A month ago Jim began reading a book about IT (information technology--which is what he does at Chevron) and when I found out it was a novel, I scoffed. Seriously? A novel about IT? Is it a joke?
Well no, it wasn't a joke. In fact he said it was quite interesting. So, against all odds, I read it, too.
The book is called The Pheonix Project and it centers around a guy named Bill who is forced into a promotion he doesn't want. He suddenly becomes VP of IT and is given a few months to straighten up all the IT problems that the company has or they will split up the business and out-source IT.
So Bill sets out to fix things and finds it is worse than he thought. He is dealing with four entities: the business folks (the people directly responsible for the product that the business sells), the developers (guys who design applications to help the business sell the product), operations (the guys who manage and maintain all the applications and equipment everyone uses to do business), and security (the guys who make sure they don't break laws or get hacked).
What should be happening is that the business folks come up with an idea that will increases sales of their product using technology, the idea goes to the developers who come up with the application to make that idea happen, they hand it off to operations who implement it and maintain it and security makes sure it is all legal and safe.
However, that isn't how it works. It is more like this: business guys have "brilliant" idea (that is at least half impossible), developers promise to make it even more brilliant ignoring the impossible parts, the application is delivered late and full of weak points, operations implements and as things go wrong at the weak points they patch it with duck tape and magic, and security frets nervously about the risks. They are all like one big dysfunctional family and whenever anything fails everyone starts pointing fingers.
|Spock is development. Scotty is ops.|
From what I understand this is a pretty accurate picture of IT in most companies.
Just in time, Bill meets a guru of sorts, a guy who is a potential board member and has years of experience in manufacturing, with hands-on experience on the plant floor. Bill is skeptical to say the least--what can a manufacturing guy teach an IT guy. IT is where all the geniuses go right?
But what he learns is that all the technology used by the business to do its business works much like the machines on the floor of the manufacturing plant. And that the process improvements that have been made to manufacturing over the years actually apply to IT.
What eventually happens is IT learns to work together (they merge into what is popularly called DevOps---look it up, you can find youtube videos and conferences all about DevOps) anticipating weak points before the applications go live and actually fixing broken things rather than using duct tape while pointing fingers. And the business folks learn to appreciate the challenges of IT and the value of IT to the company's bottom line.
The book has a happy ending, which is always a plus.
And I not only got a much better appreciation and understanding of what my husband does when he leaves us each day, but I got a lot of food for thought on the topic of process and work. I learned terms like work in progress (WIP--a tidy acronym for all the stuff going on around my house), planned work vs unplanned work (what Mom doesn't get that??), constraints (points where work piles up and sits undone --can anyone say "laundry room"), change management (how we keep up with all the little things we do to maintain a happy healthy home including everything from policing those hotspots--places where messes pile up--to dental check ups, to getting kids from point A to point B on time).
I can see now how that manufacturing plant has a lot to teach me about MY work: which is creating a home in which my family can grow and blossom.
One of the points made in the book that I found very striking was concerning quality control. The example was a car manufacturer (I think it was Toyota) that had a pull cord at each work center. This cord stopped everything if something was wrong with the piece being made. So, lets say a car door was going through being formed, painted, parts attached to it and at some point something isn't up to snuff. The guy at that work center pulls the cord and all work on the plant floor stops.
When asked how often he thought this happened in a given day Bill thought about 20 times sounded reasonable. However the number was more like 1,000. One thousand times all work comes to a complete halt so that the problem can be fixed. And, in the long run, all those stops pay off in a product of higher quality with much fewer faults at the end of the line.
One thousand tiny interruptions as opposed to any number of giant failures a the end of the line.
When I read this I saw in my minds eye all the times I stop my day to correct a child's behavior, help him come up with a kinder way to approach his sister, help her deal with that frustration in a better way. Far from nagging, these gentle reminders and course corrections are how I help my children grow in virtue.
In fact, I do the same to myself. How many times do I confess the same sins. Each day is a struggle to bring my own selfish impulses under control and focus them on the goal*: the entire Kennedy Family in Heaven.
|Pope Francis takes a moment to pull the cord and work on quality control.|
Saints are the product in this little factory. God provides the material and power and we do our best to refine the processes and pull the cord a thousand times a day to start over. Of course, we do that with God's grace too.
I think my attraction to this book is that the author is uncovering truth.
I am fond of making the totally obvious statement: Truth is Truth. It doesn't have to be about God to be universally true (though you can argue that it is all about God, just not always so obviously).
When something is true you can apply it to many different aspects of life.
This book was about IT, but it was about life too.
That is why I liked it so much.
*By the way, The Phoenix Project was based on a book called "The Goal" which is a novel about the Theory of Constraints. Jim is reading it now and I will read it next.