adrift on a cosmic ocean

Writings on various topics (mostly technical) from Oliver Hookins and Angela Collins. We currently reside in Sydney after almost a decade in Berlin, have three kids, and have far too little time to really justify having a blog.

Micro book review: The Unicorn Project

Posted by Oliver on the 8th of August, 2020 in category Thoughts
Tagged with: Books

unicorn project The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim is the latest book to cross my desk, after a last-minute mad rush end-of-financial-year order of a few different books from my education budget. Expect a few more upcoming reviews soon, hopefully!

I've already read The Phoenix Project a few years ago, although I realise now I've forgotten many of the details. The Unicorn Project is something of a sister story, or companion story to the Phoenix Project as it covers the same timeframe and is set at the same company. I seem to recall that in the first book, it was more about the concept of DevOps and how a company can achieve a sense of flow according to Agile principles. The Unicorn Project seems to be a blast through all of the possible ways an IT-oriented company (or software development organisation) can fail.

In many ways it feels like very similar material to the first book, although this new one feels like reading through a compendium of tales from TheDailyWTF - every identifiable failure mode is covered, which makes it quite infuriating to read. I expect this is so that the audience can identify at least one familiar story in there, and can get something out of it for their own particular situation.

One topic that I felt wasn't really covered was why, in such a dysfunctional company setting all employees up for inevitable failure, and clearly having such unsupportive leadership, the protagonists didn't just quit and find a better place to work. It was clear that there was an awful culture, toxic leaders actively trying to sabotage any improvement in working methods - accepted knowledge these days is that it's too hard to try to change a compnay like that and you should just try to find a better place to work. But this is coming from quite a place of privilege, and I don't know what it is like to work for the largest employer in your region, when all of your family and connections are there, you are set up with your kids in the local school, and the alternative is uprooting your entire life to move somewhere else with an uncertain future, away from those close to you. And without the protogoists sticking it out, it wouldn't make for a very good story.

So, like the original Phoenix Project, this is a good read and I can recommend it. It reads like a novel but contains many good lessons about classic software development failure cases and how and why to avoid them. It should be mandatory reading for more people in this industry. Solid 4/5.

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