Review: The Phoenix Project

Back in April Steve Jones mentioned reading a review of The Phoenix Project by mutual friend Thomas LaRock. It’s a book about IT written as a story that covers the trials and mishaps that all of us will identify with – corrupted data, SAN failure, too many projects, unrealistic demands, etc. The goal is to teach some ideas about how to manage IT more effectively, borrowing from proven techniques in manufacturing. The book doesn’t quite give you a formula, I wish it did. It does point you in what I consider the right direction on a lot of key topics, among my favorites are:

  • How and why to do change management well (not just pro forma change management)
  • Breaking out of the trap of the one indispensable person bottlenecking everything
  • Limiting work in progress (WIP). In my opinion limiting WIP is the lesson to learn

This is a good book to read if you’re thinking of moving into management. It’s a great book to read if you aspire to VP or higher – like it or not, that’s a whole different set of challenges and this is one book (you’ll need more) that help you understand those challenges. I think it’s a good book for a spouse to read, enough of a story to keep them interested while giving them a better idea of the chaos we often live. I don’t know if business leaders will read it – it would be worth recommending it to them and then having a follow up conversation about it.

What if you’re a working DBA, should you read this? I think you should. It’s a reminder that even our leaders don’t always have the right answers (and know it), a reminder that our leaders worry about jobs and careers and money as much as any of us, and it will get you thinking about the real challenge of spinning about 57 simultaneous plates and how that filters down to the teams.

Maybe the biggest win for the book is it shows us that we’re not alone – most of our companies have the same kinds of issues and it’s because they are hard to solve. Not unsolvable, just hard to solve.

I hope you read it, it’s worth the time.

4 thoughts on “Review: The Phoenix Project

  1. I Second the recommendation.
    Best book on project management I have read.

    A great lesson from the book, is to not always try to fix everything as soon as you can, but to take a step back an evaluate and listen.


    1. Christian, that might be the hardest lesson to apply! Sometimes it seems like we just ‘have’ to do something. Takes some practice to know when its ok to pause and when action is really required.


  2. I also enjoyed this book after seeing Tom recommend it.

    I agree with the idea that it’s a good insight for people who are in (or heading for) middle to upper management.

    What was most enlightening for me was the realization that I used to be a Brent; the guy that knew all the esoteric facts about the systems, and was the one that everybody went to to get stuff done.


    1. I think that Brent is a pretty common pattern, for good reason – we go to the people that get things done and the people that get things done learn more to solve the next problem. It looks like a very positive upward cycle until it tips over into bottleneck stage!

      I’m curious, how did you move away from that Brent-ness?


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