The Unicorn Project, the book that every Digital Leaders should ask from Santa this Christmas!



A few years ago, my dear wife came back from a DevOps vendor’s conference with a book called The Phoenix Project. Being my nosey-self, I checked chapter one, and before long, I was immersed in the story of Bill Palmer, who was fighting to resurrect the crashed payroll system of Parts Unlimited. The situation was so similar to many painful launches I had to contend with in my career, cringely so. The challenges of politics were so vivid throughout the book, the solutions hard to come by. Eventually, a focus on flow, the four types of work and a relentless effort on the three ways enabled the turnaround. I could not put this book down. I am not a book-worm, and the novel format made it both an entertaining and instructive read. The Phoenix Project was a defining moment in my career and became a reference in the industry.


 So, when I heard that a sequel was on the cards with The Unicorn Project, I could not wait for it to come out (Note: Official release on the 26th of November 2019). Even better, I had to pinch myself when IT Revolution confirmed that I was selected to review an early copy. Christmas had come at once. Thank you, Santa (or Gene in this case)! 


Gene Kim had his work cut-out. How do you come up with a match for The Phoenix Project? How can you write a sequel without sounding like Deja-vu? Well, as it goes, you don’t write a sequel, but more of a parallel-quel. What a stroke of genius! The same story of Parts Unlimited and the Phoenix launch, but this time it is seen from the lenses of Maxine Chambers, a Lead Developer, a scapegoat for the payroll outage on a punishing exile to the Phoenix programme. Parts Unlimited was never quite a place for psychological safety indeed.


For all its brilliance, The Phoenix Project centred on the Ops side, and the Dev side was less of a focus. It stands now corrected. The Unicorn Project covers the same story viewed from the engineering side. It is equally, if not more compelling and offers essential new insights. Be ready to follow the build-up of the Rebellion, the engineers self-organising to rescue the company from shooting self in the foot. Erik (aka Master Yoda of Digital Business) is still around to provide unexpected and ever so cryptic advice. You will discover the five Ideals, the three Horizons and the concept of Core versus Context. There is even a reference to using my favourite Wardley Maps. Enough said or I will risk giving spoilers away. 


The Unicorn Project and the challenges at Parts Unlimited is not just fiction. It is the story of many traditional businesses in the Digital doldrums, trying to fight their way into the new economy. There is no Digital business without sound engineering foundations, and this is where it all starts. And once you start, how do you keep going? You connect Business and Technology closer together to unleash more value yet. Simple in principle, but very hard to break the mould of siloes and conventional thinking. 


The Unicorn Project offers a great story that many traditional businesses should aim to emulate. Long-standing firms can compete in the digital economy, as long as they understand the challenges and are willing to change. The Unicorn Project gives a sense of all this. It speaks to the engineers and the business leaders in equal measure. It is the best £20 that you will invest in your Digital change effort. So much so that I have ordered multiple copies for my clients. It will help to accelerate their overall understanding and our work together. 


Thank you, Gene, for producing such a jewel of a book yet again. Now, you all know what to do: 

“Dear Santa, please bring a Unicorn Project in my Christmas stocking!” 

I will wish you a great read and a wonderful Christmas. 


 And if you need Digital Elves to help you implement the learnings from the book, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I have been playing Erik to many teams and leaders in the past two years and could help you out too.  



Unicorn Project — Gene Kim — available from : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unicorn-Project-Disruption-Redshirts-Overthrowing/dp/1942788762


Specific launch website: https://itrevolution.com/the-unicorn-project/


Gene’s company — IT Revolution : https://itrevolution.com/


My coaching business in Digital Leadership- Henko Limited : https://www.henko.co.uk, https://www.lead-digital.org, https://www.meetup.com/DigitalLeadership


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