silos can negatively affect the overall performance of the company. If we're looking at specific relationships, a few stand out to me. Dick Landry is the CFO and he's combative and demanding and dismissive. It'll be interesting to see whether his attitude is a hindrance or will actually help him get things done. Another significant relationship is the one between Bill, Wes and Patty in IT operations. There’s a completely new power dynamic because they all used to be co-workers on the same level, and now Bill is their their boss.

Ben Lutkevich  06:32

Yes – I thought that was interesting too. And when Bill tries to stop the blamestorming about the payroll outage, they don't even know that he's their new boss!

Peggy Rouse  06:38

I know – right? 

 Kaitlin Herbert  06:39

Yes, it’s surprising nobody told them -- but they work at a big corporation -- so maybe it’s NOT so surprising that Bill has to announce his promotion to his own team. And now, not only does Bill have to figure out how to be the authority figure, he also needs to learn what talents each new team member has and where the dependencies are. I think the relationship between Bill and Steve is going to be important. They were both in the military and seem to have that as an immediate connection. This made me wonder – is there some connection between DevOps and the military?

Peggy Rouse  07:36

That's an interesting question.

Wesley Chai  07:38

Yeah, I wondered about that too. So far, we’ve learned that Steve was in the Army and Bill was in the Marines. I wonder if this is a testament to the importance of certain qualities that are important for DevOps to work smoothly? Maybe being in the military helped them both develop a respect for processes and order that will be useful in helping them move forward?

Alexander Gillis  08:03

You get a sense of that warrior mentality when Bill talks about teamwork and solving the problem of the day. I liked it when he said, “You argue your case as best as you can as an officer, but sometimes you just have to say ‘Yes, sir!’ and go take that hill.”

Ben Lutkevich  08:44

Yeah. Steve appeals to Bill’s sense of duty, so Bill finally takes the hill and accepts the promotion. But then Steve says something like “Here's what I really want -- I want IT operations to keep the lights on and the toilets running. I should be able to use the bathroom, flush, go back to work and never think about it again." This told me that even though he and Bill have a shared background, Steve has no idea how IT could actually be used to solve business problems. 

Wesley Chai  09:34

So that's what's going on in Parts Unlimited up to this point. It seems that Bill has his work cut out for him. This wraps up our virtual book club discussion on chapters 1 and 2 of The Phoenix Project. Tune in next time to see what Bill’s team does to contain the situation and fix the problems caused by the payroll outage.

Ben Lutkevich  09:53

Thanks for listening.



This was last updated in July 2020
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