Book review: The Unicorn Project

The Unicorn Project is another book by Gene Kim, who also helped author the Phoenix Project. The scene is the roughly the same as the Phoenix project – same company, project, some of the same people, etc.

A few quotes:

  • Everyone around here thinks features are important, because they can see them in their app, on the web page, or in the API. But no one seems to realize how important the build process is. Developers cannot be productive without a great build, integration, and test process.
  • As she falls asleep, she tries not to think about how much of her life is spent searching the internet for how to make error messages go away.
  • We don’t even need guards anymore. We love being prisoners so much, we just think the bars are there to keep us safe.

Overall, the book has some valuable content, but the style is somewhat exaggerated – perhaps not as well written as the Phoenix Project. This book centers around Maxine, a star engineer who works to change the company from the bottom up. The Phoenix Project revolves around a Bill who is a manager who attempts to improve things more from the top down.

This book present the 5 ideals:

  1. The First Ideal is Locality and Simplicity
  2. The Second Ideal is Focus, Flow, and Joy
  3. The Third Ideal is Improvement of Daily Work
  4. The Fourth Ideal is Psychological Safety
  5. The Fifth Ideal is Customer Focus

Points are well emphasized such as the damage of technical debt, the importance of build systems, CI, CD, and automation in general.

A few more notes from this excellent review:

  • Developer productivity should be the concern of the most senior developers.
  • How can you create anything of value if you don’t have feedback on how it is used?
  • Toyota Andon Cord: people are thanked for raising problems, so they can be solved and daily work improved.
  • You build it, you run it
  • To speak clearly, you have to think clearly. To think clearly, you have to write clearly.