Aug 062015

The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project:  a novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford  is a logical intellectual successor and regularly quotes Eli Goldratt’s seminal work The Goal and its good but less known sequel It’s Not Luck.

The more business books I read, the more I appreciate the novel or fable format. Most business books are a bit boring and way too long to make a single point. The Phoenix Project is a novel, though unlike Goldratt’s books (and even Lencioni’s), it takes it easy on the cheesy and personal side stories. It just uses storytelling techniques to make its points and give color and examples for more memorable learning.

If your organization still does software development through a waterfall process or has separate and distinct development, QA, and IT/Operations teams, I’d say you should run, not walk, to get this book. But even if you are agile, lean, and practice continuous deployment, it’s still a good read as it provides reminders of what the world used to be like and what the manufacturing-rooted theories are behind these “new” techniques in software development.

I am so glad our technology team at Return Path, led by my colleagues Andy Sautins and David Sieh, had the wisdom to be early adopters of agile and lean processes, continuous deployment many years ago, and now dockers. Our DevOps process is pretty well grooved, and while I’m sure there are always things to be done to improve it…it’s almost never a source of panic or friction internally the way more traditional shops function (like the one in the book). I can’t imagine operating a business any other way.

Thanks to my long time friend and Board member Greg Sands of Costanoa Venture Capital for suggesting this excellent read.

Jan 272011

Book Short: Vulnerability Applied to Leadership

Book Short:  Vulnerability Applied to Leadership

Getting Naked:  A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty (bookKindle), is Patrick Lencion’s latest fable-on-the-go book, and it’s as good a read as all of his books (see list of the ones I’ve read and reviewed at the end of the post).

The book talks about the power of vulnerability as a character trait for those who provide service to clients in that they are rewarded with levels of client loyalty and intimacy.  Besides cringing as I remembered my own personal experience as an overpaid and underqualified 21 year old analyst at how ridiculous some aspects of the management consulting industry are…the book really made me think.  The challenge to the conventional wisdom of “never letting ‘em see you sweat” (we *think* vulnerability will hurt success, we *confuse* competence with ego, etc.) is powerful.  And although vulnerability is often uncomfortable, I believe Lencioni is 100% right – and more than he thinks.

First, the basic premise of the book is that consultants have three fears they need to overcome to achieve nirvana – those fears and the mitigation tactics are:

  1. Fear of losing the business:  mitigate by always consulting instead of selling, giving away the business, telling the kind truth, and directly addressing elephants in the room
  2. Fear of being embarrassed:  mitigate by asking dumb questions, making dumb suggestions, and celebrating your mistakes
  3. Fear of feeling inferior:  mitigate by taking a bullet for the client, making everything about the client, honoring the client’s work, and doing your share of the dirty work

But to my point about Lencioni being more right than he thinks…I’d like to extend the premise around vulnerability as a key to success beyond the world of consulting and client service into the world of leadership.  Think about some of the language above applied to leading an organization or a team:

  • Telling the kind truth and directly addressing elephants in the room:  If you’re not going to do this, who is?  There is no place at the top of an organization or team for conflict avoidance
  • Asking dumb questions:  How else do you learn what’s going on in your organization?  How else can you get people talking instead of listening?
  • Making dumb suggestions:  I’d refer to this more as “bringing an outside/higher level perspective to the dialog.”  You never know when one of your seemingly dumb suggestions will connect the dots for your team in a way that they haven’t done yet on their own (e.g., the suggestions might not be so dumb after all)
  • Celebrating your mistakes:  We’re all human.  And as a leader, some of your people may build you up in their mind beyond what’s real and reasonable.  Set a good example by noting when you’re wrong, noting your learnings, and not making the same mistake twice
  • Taking a bullet for your team, making everything about your team and honoring your team’s work:  Management 101.  Give credit out liberally.  Take the blame for team failings.
  • Doing your share of the dirty work:  An underreported quality of good leaders.  Change the big heavy bottle on the water cooler.  Wipe down the coffee machine.  Order the pizza or push the beer cart around yourself.  Again, we’re all human, leaders aren’t above doing their share to keep the community of the organization safe, fun, clean, well fed, etc.

There’s a really powerful message here.  I hope this review at least scratches the surface of it.

The full book series roundup as far as OnlyOnce has gotten so far is: