5 great books for devops enthusiasts

If you want to practice devops, you need to have a deep understanding of the principles, values, and concepts that drive it

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If you want to do the devops then you need to have a deep understanding of the principles, values, and concepts that drive it. Devops may be a trendy topic, but it brings together important concepts that come from multiple sources.

In this list, I recommend five books that help lay that conceptual groundwork. All are highly influential and build an understanding of how you should think about scaled software delivery in large enterprises.

While The Phoenix Project, The Devops Handbookand Continuous Delivery form the core building blocks of the devops movement, those books should already be on the bookshelf of any devops enthusiast, and they are covered well in other lists—such as George Hulme’s ”5 great books on devops.” Here, I focus on books that provide additional context to these fundamental books and help frame the core issues.

Devops leadership

Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal

Enterprise devops deals with the significant challenge of leading transformational change inside large organizations. In Team of Teams, Gen. Stanley McChrystal details how he was able to take an large, elite military organization—the Joint Special Operations Task Force—from a highly siloed, command-and-control structured hierarchy to a distributed, decentralized network of integrated teams.

We learn that the true value of an organization is the system it uses to collaborate and achieve its objectives. For McChrystal, such a system needs to be built for resilient adaption to changing circumstances rather than planning and prediction. It needs to be understood as a networked and adaptable organizational structure that is able to harness the power and experience of distributed teams. Team of Teams is required reading for those who are looking to gain insight into the leadership skills needed to transform an organization from intractable to adaptable.

Devops principles

This is Lean by Niklas Modig and Par Ahlstrom

While there are many other resources on Lean available, This is Lean is most concise, clearly demonstrative of its basic principles and values. The book is short in length yet packed with information, moving easily through the core concepts to give you a solid understanding of lean.

A solid understanding of Lean production is becoming a critical competency in modern software delivery, but the word “Lean" gets thrown around a lot and has come to mean a lot of different things to different people. Niklas Modig and Par Ahlstrom present Lean as method for optimizing a system—any system—around flow, what it means to achieve flow, and how this is can be applied beyond just manufacturing.

The greatest strength of This Is Lean is in clearly differentiating what Lean it is and is not. If you’ve ever heard people use the word and wondered what they mean, or maybe even used it yourself and wondered if you were using it correctly, this book is a quick read that will resolve any ambiguity.

Devops theory

The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt

In this classic business fable, Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt takes us on a journey through a manufacturing transformation. The Goal is very readable, and if you are someone who enjoys the business fable format, you will find this to be a page-turner. It makes you laugh, makes you cry, and all the while learning highly valuable concepts. The Goal served as the inspiration for Gene Kim’s highly influential business novel, the Phoenix Project, and the theory of constraints he presented in it has become is a core intellectual underpinning of devops thinking.

Similar to manufacturing production, software production work must also pass through multiplet stages to become a product that can be sold to customers. How we design our systems can introduce bottlenecks into the production process that will prevent work from flowing, creating waste in the production process. This is the theory of constraints—that every system has bottlenecks, and the process for improvement involves identifying and adapting to them.

Note: A graphic novel version of The Goal has recently been published.

Devops concepts

Managing the Design Factory by Donald G. Reinertsen

Recently hitting its 20th anniversary, Managing the Design Factory contains a wealth of highly useful information. As one reviewer on Amazon put it, “I have never seen so much good advice about product development in one place. Applying concepts from manufacturing, finance, queuing theory and communications theory, Reinertsen proposes many ways in which we can design better processes for development.”

In this book, Donald G. Reinertsen presents his ideas about systems thinking, feedback loops, and organizations as systems, the very concepts that are core to devops. Despite being 20 years old, his presentation of the concepts is more relevant than ever. I consider Managing the Design Factory to be a hidden gem, offering timeless advice on methods and practices to optimize software design and production at scale.

Devops practices

The Devops Adoption Playbook by Sanjeev Sharma

The is an excellent resource (particularly if you enjoy sports metaphors) covering off many different facets of devops and software delivery in large enterprises. The Devops Adoption Playbook is a broad survey of the many different practices and programs within the devops domain, couched in the idea that devops is fundamentally a cultural movement and must be managed with that in mind. The book provides historical context, practical advice, business perspectives, organizational theory, communications strategies, and technical knowhow. It is truly the polymath’s introduction to devops.

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