Category Archives: Books

Book: The Phoneix Project

clip_image001[4]Well, I have finally reached the holy Grail of DevOps—The Phoenix Project business novel. Only to realize once again that everybody has already read it except me. Therefore, I guess I will just briefly cover the points that got my attention or looked unclear/funny.

An interesting approach: to unroll a functionality but not to activate it. Thus the code is in production and everything works. Or to activate it but not for all users/scenarios. Or do that only for testing purpose. Alas, this doesn’t work with all types of software. But we should use it where we can.

 

There are “three ways”:

1)      No local optimization. Work in small batches, never passing defective code down the line. Toolkit:

a.       Continuous build, integration and deployment.

b.       Build environments on request.

c.       Limit WIP.

d.       Build safe systems and organizations that are safe to change. This point is a bit vague. I guess, I will grasp it when the time comes (or when I finish reading DevOps Handbook J).

2)      Building feedback. Not quite clear how to do this in my situation. Have to sort it out yet.

a.       Stop production line if tests and builds fail. A relatively simple one if one learns to understand 1 and 2d.

b.       Keep improving your work even to the disadvantage of your everyday routine. Everything is clear, but it takes political will to achieve. Can you lend me some? =)

c.       Create quick autotests to make sure your code is ready for deployment at all times.

d.       Create common goals between Dev and Ops.

e.       Omnipresent telemetry to signal whether everything is all right. A sad one: in our situation, this is going to be expensive, lengthy and difficult to accomplish. But there is progress.

3)      Building a culture to foster constant experimenting and learn from one’s wins and losses.

a.       Create a culture of innovations and risk-taking. So much to learn here yet. For me.

b.       Earmark at least 20% of time for continuous improvement. As I saw from one experiment, it takes more than just “you have 20% of your time dedicated to work on improvements”. We may also need to address the previous item and possibly other missing things.

Even though “break the silos” is a dominating rule in the book, this story is about greater responsibility on the part of the product code writers. Release automation just doesn’t leave us any other option. Manual deployment by Ops does balance out poor coding or testing in some degree (assisted by developers, admins can roll things back or fix them on the go), but a fully automated system must be able to do it all by itself. Well, of course, one can still wake admin up to fix things, but that would mean extra downtime. This is somewhat set off by the fact that now Ops’ responsibility for code/environment delivery infrastructure becomes very high. In fact, this component is expected to be incredibly robust. Nearly more so than product availability itself.

It is not even about cost saving; automation is needed for developers to be able to get productive-like environments all by themselves. To really turn stage-environment tests into a quality mark, meaning that the actual deployment will not fail. And to reuse the expertise for different development teams.

Questions:

According to the book, the main work streams are: business projects, technical projects, changes, repairs/firefighting. But I am not quite on to it:

1)      Why business and technical projects are listed separately? Is it a technical project to update a mail system? One featuring business functionality, let’s say. This division looks a bit arbitrary to me.

2)      Projects consist of changes; why are these separate, again?

Funny stuff: once again, there is Russian mafia seeking to buy your clients’ data, stolen by hackers. I guess, we have one more national brand to go with the Bear and the Balalaika. =)

Ease of reading: Yes, it’s both easy and interesting. After all, it is more of a fiction piece, quite well written, too.

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Usefulness: above average. A breakthrough is still way off, and I don’t have all the answers. I need to read more. But I cannot call it time lost, either—certainly a useful book.

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Free book: The one minute to-do list by Michael Linenberger

imagePlace all your actions in one place

The author

Just a short review of a free (yep, it is free) book on the productivity topic (the author: Michael Linenberger). I, somehow postponed it, though I read it several months ago, on my vacation.

Most productivity systems have some common ground (that comforts: I hope there is something to them if they agree on major points =) ), so I’ll just list some major ideas I like or dislike in the book:

·         Be careful while creating “Important” category. I always repeat, that there should be only “do it now” (the less tasks the better, the best result will be with just one), “do it someday”, “don’t do it”. Else you’ll find yourselves with a lot of “important” stuff on hand.

·         Once more: spend several minutes to plan your day. It is worth it. At least you won’t find out that despite your promises you won’t be able to spend 3 hours on a report today, because you have 6 meetings and one long call. And not achieving your daily goal may frustrate and demotivate you. I just wrote some thoughts about how bad it is to plan to do more than you actually can.

·         I also found in the book a very interesting idea about “magical” 10 days (which usually translates into 2 work weeks): the author’s observations show that most people “tend to relax their anxiety about a big task or project if its deadline is beyond one or two weeks out”. That’s interesting, because it somehow correlates with my own observations, from which I see that most people cannot make solid plans extending the same term. And some practices recommend start planning with two-week chunks. Coincidence? I wonder if there is some research on the topic.

·         A bit on what I call consciousness (Going home test as the author calls it). That’s not about meditation, rather about making some things being fully turned on, without autopilot. If I have something urgent, I should ask myself: will I be willing to stay at work overtime today to do that. If not, then it is not that urgent.

·         Also there are references to limiting work in progress. BTW, what to do with a manager’s tasks? A manager definitely has more tasks than his subordinates. At the moment I treat as my own tasks only those I do myself and do not delegate?

·         But there are stupid in the book, too. Like having your to-do list visually close to your emails. It’s a behavior which easily may lead you to spending all day in your mail without doing any tasks.

·         The book also would be twice shorter if not for description of some software. I don’t like such stuff in books: your tool is almost irrelevant, if you know what to do. But even so it’s quite short.

Usefulness: average. It will increase if you are just starting working with to-do lists.

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Is it easy to read? Yes.

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Get it here.

A book: The Now Habit by Neil Fiore

clip_image002Now, let’s talk about the last book about procrastination, I’ve read to procrastinate other stuff 😉 Why the last? It seems to me, that I’ve seen the major ideas behind the topic. Now it’s the time to just reflect on them and tune my own life so that not to have to procrastinate anything.

What were we talking about… Ah! The book. Ok, Neil Fiore seems to be a big guy in the field, but, to be honest, the book was to me less appealing than the book of Peter Ludwig. I haven’t written about it in the blog, because the English version hasn’t come out yet (it’ll come out soon and you can subscribe to the news about it at the page linked above, though). Anyway, the reading got me some fresh ideas to think about, so it is worth looking into some of it.

The core idea as I got it is that the more discomfort you are anticipating from your job, the more active will be your evading of it and finding your salvation in something more pleasant. The more you feel that endless work deprive you from pleasure and amusements of life, the more active you will be your run from the work.

So, the author just tells you to make room for what is worth living for first, and then fill everything else with the “bad” work. And to put up with the latter, probably even trick yourself into liking it. That’s the spirit. I somehow approve, actually, but believe that working on what you really like may be even better. Why? Because some approaches, the author suggests don’t exactly work for me. Say, rewarding myself with something pleasant after doing something I procrastinate, make the reward even more attractive and the job itself even less so.

 However, there is a revolutionary (for me) thought in the book: procrastination isn’t a problem itself. It’s a manifestation of other problems. Their visible and palpable trace and consequence. One of the most problematic chain from the author’s point of view is something like: wanting an ideal result (THE ideal result!) -> fear of failure -> procrastination -> self-criticism -> anxiety and depression -> loss of confidence -> ever enlarging fear of failure -> PROCRASTINATION! It seems obvious now, in retrospective, but I swear, I somehow didn’t happen to word the thought so exact and clear.

That’s how perfectionism and feeling that everything in our life is important makes us not doing anything in time. And yes, I strongly believe that in everyone’s life not everything is ultimately important. And, the worst thing which happens if you fail fast is not this:

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No, this never happens because you’ve failed at something (I hope I’m not being read by any nuclear country’s president). Mostly, if you fail fast you recover fast and learn even faster. But isn’t it hard…

What even more important (for me, at least), is to understand, that not only fear of failure is the problem in some cases, but also fear of success. That kind of fear stopped me at least couple of times in my life. And probably, I postpone some things right now because the success will mean I will become someone else. And I will have to change. And nothing will be the same again. It’s scary as hell, but it’s, at the same time, exciting. And it’s being procrastinated, nevertheless.

The book, sure, offers some instruments, I like, and some approaches I’m not so sure, are worth to employ.

Say, “Unschedule”. The idea I’ve been using for a while, but in an ultimate form. I’ll describe it in more detail in some later blog, here I just say that the instrument will help you to stop thinking that you have 24 hours a day and, if you somehow need it, 48 hours a weekend. Such concepts are ultimate “procrastinagenes”, because no, you don’t have that much time. You’ll be surprised how little, comparing to those figures you really have for your work.

Another instrument – “Reverse calendar” – is to map al your activities from the finish to the beginning, so that you know when you have to start something to have at least some chances to finish in time. It’s also self-obvious, but the idea here is to map the same instrument to the bigger activities, projects, etc.

And sure enough, there wasn’t a chance to miss out Pomodoro techniques and other “power hours” which, after reading at least two or three books on personal productivity and anti-procrastination just become what you expect in a decent book 😉

What I’m not sure about are methods which, in general, just make you believe that your job is more pleasant than it is. Well, I’ve mastered the behavior myself, that’s normal when you don’t like what you don’t know how to do at the beginning, but later, when your proficiency at the stuff increases – you start loving it. But, as far as I understand, Neil Fiore suggests some tricks to like what you still don’t. Not sure, it’ll work every time, but probably it could at least mend some situations.

Anyway, if it’s not the 5th book on the topic you’ve read, I would rather recommend it, though my absolute favorite, as I already said, is the book of Peter Ludwig.

Usefulness: slightly above the average. But I had read some books on topic before it.

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Is it easy for reading? Sure.

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Book: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

clip_image002Not sure – throw it out.

Pascal Dennis.

What should I eat to lose weight?

Usual dietary question

The next book is not about doing stuff. It’s about not doing stuff. Yep. The author tells us that the only way to be really successful is to choose what not to do. You know what? I totally agree.

WE

CANNOT

DO

EVERYTHING.

Like in “quit saying yes”. Because if you take on every challenge you meet, then you face “priorities”. And it is quite new a word: you haven’t seen much of it before, say, XV or even XIX century. Before that it was only one priority in every situation. That’s very close to what I believe my tasks may be divided on:

· Do it right now (only one task).clip_image003

· Do it one day (many other tasks).

· Don’t do it (the more tasks, the better).

So, chose what you want to do, set your priority and don’t touch anything else.

Brilliant idea, isn’t it? Of course there are some tough spots. Say, I decided to sell something I don’t need. And 5 years later the spot shows the Fountain of Youth in it. Wouldn’t it be awful?!

But still, I see application for this. Moreover, some things I do in my job (though, I definitely need to improve the practice). Say, if I’m working on something and someone is requiring my time, but cannot say that his deal is urgent, then I’m just saying “I’ll call you later”. There is, for sure, one important ingredient in this: I will really call them. =) And your “no” shouldn’t translate into “get lost”. It may, if you wish, but it’s usually unnecessary.

So, I definitely approve the approach. I just need to think of what and how to do with it, because the book isn’t a text book. It’ more a manifesto, then a manual.

There are useful things, like zero-based budgeting: you don’t look what you planned yesterday to do today, you just gather as many commitments for today as you possibly can do. First – what is more important. And if all the important stuff doesn’t find the room in your day – you must not plan for it (remember: 24 hours a day minus 8 hours for sleep minus 8 hours for work minus 2 hours for food minus several hours for commute minus… your day is one small amount of time!). You may plan as your next absolutely important goal (only one priority, remember?) increasing your performance, but never try to do twice as much as you really can.

Yep, important stuff is all over the book. But remember how I just told you it’s not a textbook or manual? The structure of the book is weak and it has little instruments to start with. At least, I see it this way: you’ll have motivation from the book, but it’s up to you, how to apply this motivation to your life. There are some advices, but they either don’t have anything to do with essentialism, or are trivial, or plain impossible to do. Example? Easy. Suppose you are a perfectionist. You’re trying to make a report, and, sure enough, the report must be perfect. And you have dozens ideas how to improve it. But right now you have to do at least a draft to start with. But you cannot, because “draft” is opposite to “perfect”. And you’re just stuck! What should you do? Greg suggests that you just change your motto from “perfect or nothing” to “better something than nothing”. Easy like that! Just change your core idea, what you really are to the opposite and it will solve everything. You have two minutes, I believe it will be enough.

And one exceptionally bad in most corporate environments advice: put at least 50% time buffer in everything you do. Ok, the task should last a day. I’m adding a day more, to create the buffer, my boss adds 1 more day for his buffer and his boss adds 2 more days “just in case”. Now we have 5 days for the task which lasts a day. And, considering the student syndrome, it’ll probably last 6 to 7 days, actually. I’m far from saying that buffers are unnecessary, but in complex environments they should be controlled so that no such chain effect occurs.

So, the book is ok if we consider it a motivational manifesto and not trying play it as a textbook. The author even put some Theory of constraints passages into it, and it’s nowadays almost a quality sign 😉

Usefulness: slightly above average. I’d prefer more instrumental book. Still it’s the vNext idea for me.

книга полезность выше среднего

 

 

Is it easy for reading? Yes. There is a bit more pathos then I’d like, but it’s ok.

книга нормально читается

Book: Lean production simplified by Pascal Dennis

imageLet’s start from the end: I haven’t reached it. Yep, one more book I haven’t read cover-to-cover. I’ve just made a new category for such books in the blog.

I’m interested in the Lean Manufacturing topic, and I heard something about it, but still, I don’t know how to DIY. That’s why I started reading such books. But this one – I failed with it. Why? Well, the book seems awkward to me. It creates questions but doesn’t answer them. Probably, I just don’t know enough, or I know too much, who knows. Anyway, I still see what’s different in my job from what’s described in the book, but don’t see what’s similar.

The book is not a 101 course, because it’s full of details and lacks some “executive overview”. Say, we now know about using sensors in some situations to control production flow, how to place them and what algorithm to use. And in the same book we just use some terms without explaining them. Explaining, what we can do if our situation is a bit different (say, we spent little time producing the product, but do it rarely) – ha! – no way. That is – a lot of details, but little rules of the system.

The book isn’t a reference book either, because it’s not detailed enough. Or details aren’t in the place we’d like them. Say, we’re talking about obligatory 5S learning course:

·         Team members: 2 hours

·         People, accountable for 5S: 1 day

·         Masters and managers: 1 day.

What is the course agenda, what this time should consist of – never mind, you won’t find it. We know only that it’s “5S intro” and “5S implementation”. As a result, the whole piece of information is absolutely useless.

I also find it funny, that we should learn some Japanese words. Like in “Muda is a Japanese word youimage have to learn”. How sweet. Since that’s what I definitely can live without, it’s… How you name it? Ahhh – Muda! =)

Long story short, I had been trying for almost 2/3 of the book, but then I quit and some of my questions still lie unanswered:

·         What’s supplies and overproduction in work of system engineers?

·         What are machines in my case?

·         Probably, machines are my servers and production is just fulfilling users’ requests (http for web, JSON or some other stuff for other services, etc.)? And then my guys are really engineers who just readjust the equipment. Each release is a readjustment. And so is plain reconfiguration?

·         How do we use 5S for servers?

·         What is our product?

·         What is transportation for me?

And many others. Just like I said: too many questions about how are we different. So, what should I read next on the topic? And what books I shouldn’t waste my time on? =)

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Usefulness: low. Books should not only question you, but answer some questions, too.

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Is it easy for reading: no, I never finished it.

Books I failed to read

clip_image002Once you start a book, you should finish it

Some columnist I’m not sure I agree with

You already got, I believe, that I read and sometimes write about books I like. Or don’t like for that matter. But there is a whole lot of books my kung fu isn’t strong enough for me to finish reading at all. Remembering a discussion after one of my previous blogs, I’ll be as direct as I can. I don’t mean that they are bad. I mean that they didn’t start my thinking process. Or they just wearied me too much to continue reading for one reason or another. I don’t even think that it’s a good habit: quit reading before “The End”. It’s a new behavior for me because most books I read from start to finish, bored I am or no.

But in some cases I am not ready for the book. Say, a problem the book is about doesn’t appeal to me, or I know too much about it, or too little, or something. Sometimes I cannot bear the style. In some rare cases I just disagree so much that reading on is too hard for me. There is so many books I like or think they are useful for me. Not reading them while I’m struggling with the boring one is like betrayal. It looks like wasting my time.
What are the books I couldn’t read? The list isn’t complete, of course, but I am an absolute sucker when quitting reading. So, meet my “haven’t enough guts for them” list:
Daniel Goleman: Primal leadership. This one happened to get into my hands just too early. Or I’m unable to be emotionally intelligent. I’ll get back to it soon and try it once more. Still, a couple years ago it was too complex and provided no immediate and practical connection to my life and its problems.

Stephen Covey: 7 habits of highly effective people. Nah… I told you already: the book “7 reasons you aren’t the people I’m writing about”. Or some other reason. I just couldn’t interest myself enough in it. I believe it could be still useful and it’s just me. It is possible you should try it, though.
Steve Pavlina: Personal Development for Smart People. Same as above.
Danielle Laporte: The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals With Soul. I like the idea (as I understand it from about 1/3 I read). But the style just freaks me out. Can’t read the text. But again, the idea resonated with me well.
Danny Penman & Mark Williams: Mindfulness. A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Let’s say, I’m not into meditation. I tried two weeks of the eight-week course, suggested in the book. No fool. They haven’t brought me any new knowledge or sensation. Some of the ideas aren’t new to me. Like monitoring how you’re thinking and switching from an idea to a thought. That’s some stuff you learn in Russian army while being a sentry. 😉
Aron Ralston: Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Not business or self-help book at any rate but not fiction. Just a man who had been once stupid wrote a book about how stupid he had been. A Saga of Stupidity. Reading it is unbearable to me, so I dropped it.
And what books you haven’t finished? What seemed stupid or was not worth it?

Book: Pinball Effect by James Burke

clip_image002Apples and oranges

-Just regular someone

A friend of mine recommended the book to me to find out what analogies, stories and other artifacts I can include in my future presentations or trainings to make them more interesting, dynamic and vivid. I’m dead serious about recommendations by certain people, so I ordered the book, waited for it (it happened to be cheaper to buy it from American store with delivery to Russia in English, than to buy a translated version here 😉 ) and read it. So much for veni, vidi, vici nowadays, huh.

First of all, I cannot recommend the book for any other reason than what I wrote: just look at variety of stories to enrich your ability to find something related to the current situation. Because, while there is certainly a lot of stories, the connections promised the author are sometimes… Well… They just aren’t. 🙂 Like the connection between some events is that they happened in one country. And some reviews suggest that James wasn’t too scrupulous with the facts either.

Anyway, there were some interesting points, which may illustrate some opinion. Even if the illustration itself isn’t true. Like analogy, you know. Say, story of Quakers may illustrate the fact that not all our actions yield results we intended. After the Restoration according to Burke (I’m not aware of the details, probably I now have to read something on the subject) they were banished from almost all professions except production and commerce. I believe, the aim was to handicap and impair their influence. Try and guess, who was the most powerful in those two remaining spheres of business soon.

One more interesting interconnection relates to phrenology. I’m not interested in the pseudo-science, but the author says that it stimulated a surge of self-improvement literature (And just look at our books stores now. It looks familiar, doesn’t it?). But what is more interesting: the passion for this baloney seemingly helped to deliver the criminalistics as we know it today.

clip_image004 Utility: low. I liked reading such stories in my childhood, but they were better structured and bore more information

 

clip_image006 Readability: low. I’m not native reader, but there are books that are easy to read. This one isn’t. The connections aren’t that obvious, you’ll be losing where the heck have you jumped from long bows to DNA.

Buy: Nah… Wouldn’t recommend Winking smile