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Cheat sheet: Glossary for terms mentioned in 'The Phoenix Project'

The Phoenix Project, written by Gene Kim, George Spafford and Kevin Behr, is a narrative-style best selling business book about a failing company and how its employees save the day by adopting DevOps practices. The book gives the reader an overview of what hard and soft skills are involved in this process by allowing the reader to observe the actions (and reactions) of the book's characters.

This glossary is a partial list of terms that are mentioned in the book. To refresh your memory, we've picked one important term for each chapter of The Phoenix Project and have added a "takeaway" quote to help you remember each chapter's context.

Chapter 1 - Contingency plan

"Restore critical business operations and keep us out of the front-page news. Got it. Thanks." -- Bill Palmer, newly promoted VP of IT Operations

  • contingency plan - a course of action designed to help an organization respond effectively to a significant future event or situation that may or may not happen. 
  • chief executive officer (CEO) - executive responsible for implementing existing plans and policies, ensuring the successful management of the business and setting future strategy.
  • chief financial officer (CFO) - executive responsible for managing the company's financial operations and strategy.
  • chief information officer (CIO) - executive in charge of information technology (IT) strategy and implementation.
  • information technology (IT) - the use of computers and computing resources to create, process, store, secure and exchange electronic data
  • IT operationsthe overarching term for the processes and services administered by an organization's information technology.
  • mission-critical application - a software program or suite of related programs that must function continuously in order for a business or segment of a business to be successful.
  • network availability - the measure of uptime over a specific time interval.

Chapter 2 - Blamestorming

We need to establish an accurate timeline of relevant events. And so far, we’re basing everything on hearsay. That doesn’t work for solving crimes, and it definitely doesn’t work for solving outages. -  Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

  • blamestorming - sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed and who was responsible.
  • change management - a systematic approach to dealing with the transition or transformation of an organization's goals, processes or technologies.
  • database - a collection of information that is organized so that it can be easily accessed, managed and updated.
  • distributed computing - a computing model in which components of a software system are shared among multiple computers in multiple locations. 
  • firmware - programming that's written to a hardware device's nonvolatile memory.
  • network operations center (NOC) - a room containing visualizations of the network or networks that are being monitored, workstations at which the detailed status of the network can be seen, and the necessary software to manage the networks.
  • outsourcing - a business practice in which a company hires a third-party to perform tasks, handle operations or provide services for the company.
  • payroll software - automates the process of paying salaried, hourly and contingent employees.
  • Rollback - undoing partly completed database changes when a database transaction is determined to have failed.
  • storage area network (SAN) - a dedicated high-speed network or subnetwork that interconnects and presents shared pools of storage devices to multiple servers.
  • virtualization - technology in which an application, guest operating system (guest OS) or data storage is abstracted away from the true underlying hardware or software.
  • virtual machine (VM) - an operating system (OS) or application environment that is installed on software and imitates dedicated hardware.

Chapter 3 - Public relations

I curse when I see an e-mail from our company PR manager, with a subject of “Bad news. We may be on the front page tomorrow…” I sit on the bed, squinting to read the accompanying news story...Parts Unlimited flubs paychecks, local union leader calls failure ‘unconscionable.’ - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

  • public relations - the use of communications channels to manage public perception of an individual or an organization. 
  • chief information security officer (CISO) - executive responsible for developing and implementing an information security program, which includes procedures and policies designed to protect enterprise communications, systems and assets from both internal and external threats.
  • compliance audit - a comprehensive review of an organization's adherence to regulatory guidelines.
  • data corruption - computer data that has become unusable, unreadable or in some other way inaccessible to a user or application.
  • Deployment - encompasses all the processes involved in getting new software or hardware up and running properly in its environment.
  • midrange - computers that are more powerful and capable than personal computers but less powerful and capable than mainframe computers.
  • tokenization - the process of replacing sensitive data with unique identification symbols that retain all the essential information about the data without compromising its security.

Chapter 4 - Pair programming

Before, I was merely worried that IT Operations was under attack by Development, Information Security, Audit, and the business. Now,
I’m starting to realize that my primary managers seem to be at war with each other, as well. What will it take for us to all get along? - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

  • pair programming - an Agile technique originating from Extreme programming (XP) in which two developers team together and work on one computer. 
  • blue screen of death (BSOD) -  the informal name given by users to the Windows general protection fault (GPF) error.
  • information security (infosec) - a set of strategies for managing the processes, tools and policies necessary to prevent, detect, document and counter threats to digital and non-digital information.
  • Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) - a framework designed to standardize the selection, planning, delivery and maintenance of IT services within a business. 
  • network switch - connects devices (such as computers, printers, wireless access points) in a network to each other, and allows them to ‘talk’ by exchanging data packets.
  • offshore outsourcing - the exporting of IT-related work from the United States and other developed countries to areas of the world where there is both political stability and lower labor costs or tax savings.
  • operating system (OS)
  • Patch Tuesday - the unofficial name of Microsoft's scheduled release of the newest security fixes. Currently occurs on the second Tuesday of each month.
  • point-of-sale terminal (POS terminal) - a computerized replacement for a cash register.
  • software patch - generally fall into three distinct categories: bug fixes, security updates and feature updates. 
  • user experience (UX) - the art of planning a product's design so that interactions with the completed product will be as positive as possible. 

Chapter 5 - Project scope

“You just want a list of organizational commitments for our key resources, with a one-liner on what they’re working on and how long it will take. We’ll start with all Phoenix and audit remediation resources first, but will eventually cover the entire IT Operations organization. Do I have it right?” - Patty McKee, Director of IT Service Support

  • project scope - the part of project planning that involves determining and documenting a list of specific project goals, deliverables, tasks, costs and deadlines. 
  • financial management system - improves short- and long-term business performance by streamlining invoicing and bill collection, eliminating accounting errors, minimizing record-keeping redundancy, ensuring compliance with tax and accounting regulations.
  • IT audit- determine whether IT controls protect corporate assets, ensure data integrity and are aligned with the business's overall goals.
  • IT controls - a procedure or policy that provides a reasonable assurance that the information technology (IT) used by an organization operates as intended, that data is reliable and that the organization is in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
  • personally identifiable information (PII) - any data that could potentially identify a specific individual. 
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act Section 404 (SOX Section 404) - mandates that all publicly-traded companies must establish internal controls and procedures for financial reporting and must document, test and maintain those controls and procedures to ensure their effectiveness.
  • work in progress (WIP) - inventory that has begun the manufacturing process and is no longer included in raw materials inventory, but is not yet a completed product. 

Chapter 6 - Change control

"I’ll probably need to have some of my people help organize all of the change cards over the weekend. Frankly, I’m stunned by how many changes there are." - Patty McKee, Director of IT Service Support 

  • change control - a systematic approach to managing all changes made to a product or system.
  • change request - a formal proposal for an alteration to some product or system.
  • Version control - processes and tools designed to keep track of multiple different versions of software, content, documents, websites and other information in development.
  • data migration - process of transferring data between data storage systems, data formats or computer systems.
  • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) - network management protocol used to dynamically assign an Internet Protocol (IP) address to any device, or node, on a network
  • firewall - software or firmware that prevents unauthorized access to a network.
  • network engineer - technology professional who has the necessary skills to plan, implement and oversee the computer networks that support in-house voice, data, video and wireless network services.
  • preventative maintenance - practices that reduce the risk of failures and improve the likelihood of quick recovery in the event that a failure does occur.
  • quality assurance (QA) - establishes and maintains set requirements for developing or manufacturing reliable products. 

Chapter 7 - Three types of work

I think back to my meeting with Wes and Patty. Wes mentioned we have a separate list for IT infrastructure projects and business projects. Are infrastructure projects another type of work? - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

  • bottleneck - point in the enterprise where flow is impaired or stopped entirely.
  • compliance - a state of being in accordance with established guidelines or specifications, or the process of becoming so.
  • deliverable - work that that is due on a specific date.
  • first-in, first-out (FIFO) - an approach to handling program work requests from queues or stacks. The oldest request is handled first.
  • lean manufacturing - methodology that focuses on minimizing waste within manufacturing systems while simultaneously maximizing productivity.
  • Theory of Constraints (TOC) - a philosophy of management and continuous improvement originally developed by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt and introduced in a book called The Goal.
  • The Three Ways - a set of principles that encourages organizations to optimize big-picture workflow, open short feedback loops for quick communication, and create a culture of learning and experimentation.
  • total quality management (TQM) - a management framework based on the belief that an organization can build long-term success by having all its members focus on improving quality and delivering customer satisfaction.

Chapter 8 - Introducing automation

“One last thing. I just want to point out that we’re tying up two people, as well as myself, running this manual process. It’s very labor intensive. Eventually, we’re going to have to think about some way to automate this." - Patty McKee, Director of IT Service Support 

  • internal audit (IA) - an organizational initiative to monitor and analyze its own business operations in order to determine how well it conforms to a set of specific criteria.
  • Java - a widely used programming language expressly designed for use in the distributed environment of the internet.
  • Pareto principle - a theory maintaining that 80 percent of the output from a given situation or system is determined by 20 percent of the input. (Also known as the 80/20 rule).
  • throughput - a measure of how many units of information a system can process in a given amount of time.

Chapter 9 - Project dependencies

If changes are a type of work different than projects, does that mean that we’re actually doing more than just the hundred projects? How
many of these changes are to support one of the hundred projects? If it’s not supporting one of those, should we really be working on it? - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

Chapter 10 - People can be constraints too

Wes, I want a timesheet from Brent every day, and I want every escalation Brent works in the ticketing system. We need that documented so we can analyze it later. Anyone using Brent’s time will need to justify it to me. If it’s not justified, I’ll escalate it to Steve, and that person and his manager will have to explain to Steve why they think their project or task is so important. - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

  • audit log (AL) - a document that records an event in an information (IT) technology system.
  • downsizing - reducing the number of employees on the operating payroll.keylogger - a type of surveillance technology used to monitor and record each keystroke.
  • replenishment - keep inventory flowing through the supply chain by maintaining efficient order and line item fill rates.

Chapter 11 - Kanban

“You want me to get my arms around the changes that are heading to Brent, indicating them on the change cards and maybe even requiring this information on all new cards. And to get back to you when we know how many changes are Brent-bound, what the changes are, and so forth, along with a sense of what the priorities are. Did I get that right?” - Patty McKee, Director of IT Service Support 

  • stakeholder - a person or group who has an interest in an enterprise and whose support is required in order for the enterprise to be successful.

Chapter 12 - Security breach

"...Wes just called. Apparently, the Phoenix application started showing the entire world people’s credit card numbers. It’s a
huge security breach, so I’m driving back in right now." - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

  • back end- refers to parts of a computer application or a program's code that allow it to operate and that cannot be accessed by a user.
  • FUBAR - an acronym that originated in the military to stand for the words "f***ed up beyond all repair.
  • Memory leak - the gradual loss of available computer memory when a program repeatedly fails to return memory that it has obtained for temporary use. 
  • rack - a physical framework that holds hardware modules.
  • script - a program or sequence of instructions that is interpreted or carried out by another program rather than by the computer processor (as a compiled program is).
  • smoke test - the preliminary check of a software program after a build and before a release.
  • staging environmenta nearly exact replica of a production environment for software testing.

Chapter 13 - Work in progress

As I’m talking, I realize how liberating it is to state that my team is absolutely at capacity and that there aren’t any calories left over for any new tasks, and people actually believe me. - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

  • card verification value (CVV) - feature used in credit/debit cards to establish the card owner's identity and minimize the risk of fraud.
  • data deduplication a process that eliminates redundant copies of data and reduces storage overhead. 
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard merchant levels (PCI DSS merchant levels) - metric used to determine risk from fraud and ascertain the appropriate level of security for a particular business.
  • usability - the measure of a product's potential to accomplish the goals of the user.

Chapter 14 - Social networking

I think it’s important that we get our guys to drop by the party. In order to succeed, we need to create these relationships with Chris’
development team. Even if it’s only for a half hour... As Spock once said, “Only Nixon could go to China.” And I guess I’m Nixon. - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

  • supply chain - the network of all the individuals, organizations, resources, activities and technology involved in the creation and sale of a product.

Chapter 15 - Identifying the goal

"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, whether it’s projects, operations, strategy, compliance with laws and regulations, security, or whatever." - Erik Reid, Board Member Candidate

  • change agent - someone who promotes and enables change to happen within any group or organization.
  • constraint - any restriction that defines a project's limitations.
  • kanban board - a visual system used to manage and keep track of work as it moves through a process. 
  • manufacturing operations management (MOM) - an approach of overseeing all aspects of the manufacturing process with a particular focus to increase efficiency.
  • scalability
  • Technical debt

Chapter 16 - Competing priorities

"So what I want from you, Bill, is to stay sufficiently on top of things, so that I don’t have my CFO saying that you’re dragging your feet. The house is burning down, and all I hear from you is about drawing pictures and timelines. What in the hell is wrong with you? You afraid to get people out of bed?” - Steve Masters, CEO

Chapter 18 - The buck stops here

"Steve smiles sadly. 'I know that the last couple of weeks have been harrowing. I now realize just how much responsibility I bare for all of this. Not just for the Phonix disaster, but everything leading up to the audit issues, the customer invoicing, and inventory failures over the last couple of days, and the trouble we're having with the auditors.'" - Steve Masters, CEO

  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Chapter 19 - Organizational trust

"I've seen such a difference in how the entire IT organization works. This is an organization that has resisted adopting any sort of process and had real problems with trust between departments. It's amazing to see." - Patty McKee, Director of IT Service Support 

Chapter 20 - Capacity planning

"Well, to be more accurate, you're actually building a bill of resources. That's the bill of materials along with the list of required work centers and the routing. Once you have that, along with the work orders and the resources, you'll finally be able to get a handle on what your capacity and your demand is. This is what will enable you to finally know if you can accept new work and then actually be able to schedule the work." - Erik Reid, Board Member Candidate

Chapter 21 - 7 Wastes

"This should be your guiding principle. You win when you protect the organization without putting meaningless work into the IT system. And you win even more when can take meaningless work out of the IT system." - Erik Reid, Board Member Candidate

  • downstream

Chapter 22 - Work centers

"I'm starting to think this whole work center notion actually describes IT work pretty well." - Patty McKee, Director of IT Service Support 

Chapter 23 - Human resource management

"Just great.' Wes says. 'It's like Gilligan's Island. We keep sending people off on three-hour tours and months later we wonder why none of them come back.'" - Wes Davis, Director of Distributed Technology Operations

Chapter 25 - Breaking down silos

"I can barely contain my sense of excitement. John's crazy meeting with Dick seems to have revealed something genuinely important. I believe with utter certainty that whatever we're trying to figure out is critical to the first way." - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

>Chapter 26 - Inventory management

"We're losing the easiest sales we can make. Our customers want to buy, but they're walking out empty-handed. We are clueless about what our customers want. We have too much product that we'll never sell, and never enough of the ones that do." - Ron Johnson, VP of Manufacturing Sales 

Chapter 27 - Risk management

"I'd like three weeks with each of the business process owners on that spreadsheet. We need to get the business risks posed by IT better defined and agreed upon, and then propose to you a way to integrate those risks into leading indicators of performance. Our goal is not just to improve business performance, but to get earlier indicators of whether we're going to achieve them or not." - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

Chapter 28 - The end of cowboy coding>

"'When we're out of the woods,' I say, 'We've got to figure out how to prevent this from happening again. There should be absolutely no way that the Dev and QA environments don't match the production environment." - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

Chapter 29 - Shift left testing

"Interesting. Isn't it? No reverse gear. So why should your flow of work have a reverse gear... think like a plant manager." - Erik Reid, Board Member Candidate

  • cycle time

Chapter 30 - Continuous deployment

"So, now it's your turn... You've got to figure out how to decrease your change over time and enable faster deployment cycle time. I think your target should be,' he says, pausing for a moment, '10 deploys a day. Why not?" - Erik Reid, Board Member Candidate

Chapter 31 - Lean management

"To Patty, the similarities between our deployments and a plant line isn't some academic question. She's treating our deployment as if it were actually a plant line. She's using lean tools and techniques that the manufacturing folks use to document and improve their processes. Suddenly, I understand what Erick meant when he talked about the deployment pipeline." - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

Chapter 32 - Decoupling

"By doing this, we could develop, test, and even run in operations without impacting Phoenix or other business-critical applications. And by decoupling ourselves from the other projects, we could make all the changes we needed to without putting all the other projects at risk." - Bill Palmer, VP of IT Operations

  • sprint (software development)

Chapter 33 - Canary testing

"We were able to do a test campaign to 1% of our customers. The results were stellar! Over 20% of the respondents went to our website, and over 6% purchased. These are incredibly high conversion rates, probably over five times over any campaign we've done before. We recommend doing a Unicorn promotion to all of our customers on Thanksgiving Day." - Maggie Lee, SVP of Retail Operations 

Chapter 34 - Unicorn

"I want to congratulate you for all your hard work. It has paid off beyond my wildest expectations. Thanks to Unicorn, both in-store and web sales are breaking records, resulting in record breaking revenue. At the current run rate, marketing estimates that we'll hit profitability this quarter. It will be our first profitable quarter since e the middle of last year. My heartiest congratulations to you all." - Steve Masters, CEO

Chapter 35 - Design thinking

"You helped me see that IT is not nearly a department, instead it's pervasive, like electricity. It's a skill, like being able to read or do math. Here at Parts Unlimited, we don' have a central reading or math department, we expect everyone we hire to have some mastery of it. Understanding what technology can and can't do has become a core competency that every part of this business must have." - Steve Masters, CEO

This was last updated in July 2020

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