The Unicorn Project And The Five Ideals

It is impossible to overstate how much I’ve learned since co-authoring The Phoenix Project, DevOps Handbook, and Accelerate. I’m so excited that after years of work, The Unicorn Project will be published later this year.

This book is my attempt to frame what I’ve learned studying technology leaders adopting DevOps principles and patterns in large, complex organizations, often having to fight deeply entrenched orthodoxies. And yet, despite huge obstacles, they create incredibly effective and innovative teams that create beacons of greatness that inspire us all.

In this book, we follow a senior lead developer and architect as she is exiled to the Phoenix Project, to the horror of her friends and colleagues, as punishment for contributing to a payroll outage. She tries to survive in what feels like a heartless and uncaring bureaucracy, forced to work within a system where no one can get anything done without endless committees, paperwork, change requests, and approvals. Decades of technical debt make even small changes difficult or impossible, often causing catastrophic outcomes and fear of punishment.

I get tremendous delight and gratification that this book is not about the bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise – instead, it is about the heroic work of redshirt engineers, as it turns out, whose work matters most to the long-term survival of the organization.

In my previous books, I’ve focused on principles and practices (e.g., Three Ways, Four Types of Work). However, I’ve always wanted to describe the spectrum of cultural, experiential and value decisions we make that either enable greatness, or create chronic suffering and underperformance. They are currently as follows:

• The First Ideal — Locality and simplicity in our code and organization • The Second Ideal — Focus, flow and joy in our daily work • The Third Ideal — Enablement of improvement and achievement • The Fourth Ideal — A culture of psychological safety • The Fifth Ideal — A ruthless and relentless focus on our customer

In this talk, I’ll share with you my goals and aspirations for The Unicorn Project, describe in detail the Five Ideals, along with my favorite case studies of both ideal and non-ideal, and why I believe more than ever that DevOps will be one of the most potent economic forces for decades to come.



Gene Kim

Gene Kim is a multiple award-winning CTO, researcher and author, and has been studying high-performing technology organizations since 1999. He was founder and CTO of Tripwire for 13 years. He has ...