The Unicorn Project

Today the book “The Unicorn Project” by Gene Kim is released! Since I had written a review about his previous book “The Phoenix Project”, I was kindly given the opportunity to read a beta copy to be able to provide you with a review. Here it is!

The Unicorn Project


In this new book Gene Kim re-visits the successful novel format from “The Phoenix Project”. Once again we are back at the company Parts Unlimited, and the main character of the story is Maxine Chambers, a Lead Developer and Architect.

Throughout the story, The Five Ideals are explained to the reader, with a lot of good examples. 

The Five Ideals are:

  1. Locality and Simplicity
  2. Focus, Flow, and Joy
  3. Improvement of Daily Work
  4. Psychological Safety
  5. Customer Focus

Back to the story, what happens during the 19 chapters this book consist of? First there is a major payroll outage, and the management needs to find a scapegoat, guess who? Maxine is punished by being reassigned to the Phoenix Project, which feels like a prison. Heck, Building 5 at corporate campus where they sit, even looks like a prison.

To start, Maxine wants to get a Phoenix build running on her laptop. But this seemingly easy task is nearly impossible, to get through endless layers of bureaucracy. Hope is almost lost when she meets Kurt Reznick (a QA Manager at Parts Unlimited) and joins the Rebellion (a group of likeminded people that wants to work in a different way, by living the The Five Ideals).  

They start off in small scale, overcoming some setbacks during the way, and in the end they manage to turn the company successful again! Read the book to find out how they did it.


My main takeaways from reading this book are: 

  • The Five Ideals are a nice addition to the “Agile arsenal”. Especially Psychological Safety, that I see as a cornerstone for innovation.
  • There is a lot of talk about unicorns (“A unicorn is a privately held startup company valued at over $1 billion”). This book shows that an old large company also can, and inevitable must, be like a unicorn to survive. 
  • A story based on good vs. evil never goes out of fashion. This particular one is also packed with references to things like Star Wars and Game of Thrones 🙂


Gene Kim have a very good sense for knowing what is going on, and to see the trends, in the IT business. That compared with his writing skills, creating a very interesting story, makes this book a solid recommendation! You have not read “The Phoenix Project”, and think it’s needed? No worries, “The Unicorn Project” can be read as a standalone book.

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

The Phoenix Project

Update: Now the “sequel” to this book is out, it’s called “The Unicorn Project” and you find my review here.

A friend of mine, who also happens to be an agileist, suggested that I should read the book ”The Phoenix Project”.  It’s written by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford and was originally released in 2013. On the cover the following is stated: ”A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win”. A novel? Yes, a novel so you can say that the format is different than most of the other agile books out there. I like this format, the story is interesting, and it is easy to keep on reading chapter after chapter.



The book has 35 chapters separated in three parts, but I guess you all wonder what the novel is all about? The story starts in part one when Bill Palmer gets promoted and become VP IT Operations at the company Parts Unlimited. The company was really struggling and a gigantic project named Phoenix was launched in order to save Parts Unlimited. When Phoenix was put into production, it all failed and was deemed a huge disaster. This went hand in hand with other catastrophes within the IT operations (for example no salaries from the payment system and so on).

In part two Bill gets in contact with a lean ”guru” whose name was Erik. He arranged for Bill to visit a manufacturing company to study lean. Erik starts to act as a mentor to Bill, and with this help he manages to bring some order into IT Operations to start a turnaround. In the final part a new project Unicorn is launched, it is all the good parts from Phoenix but done in an agile way. Now things really get going and using DevOps the development- and operations-departments are working together to achieve success! The goal they are striving for is to deploy to production ten times a day!


First of all, I take with me that change must come from some sort of failure or crisis. Without pain there is nothing to gain, and status quo will prevail. Second it’s the concept of a work center that is made up of four things:

  • The machine
  • The man
  • The method
  • The measures

A deployment pipeline is the entire value stream from code check-in to production. Everything needs to be version controlled. The term DevOps is referred to as the outcome of applying Lean principles to the IT value stream.

The Three ways describes the underpinning principles of DevOps:

  • The first way is about the left-to-right flow of work from Development to IT Operations to the customer.
  • The second way is about the constant flow of fast feedback from right-to-left at all stages of the value stream.
  • The third way is about creating a culture that fosters two things: continual experimentation and understanding that repetition and practice is the prerequisite to mastery.

Finally the four types of work that IT does:

  • Business projects
  • Internal IT projects
  • Changes
  • Unplanned work or recovery work


A novel and the story presented in this book is a very pleasant and nice way to to learn new things. If you want to now more about DevOps I can really recommend this book!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist