Reviewed in the United States on December 23, 2019
I've always said that there is no customer problem so bad that I couldn't come in and make it worse. The Unicorn Project, while an entertaining business novel, is chalk full of coding and other technical references that go right over my head. That being said, I still heartily enjoyed the book and learned a tremendous amount from reading it.
In The Unicorn Project, Gene Kim retells The Phoenix Project story of IT and corresponding business transformation at the struggling auto-parts store giant, Parts Unlimited, but from the completely different perspective of Maxine Chambers and the IT staff. An hoc team, The Rebellion, fights back against the bureaucracy, waste and, most importantly, technical debt inherent in the 100-year old company. The mysterious Yoda-like tech guru, Erik (also featured in The Phoenix Project) explains, “There are many definitions, but my favorite is how it was originally defined by Ward Cunningham in 2003. He said, ‘technical debt is what you feel the next time you want to make a change.’”
Given the recent release of the final Star Wars saga, The Unicorn Project’s rebellion is particularly timely. And Gene includes plenty of fun Star Wars trivia subtly embedded throughout the book.
Business philosophy worthy of a Naval Ravikant is scattered throughout The Unicorn Project such as this gem, "Every tech giant has nearly been killed by technical debt. You name it: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google, Microsoft, eBay, LinkedIn, Twitter, and so many more." IT guru, Erik, chimes in with observations like, "Interestingly, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, still has a culture that if a developer ever has a choice between working on a feature or developer productivity, they should always choose developer productivity."
The Unicorn Project also includes practical snippets for non-IT workers such as when an executive reminds employees at a celebratory meeting, "Uh, just a reminder, this is insider information. If you use this information to trade Parts Unlimited stock, you can go to prison. Dick Landry, our CFO, told me to tell you that he will assist in your prosecution as per your employment contract." The book even highlights a very relevant word for IT, "Complect." Erik explains, "It's an archaic word, resurrected by Sensei Rich Hickey. 'Complect' means to turn something simple into something complex." He makes sure to call out
One of the passages resonated personally: “Maxine thinks with a grin, “We’re racking up a heck of a bill with the cloud computing providers, but absolutely no one in Marketing is complaining because the business benefits are so spectacular.” I spend a good deal of my time explaining how cloud is an operating model, not a destination, and that an enterprise cloud model can bring enable the business benefits of public cloud combined with the much lower cost and greater control of on-prem. In fact, Gene even includes a reference to the Nutanix Workshops website.
Heroin Maxine says near the end of the book, "Technology needs to be embedded in the business, not external to it or merely aligned with it.” The wonder of The Unicorn Project is that by the end of the book, Gene has not only convinced his readers about the truth of this declaration, but he’s helped them experience second-hand why it’s so.