Book References in The Phoenix Project

The classic DevOps book The Phoenix Project synthesises many ideas about organisational logistics by standing on the shoulders of giants, referencing other books by name.

Here’s a list of them, with a summary of the ideas presented in each.

Toyota Production System: An Integrated Approach to Just-In-Time

Written by Yasuhiro Monden, published 1998.

He gestures broadly with both arms outstretched, “In the 1980s, this plant was the beneficiary of three incredible scientifically-grounded management movements. You’ve probably heard of them: the Theory of Constraints, Lean production or the Toyota Production System, and Total Quality Management. Although each movement started in different places, they all agree on one thing: WIP is the silent killer.”

Therefore, one of the most critical mechanisms in the management of any plant is job and materials release. Without it, you can’t control WIP.

This book is one of the canonical tomes describing The Toyota Way; a system of industrial engineering that allowed postwar Japan to create a manufacturing environment that could compete with other advanced nations of the time.

It describes Toyota’s recognition of the two central pillars of thought:

  1. Just-in-time manufacturing, fulfilling internal demand without requiring large storage and inventory burdens, and
  2. Jikoda“, meaning automation grounded in humanity.

Perhaps most enduringly, it introduces the concept of Kanban to physical engineering disciplines and explains how minimising the amount of in-flight work is central to improving operational throughput.

Theory of Constraints

Written by Eliyahu M Goldratt, published 1999

He pauses and then says emphatically, “Eliyahu M. Goldratt, who created the Theory of Constraints, showed us how any improvements made anywhere besides the bottleneck are an illusion. Astonishing, but true!

Any improvement made after the bottleneck is useless, because it will always remain starved, waiting for work from the bottleneck. And any improvements made before the bottleneck merely results in more inventory piling up at the bottleneck.”

An introduction to the ideas of how organisations could improve their application of scarce resources to achieve desired business outcomes, this book is a collation of the ideas presented in the authors earlier work, The Goal.

Where The Goal is a work of fiction presenting real-world insights like The Phoenix Project, this book serves as a reference work for the ideas themselves — an idea furthered by The Phoenix Project‘s non-fiction followup The DevOps Handbook.

Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business

Written by David J. Anderson, published 2010

“Fully two decades after The Goal was published,” he continues, “David J. Anderson developed techniques of using a kanban board to release work and control WIP for Development and IT Operations. You may find that of interest. You and Penelope are close with your change board to a kanban board that can manage flow.”

“So, here’s your homework,” he says. “Figure out how to set the tempo of work according to Brent. Once you make the appropriate mapping of IT Operations to work on the plant floor, it will be obvious. Call me when you’ve figured it out.”

The Toyota Way introduced the physical engineering and manufacturing world to the concept of Kanban, it was not immediately accepted by software engineers as applicable.

Just as Bill needs Erik to explicitly point out the similarities between manufacturing plant operations and IT operations, Anderson’s work finally bridged the gap between “manufacturing real stuff” and “manufacturing virtual stuff” and demonstrates how IT departments can benefit from production-line thinking.

The ideas presented were so radically successful at penetrating enterprise IT operations that Anderson himself later had to clarify the limits of his intentions for SWE-via-Kanban:

It is actually not possible to develop with only Kanban.  The Kanban Method by itself does not contain practices sufficient to do product development.

David J. Anderson via ScrumCrazy

Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Written by Patrick Lencioni, published 2002

“A great team doesn’t mean that they had the smartest people. What made those teams great is that everyone trusted one another. It can be a powerful thing when that magic dynamic exists.”

Steve continues, “One of my favorite books about team dynamics is Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. He writes that in order to have mutual trust, you need to be vulnerable. So, I’m going to tell you a little about myself and what makes me tick. And then I’m going to ask you to do the same.”

Another example of “business fiction” like The Phoenix Project or The Greatest Salesman in the World, this book tells the story of a struggling CEO named Kathryn Petersen as she works to unite her executive committee into an effective team.

The author demonstrates that there are five key human behaviours that must be cultivated to achieve team cohesion and performance:

  1. Establish mutual trust
  2. Embrace the inevitability conflict
  3. Expect adherence to commitments made
  4. Uphold accountability
  5. Pay attention to results

In-universe, Bill wishes Steve didn’t run his “trust-establishing session” with his VP team and ends up crying.

Later, he realises that he gained a greater appreciation for his work peers after understanding the challenges and struggles they each endured to reach their positions in the fictional company’s leadership team.