Revisiting The Goal

2014-08-04 16.39.15I finished reading the highly recommended book The Phoenix Project this morning while chilling out in Lincoln Caffe Nero, which is nicely nestled inside the Waterstones bookshop.  As soon as I saw the premise of the book it reminded me of the classic novel about manufacturing The Goal and it turns out that in fact it’s essentially the same book, applying the lessons that The Goal taught about manufacturing but this time to the world of IT. 

The book seems to be very popular with Amazon reviewers and others at work and I enjoyed it myself, but having read The Goal nearly 30 years ago and having applied it’s lessons throughout my manufacturing and IT careers it didn’t have the same impact on me.  I liked though because I both recognised the problems the novel described AND was somewhat familiar with the solutions, I also liked the way the book described IT in manufacturing terms. It had a similar impact on me to reading The Mythical Man Month and Peopleware many years ago.

I spent the first 13 years of my working life in manufacturing and design and the subsequent 17 in IT so I’m probably the perfect target audience.   I suppose I also liked the fact that the integrated dev-ops operating model that is at the heart of the book has also been at the heart of my career, although I’ve never used that term. 

In my early years I worked in and led small teams where dev-ops integration was mandatory, but the scalability disciplines were rarely applied, I got to apply my manufacturing knowledge to those teams and enjoyed much greater reliability as a result.   Then I did my masters thesis on concurrent engineering and applied those principles of organisational design (multi-disciplinary teams) several times, before also introducing continuous integration principles into several of my software development projects.  In the last few years I’ve observed many of the problems that the book describes and seen my own organisation struggle to re-discover the lessons that I’ve never forgotten.

That said the book is an excellent refresher and it describes principles in a much crisper way than I’m able to do even after reading the book.  It’s also nice to read a book that contains lessons that aren’t obvious in hindsight even to someone who’s already familiar with the basics.

For other readers of the book it’s important to not think it has all the answers, the techniques described in the book all gradually coalesce into success in a way that’s not all that realistic:

  1. A company in crisis that is forced to consider desperate non-obvious solutions
  2. A highly influential sponsor, who also happens to be a guru
  3. An IT management team who seem to be running an organisation in crisis but also seem to have endless time and energy for process improvement
  4. A very obvious bottleneck resource, who is supportive of the changes imposed on him
  5. The steps described in the book are also simplistic and incomplete

That said it’s the most approachable and clear description of the subject matter that I’ve read.  I recommend it, but keep reading and don’t expect the lessons to be as easy to apply or as successful if you try to apply them.  It is a novel after all!

The photo today is of a path through the gravel pits which were my playground as a youngster, they have now been converted into a wonderful collection of public fishing lakes after about 30 years as a private ones hidden behind 12’ rolled barbed wire fencing.  A perfect photo for a post about memories.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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