Hello and welcome to Small Batches. I’m your host Adam Hawkins. In each episode, I share a small batch of software delivery education aiming to help find flow, feedback, and learning in own daily work. Topics include DevOps, lean, continuous delivery, and conversations with industry leaders. Now, let’s begin today’s episode.
Many people ask me what should I read? This is the topic for today’s episode. My recommendations will be in two categories. The first category is abstract. The second category is IT or software development specific. I’ve read all these books myself and even discussed some on the podcast. I’ll give a brief summary and pitch for each one.
Let’s begin with the theory of knowledge, more specifically profound knowledge. Dr. W. Edward’s Deming 1994 book "The New Economics" introduces the four part System of Profound Knowledge. The four parts are: appreciation of a system, theory of knowledge, understanding of variation, and psychology. The thinking described in this book provides a wholistic view of the work, ourselves, and the world itself. You’ll find a direct through line from Deming’s work to many of these other books and a lot of this podcast itself.
The next book builds on the philosophy of the first. Dr. Steven Spear’s 2009 book "The High-Velocity Edge" is a doorway into system’s thinking, lean, flow, and continuous improvement. "The High-Velocity Edge" describes the four capabilities of high performing organizations: system design and operation, problem solving, knowledge sharing, and developing the previous capabilities in others. This was one of the most transformative books I’ve ever read. I wish I had read this book before going down the DevOps rabbit hole. "The High-Velocity Edge" gave me the theory and practice behind _why_ DevOps works; plus it made me really curious about Toyota. That’s another branch on the tree of knowledge.
Now we come to the Peter Senge’s 2006 book "The Fifth Discipline". The first edition was published in 1990 with the second edition published in 2006. Before I say anything else about this book, know that Dr. Deming vouched for this book. I was quite excited to see a Deming blurb on the back cover. This is probably the most well known and read book on the list. Senge introduces four disciplines in this book: system’s thinking, mental models, personal mastery, and building a shared vision. My favorite part of this book was Senge’s introduction of the system archetypes. I’m positive you’ll find his examples relatable.
The next two books are on Toyota. We can thank Toyota for pioneering what we call "lean". Toyota applied their thinking to manufacturing automobiles. It made them wildly successful and as a result, made the world take an interest in lean. Lean is the philosophical ancestor to modern software delivery, so it warrants understanding.
Jeffrey Liker’s 2021 book "The Toyota Way" is one of the best books I’ve read on Toyota. Liker describes the 14 principles and "Four Ps" behind the Toyota Production System. This one really does have it all, but it’s best appreciated if you have some prior understanding to some of the concepts because this will clarify your understanding. For example I learned that that frequently referenced "Andon Cord" did not _actually_ stop the line. You can only learning these things if you visit the first hand sources.
The second Toyota book is Mike Rother’s 2010 book "The Toyota Kata". The Toyota Kata describes problem solving at Toyota. He uses the term "kata" to refer to disciplined practice like those in martial arts. Rother describes the improvement kata for reaching target conditions and the coaching kata for teaching the improvement kata. This is the book if you’re looking to topple the status quo. For even better results, pair these two books with Art Smalley’s book "The Four Types of Problems".
All the books up to this point provide knowledge and theory in any domain. Now, let’s shift towards books on the daily work of delivering software.
Donald Reinertsen’s 2009 "Principles of Product Development Flow" is a tour de force take down of traditional product development. His book outlines over a hundred principles of lean product development flow. This is the missing link between the theory of lean manufacturing and building software products. I also recommend Dominica de Grandis book "Making Work Visible" for similar but easier read.
Next up is Dave Farley’s 2022 book "Modern Software Engineering". This is definitely a book for engineers of all levels. Senior engineers should already know its lessons. Junior and midlevel engineers need to internalize them. This book is a blend of Dave’s earlier book "Continuous Delivery", another classic "The Pragmatic Programmer", and another book on the list "The DevOps Handbook". Read this one for the best example of the daily work of software engineering.
This list could not be complete without including the most important books by IT Revolution press. The first is The DevOps Handbook which introduces the three ways of DevOps: flow, feedback, and learning. Where "Modern Software Engineering" feels more focused on individuals, "The DevOps Handbook" focuses on teams and organizations. "The Phoenix Project" is an alternative to "The DevOps Handbook". It introduces the same ideas using a fictional story similar to Goldratt’s classic "The Goal". "The Phoenix Project" is definitely a fun read, which is rare thing of tech books.
The next book addresses the challenge of organizing software teams and software systems for fast flow. The two must be aligned for anything discussed in the previous books to work. The 2019 book "Team Topologies" introduces the four team types and their interaction models. I reference this book constantly because it’s the best work to-date that I’ve found on the architecture of the entire system. If you’ve felt pain from the mismatch of team architecture and technical architecture then this book offers a path forward.
Now there is one more book to wrap up the list. Odds are your listening to this podcast because you want to change something. It may be yourself, your team, your company, or if you’re bold enough than all of the above. This is the talk of transformation. Undoubtably you encounter many obstacles and challenges in achieving your vision of the future. A valuable lesson in all these books is return to the source and linger on the works of the master thinkers.
The Stoics from over two thousand years ago, and even Buddhists before them were the first system’s thinkers. There’s an old Zen story of a king who was dissatisfied with his subject’s. He wanted to teach them a lesson. The lesson was:
> The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.
There’s something in there that feels like it could be lifted from "The New Economics" or "The High-Velocity Edge". We may seek workarounds for these obstacles. Instead, we must not accept workarounds and face the challenges head on.
Ryan Holiday’s 2014 book "The Obstacle is The Way" is a great entry point into Stoicism. I’ve read this book multiple times over the years, each time finding something new; even internalizing an acronym for quick reference: PAW. That’s perception, action, will. Right perception precedes right action or as holiday puts it:
> See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must. What blocked the path now is a path. What once impedes action advances action. The obstacle is the way.
Alright, that’s all for this batch. I’ve added links to buy these books and links to previous Small Batches episodes on them at SmallBatches.fm/71.
You’ll also find a link to the Small Batches slack app which I’ve loaded with the best insights and quotes from all these books. The app is currently free in beta, so get it today and start learning as a team.
Well I hope to have you back again for the next episode. Until then, happy shipping!
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