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I have recently been reading "The Phoenix Project". While I can relate to most aspects of the story, I am struggling to understand the frequent references to the military background of many characters (e.g. Bill himself, Stefe, Erik, ...).

Since I am not familiar with US culture and army in particular, I am pondering 2 questions:

Question 1: Are these reference to the army background an essential part of the message of the book or just story-telling (e.g. trying to give some depth to the characters by telling their history)?

Question 2: If an essential part, how does the way the US army organises its operations relate with a DevOps culture? Should it be embraced or avoided in the workplace?

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    this feels like it's open to interpretation, and hence inviting opinion-based answers. This would make it a bad fit to this forum, unfortunately. Could you provide some more objectivity to the question? IE, what passages are you referring to specifically that can back up your point of view? Why do you feel that this question is a good fit for this forum? Thanks! – Bruce Becker Nov 5 '18 at 10:13
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    @BruceBecker: The help center of this beta page is not very clear about what is on-topic here... Nevertheless, I've tried to reformulate the question to be more concise and give less room for opinions. Despite the book technically beeing a novel, it is clearly ment to be educational and as such it should be possible to extract a clear and non-opinionated message. – mbschenkel Nov 5 '18 at 12:24
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    Thanks! I know this may feel like a schlep, but it really helps to keep the quality high. On the point of the help center page you referred to, perhaps it would be a good idea to take it up with the mods in meta ? – Bruce Becker Nov 5 '18 at 13:13
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    Actually best is in this case to ask the author I'd say – Peter Muryshkin Nov 7 '18 at 14:51
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    Fun fact. The Phoenix book appears to be at least partly inspired by the 2015 book "Velocity: Combining Lean, Six Sigma and the Theory of Constraints to Achieve Breakthrough Performance - A Business Novel" by Jacob, Bergland and Jeff Cox which is also a great read. So, one of the customers is US Navy therefore CEO's appeal to the delivery team is: "I do not want the US Navy to call me up at night!" – Peter Muryshkin Jan 8 at 14:46
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My take on the military references in the book, as a veteran, has to do with Man, Machine, Method, Measure; and, with drilling.

The military is entirely other compared to civilian operational models. Setting aside the chain of command and the Military Justice systems; consider that the way any service member mops, waxes and buffs a floor is detailed in a procedure outlining what (exact) equipment is to be used, how it is to be calibrated, how the person is to operate said equipment and measures by which to determine compliance with the procedure. The same goes for brewing coffee, making Kool-Aid, or launching aircraft from a carrier deck.

Secondly the military runs "drills" constantly so emergencies aren't chaotic and reactive; they are methodical and responsive. Hence these would be recommended practices in a DevOps context. Practice well-documented and consistently executed procedures often to increase reliability and responsiveness in the face of the unknown.

In Phoenix project they apply both these practices to tame the chaos that Bill and the team have been subject to throughout the book.

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Check out a book called Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal. This is how the military operates today and is really all about putting the power to make decisions into the hands of the people on the ground and out of the hands of senior military leadership. It is not my typical read but is really a fantastic book that dives into not only military scenarios/examples but also areas such as the airline industry and how they have managed to dramatically reduce air crashes over the last decade caused by human error (the recent Boeing disasters aside).

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Without input from the authors I doubt we'll get a definitive answer but I'll try my best.

As far as I know none of the authors of The Phoenix Project served in the military, however my understanding of the USA is that serving in the army for a couple of years to help fund college is an extremely common practice. In other countries (such as the UK where I live) someone who enters the military often views it as a career and serves for a longer term. In the US it's much more common that people will have some kind of military background.

Question 1: Are these reference to the army background an essential part of the message of the book or just story-telling (e.g. trying to give some depth to the characters by telling their history)?

I don't believe an understanding of military process is required to understand or appreciate The Phoenix Project. So why did the authors include them?

  • To illustrate the "rigor and discipline" mentality that Bill started the role with.
  • To emphasise the similarities with military practice and repetition which Kaizen values so highly.
  • To give small talk for Steve, Bill, and Eric to all talk about when the story needs it
  • To give Bill more backstory (see the "opening up" scene)
  • To make Bill more relatable to many a large demographic of ex-military personal now working in industry

Question 2: If an essential part, how does the way the US army organises its operations relate with a DevOps culture? Should it be embraced or avoided in the workplace?

This is harder to answer as I have never been in the military myself. However I wouldn't worry about it too much, it's not essential for the story and you could equally draw these parallels yourself with other teams/organisations you are more familiar with from sports, religion elsewhere.

However, as an extreme outsider the US military has a reputation for a couple of things which do apply to DevOps:

  • The size and complexity of the organisation
  • High levels or organisation in a hierarchical manner
  • Enforcing standards and processes
  • Creating strong teams (especially the Marines - see Simon Senik's Leader's Eat Last)

TLDR

Is a knowledge of military required to understand and get value from The Phoenix Project? No. The idea of the military is mostly used as an example for Kaizen, a illustration of Bill's starting point, and to add some character to the erm... characters.

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