DevOps Institute

The Unicorn Project – A Book Review by Dr. Niladri Choudhuri

Culture and Human Skills, DevOps Basics, Transformational Leadership

April 2, 2020

I have recently finished reading the latest book by Gene Kim. It is again a great book and easy to read and has tons of learnings. Even though it is made into a story like a fiction, this is actually learnings from various organizations on their journey.

The following are the key points that I have taken from this book:

DevOps is about Software Engineering – This book highlights that the whole process of DevOps circles round the execution of Software Engineering. Ultimately, it is about delivering software faster, safer, better and happier. This cannot be delinked from Software Engineering Principles. Hence, finding better way of doing Software Engineering in every aspect of it, looking at it holistically is important for the success. That’s where there is need for the “Rebellion” team consisting of experts from every department of software engineering. This point is also highlighted in a recent book by Marc Hornbeek called ‘Engineering DevOps – From Chaos to Continuous Improvement and Beyond’.

Transformational Leaders – This book shows the importance and support of the Leader. First of all, we need someone like Kurt who can take decisions which is for the good even if it is not something that top management may agree on. The blessing of top management is important and hence we need to have some friends in the bridge group like Ms. Maggie. However, for that we need to understand their requirement and pain point and show how it will help solve the problem. We need to show results and scale gradually rather than trying to go for a big bang approach. Even though sometimes they need to take tough decisions, they still need to be rational and decide on the basis of what is good for the vision of the organization and not on any other factor. An experienced mentor like Erik is good to have. The top management needs to drive hard the organization vision to every employee in the organization.

Architecture is Critical – This book also highlights strongly on the need for good loosely coupled architecture. We need to first get the architecture is place and gradually work on the Technical Debt. Again, a big bang approach is not the best option. The expertise and skillset of the people are also equally important.  What we also see in this book is the need to have understanding of the business. We also need to simplify the process and architecture and code. When the IT team understands actually who is using the product and how and why, the outcome is much better. We need to look at outcome and not deliverables. Designing a good architecture is critical to the success.

Technology – We definitely need to use new technologies. We should not be holding on to the old technologies that we are having for years, if the need of the customer has changed. We need to start thinking of what technology is needed to deliver the outcome that the customer is looking for which helps in achieving the vision of the organization. Using cloud, containers, immutable infrastructures, etc., are very helpful and is a must do.

Skills and Experience matters – The book also shows the value of the experience. We need people who are experts and not filling up headcounts with numbers. We need experts in each department who comes together and does the work like Brent, Maxine, Shannon, Wes, etc.

Continuous Improvement – Continuous Experimentation, Continuous Learning and Continuous Improvement only can help achieve the outcome that we wish to achieve. If we do not cross-skill and up-skill, there is no way that we can keep the pace within and outside.

Collaboration – We need to look at people coming together and solving the problem rather than looking at just their own area but more holistically. We see how the results improved when the business and all the departments of the delivery including Security came together and delivered. We also saw the collaboration helped in more earnings with the new product ideas which came from business and IT helped in the Proof of Concept building leading to more revenues from the initiatives. Customer focus is the key to the result.

Culture – Like all other materials found in the internet, this book shows the importance of Culture Change. It is one of the values of DevOps (CALMS). What we saw was that the culture of the organization changed by doing things differently. We do not change culture by trying to change it. We do things differently together and all the above points mentioned helps in finally achieving the new culture that we want.

The 5 ideals that this book talks about are:

  • Locality and Simplicity – Simple logic and process, self-sustained and the team should be able to take the decision without going outside for permission and the software should be such that it can deliver independently and without dependency on other pieces of code
  • Focus + Flow + Joy – There is need to have a flow and not adhoc work, focusing on the outcome. An important point here is Joy. People should be having fun working and not getting burnt out. This does not mean that there is no pressure. It means that people enjoy doing what they want to do and what they enjoy doing and does best.
  • Improvement of Daily Work – Improvement happens only when we try out new things moving out of our comfort zone. For that we need to experiment and practice. This has to be in the DNA of the organization and done as part of the daily work. This requires investment and again the technical and business SMEs along with tools.
  • Psychological Safety – Senior Management needs to create an environment of safety. People should be able to feel comfortable to make mistakes as mistakes is learning. People should be able to come out with bad news and not hide it. Blameless Postmortem is important. We have seen that people like Sarah is used to working in a different way all through their life and needs to change and understand the new way. They also need help to change their way of working.
  • Customer Focus – We need to continuously think of the customer, what they need, what will help them. In effect we try to find out on what activity that we do will the customer is willing to pay money. We should be doing those activities and deprioritize others. This should be kept in mind for all decisions.

I am not highlighting anything on the 4 Horizons mentioned by Erik in the book. That is for you to find out by reading the book. The book is available to buy in  Amazon.

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