The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim

Menlo Innovations
2 min readMar 17, 2020


A Menlo Innovations Book Review by Ben Frederick, High-Tech Anthropologist®

In this follow-up novel to The Phoenix Project, Gene Kim takes us back to Parts Unlimited, this time to observe the fictional DevOps transformation from the perspective of a developer.

Once again, Kim leads the reader through the thought process of someone beginning a Lean/Agile transformation, and highlights not only the guiding principles that aid transformation, but also the behavioral changes necessary to cement new practices in an organization. He highlights five ideals of work management to help the reader understand what they are watching as the dev team in the book begins to break out of ineffective practices. The five ideals are:

  • Locality and Simplicity
  • Focus, Flow, and Joy
  • Improvement of Daily Work
  • Psychological Safety
  • Customer Focus

A good example of the first ideal, locality and simplicity: imagine a board is hung from a ceiling by four different pieces of rope. If the rope was braided together, anytime you’d want to perform maintenance on an individual piece, you’d have to unbraid everything, remove the piece that needs maintenance, and re-braid in a new piece of rope. If you decoupled the ropes from each other so they were independent, maintaining an individual length of rope wouldn’t cause the entire system to come down.

In this metaphor, locality is the idea that one team can service one strand of rope — they don’t need to coordinate with seven other teams to remove the board and take the rope apart. Simplicity is the idea that the rope isn’t braided together in the first place, making it easier to maintain and understand — humans can only absorb so much complexity, but software is often incredibly (and, Kim would argue, needlessly) complex behind the curtain.

You’ll have to read the book for examples of the other ideals.

Like the Phoenix Project before it, The Unicorn Project is a fable that may cut a little close to the bone for some readers who have struggled or are currently struggling with transformation. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Get your copy here!



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