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Book Review: “Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate At Scale” (Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky, Barry O’Reilly)

In my journey, some of the moments I treasure the most are hanging out and learning from some of the best thinkers in the DevOps community. Without a doubt, this includes Jez Humble, famous for the book he co-authored with David Farley, “Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation”.

(In my opinion, Jez is not only one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, he is also one of the most decent human beings on the planet. He’s one of the co-authors of the upcoming “DevOps Cookbook,” as well as one of the collaborators on the Puppet Labs State of DevOps Survey, going into its third year.)

Anyone who has read “Continuous Delivery” will recognize that he is a fantastic boundary-spanner, talking with equal ease about Architecture, Development, Test and IT Operations.

His extraordinary boundary-spanning continues in “Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale,” which he co-authored Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reilly. I had the pleasure of critiquing early drafts last year, and finally got a chance to read the final version that went to print.

In short, I recommend it to anyone who wants to see what technology work should look like, where we are bringing the full capabilities of “Lean Startup”-style experimentation into UX, product owners, and the DevOps value stream.

In their words, the pain and the promise the authors make in this book is to:

We wrote the book because of our frustration at the state of the industry. The techniques and practices we describe are not new, and they are known to work. However, they are not yet mainstream, and are often implemented piecemeal, leading to local, rather than systemic, improvements. As a result, companies toil at building — at huge cost — products, services, and businesses that do not deliver the expected value to customers.

When Continuous Delivery (Addison-Wesley) and The Lean Startup (Crown Business) were published, we saw an enormous amount of demand from people working in enterprises who wanted to adopt the practices described in these books. A large number of companies have achieved measurable benefit from using the practices we discuss, resulting in delivery of higher-quality products to market faster, increased customer satisfaction, and higher returns on investment. This comes with reduced cost and risk as well as happier employees who are no longer working unsustainable hours and have the opportunity to harness their creativity and passion at work.

Indeed, I believe this book will help us to achieve that mission. The reader is taken on a wild ride of all the various mental models, tools and techniques that will help technology leaders and practitioners get the highest value from technology projects and services.

Why do I say “wild ride?” Because the authors introduce the topics from a diverse and surprising set of places.

Below, I list a just a sample of the incredible surface area that the book covers. If you are blown away (or maybe even intimidated) by the breadth of what is covered, I would claim that exposure to these concepts will be increasingly required for the next generation of technology leaders.

Many excellent case studies are presented of how these principles put into practice, including UK.gov, how the ARM processor was created, Etsy, Amazon, etc.

You can see the scope and breadth of topics reflected in the FlowCon conference that Jez Humble runs. The conference program has a very wide field of view, encompassing UX, business, product owners, Dev, Test and Ops — perhaps stretching the boundary-spanning capabilities of most of us, and certainly their actual roles and responsibilities.

Think of this book, then as not just a textbook of how to do your daily work, but as a practical and broad survey of materials that will enable the next generation of leaders to win in the marketplace. As MBA programs eventually shift their emphasis from “command and control” to “mission command,” this book points the direction that their curriculums will evolve to.

I recommend it wholeheartedly, and think you’ll find it stimulating, exciting, and bound to change the way you think about your next technology project, and maybe the even the work that you do.

Mental Models, Toolkits and Techniques Covered In Book

  • Decentralizing decision-making to empower innovation and mission command (vs. command and control): the roots of this may be familiar to people who have read about the birth of maneuver warfare in the post-Napoleonic era, pioneered by Carl von Clausewitz, David Scharnhorst, and Helmuth von Moltke.
  • Using Geoffrey A. Moore’s model of “growth/materiality” matrix and planning horizons to balance investments in an enterprise project portfolio, from Escape Velocity: Free your Company’s Future from the Pull of the Past.
  • Using Colonel John Boyd’s OODA loop model, with the goal of getting inside the decision loop of the competition through fast cycle times, to out-experiment and disorient the competition.
  • Using techniques from the Lean toolkit, such as value stream mapping and calculating lead and cycle time, to define value and build teams that have a shared understanding and goals, that can create value fast, without unneeded delay.
  • Defining how product owners can free engineering teams to explore and deliver mission objectives, without specifying exact features, using UX personas, user story maps, and specifying measurable success outcomes.
  • Moving to continuous integration, continuous deployment and trunk-based development to ensure fast flow between Development, Test and IT Operations.
  • Deploying the Toyota Kata and “strategy deployment” (Hoshin Kanri) to help leaders guide their organizations into a culture of genuine continuous improvement, as a model that describes how Gary Gruver and the HP LaserJet firmware team reduced their cycle time of “code commit to potentially shippable code” from “months to one day.”
  • Using Don Reinertsen’s model of “cost of delay” to calculate what teams should work on next, and using the cumulative flow diagram to detect and measure handoff delays.
  • Designing teams, organizations and architectures with Conway’s Law in mind.
  • Creating an innovation culture, growing leaders, and creating cultures that value safety and transparency. (The final chapter in the book presents the birth of the UK Government Digital Service, which transformed the way the UK government delivered services to its citizens.)
  • Financial management and innovation accounting that provide a different model that liberate teams from annual planning cycles.
  • How to integrate these concepts into GRC constructs, describing how this can be done in even highly complex and regulated environments.

Other Relevant Book Recommendations

For those of you interested in these topics, I would also recommend the following books that have influenced my thinking over the last two decades:

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