I find myself recommending the same books over and over again. When speaking to techies I invariably recommend GOOS; when speaking to managers The Mythical Man Month or Waltzing With Bears. Over the past year or two, I’ve also pointed a lot of organisations at Continuous Delivery by Jez Humble and Dave Farley. It’s an important book, but I think it could have been shorter, and that’s an important consideration for the target audience. If you consider the other books I recommend that weigh in at 384, 336 and 196 pages respectively, Continuous Delivery extends to 512 and it feels longer. That’s not because it isn’t good – it is – but because it is detailed and quite dense.
Last week I finally heeded Liz Keogh’s advice and read The Phoenix Project (“a novel about IT, Devops and helping your business win”). In terms of prose style, it doesn’t compete with Liz’s own efforts, but it is very readable and does a great job of getting some quite tricky concepts across (Lean, Theory of Constraints, The Three Ways). The authors acknowledge their debt to Goldratt’s The Goal, and indeed they are ploughing the same furrow, but in the field of software. Amazon says the print copy is 343 pages long, but I read it on the Kindle and it felt shorter than that.
The reason I’m adding this book to my recommended list isn’t just because it’s short and readable. It’s because it makes some very frightening concepts very easy to digest. I didn’t know how to explain quite why I liked it so much until I found myself reading a Venkat Rao post this morning, where he describes how we change our minds:
You have to:
1. Learn new habits based on the new view
2. Learn new patterns of thinking within the new view
The order is very important. I have never met anybody who has changed their reasoning first and their habits second. You change your habits first. This is a behavioral conditioning problem largely unrelated to the logical structure and content of the behavior.
The Phoenix Project is sufficiently novel-like to slip under the radar and give the reader the chance to see the new habits before the traditional “that could never work here” response kicks in. To some extent the cheesy characters and predictable plot line works in its favour, because you find your resistance being led off in that direction.
It won’t win the Booker and you probably won’t read it twice, but as a vehicle to get difficult and important concepts across it’s unbeatable.