Reading Time: 10 minutes

Regardless of all the conflicts in our world and around our Thanksgiving dinner tables, one man is consistent in carving out paths to unification and putting an end to divisive forces in enterprises around the world. This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for my relationship with Gene Kim and the broader DevOps community. Six years ago, I met Gene as he was standing up IT Revolution and writing the landmark book “The Phoenix Project.” Both Gene and I were fascinated with the nonsensical schisms and conflicts between corporate IT groups. While I was preoccupied with the conflict between UX/design and IT, Gene was hell-bent on closing the gap between the development and operations groups

Since that time, I have had the privilege to be a part of the review committees for The Phoenix Project and The DevOps Handbook, and the newly released sequel, The Unicorn Project. The Unicorn Project takes readers on a delightful roller coaster ride within the halls of a fictional automotive parts retail chain, “Parts Unlimited”, to unify a ragtag band of developers, QA practitioners, and operations engineers. The team rallies through a bunch of organizational, business, and Black Friday obstacles to unlock and monetize siloed data deep within the bowls of a legacy corporation. The fictitious setting in Parts Unlimited rings just as true today as it did in The Phoenix Project, within an enterprise that has forgotten how to work together to shed the shackles of technical debt and practices that kill innovation in the name of the status quo.

Familiar yet refreshing

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Gene’s mastery of DevOps principles and ethics is only matched by his unique acumen in understanding how political dynamics and optics drive so many decisions in a large IT organization. When I first cracked open The Unicorn Project, I didn’t know what to expect. But within the first few pages, I was pleasantly surprised by the somehow familiar yet unique retelling of the Phoenix Project from the point of view of a brand new protagonist; Maxine, a lead engineer, unjustly banished from the ERP team as a result of the same payroll disruption that kicked off the Phoenix Project tale.

The underlying drama that is so common in enterprise IT shops around the world is often an enigma to practitioners in the field. Gene does a masterful job at laying bare so many of the factors that drive decisions from the leaders who — long ago — forgot their connection to the collaboration, craft, and discipline that got them to their current executive positions. While reading about IT drama may not seem like a relaxing holiday season read for some, the methods Maxine and her allies use to overthrow the ancient order and cut the gordian knot that throttles innovation and creativity are nothing short of inspiring.

Classic, but often overlooked, practices like job shadowing of field employees are juxtaposed with newer concepts from the last decade, like containerization and API-led architectures, to rattle the cage of a staid enterprise that has degraded into an all too familiar Thanksgiving motif; The adults table (where execs get into heated conflict and make all the “big decisions”) and the kids table (where the delivery teams deal with the consequences of the conflict, as they struggle to run faster with sandbags tied around their ankles).

Classic yet modern

It pains me when I work with global enterprises around the world who have reduced DevOps to “automated deployment pipelines,” while teams are still left with the consequences of manual QA testing and recreating the same data access and business capabilities over and over again. 

The Unicorn Project starts with the familiar first steps of CICD, and then shows the necessary next steps to follow the path of speed as a way of life. As the plot begins, Maxine and her comrades in arms, engage in the classic DevOps bottoms-up goodness of build and deployment automation to lay the foundation for speed. It’s within the second half of the book where the roller coaster crosses the high peak and starts to thunder downhill with twists and turns into the oft forgotten areas within the big tent that is the DevOps movement. The “rebel alliance” within Parts Unlimited pushes forth in unlocking data, APIs, and federated collaboration as they pull innovation from the center to the edge of the modern enterprise where all employees are contributing players that can find self realization in craft and creativity.

People from the edge at the center

This aesthetic is one area where Gene’s work stands apart from much of the DevOps community. To me, the center of Gene’s work has been and remains one of empowerment for individuals and teams. Of course, many individuals within the community talk about it, but with Gene, the journey of the individual and the fulfillment they experience gets equal billing with the business advantage they’re creating. This esprit de corps is the unifying message that inspires so many, and ultimately, propels Gene’s work to the top of Amazon’s business best seller lists. This same message, that first inspired me when I first met Gene at SXSW years ago, is still present in his work today and is the kernel of inspiration that is empowering the creative partnerships between Gene and so many in organizations who engage at DevOps Enterprise Summit and beyond.

In the spirit of the season, I’m personally thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the creative partnership that MuleSoft and Gene have kicked off that is spanning several fronts. The Unicorn Project is destined to be another touchstone of the IT and management communities and I’m excited to see how IT leaders take the next steps to bust silos, level up their enterprise’s capabilities and thrive in the age data.

For more about unlocking data from within the depths of your enterprise systems, check out MuleSoft’s no code integration platform that makes integration easy.