5 Lessons for Training Teams from The Phoenix Project

In the early 2000’s there was a major push in software development companies to find a better way to release software. This emerging movement was called dev-ops (development operations). In the book The Phoenix Project, the authors told a fictional story of a company struggling to release software and provided the main character and narrator a “guide” from the board of directors. This guide took the main character on a factory tour to watch the flow of work and draw conclusions. The idea was that the main character was supposed to draw inspiration from what the factory had learned about efficiency and quality and apply it to his challenges with releasing software.

The Phoenix Project book cover

We, the reader, get to be inspired by the lessons from both the factory and the dev-ops team. I was particularly inspired by five messages which helped our team rethink some of our approaches to our training and development cycles at Endurance Learning. If, like me, you think of your job as successful when you are on-time, on-budget, and on-quality, then there are five valuable lessons I’d like to share.

1. Identify types of work

In the book, work is broken down into three categories: business projects, internal projects, and unplanned work. In most companies, the former is the most profitable, and the latter is the least. The goal should be to limit unplanned work by identifying the cause and addressing it before it reaches the design and development team. 

2. Align departmental (or team) missions

It takes a team to build a good course. We have several teams at Endurance Learning and they each have their own objectives. Project leads work to ensure the project is successful, designers and developers work to build a creative and engaging course, and quality assurance (QA) strives to make our courses extremely high quality. Each team adds value only if they are aligned with the same mission. If QA is competing with the project lead because they have feedback but the timeline is quickly approaching, they do not have the same mission. What is more important for this project? On-time or on-quality? That should be made clear before a project even starts. 

3. Identify bottlenecks 

On our team we decided that work should never sit for more than 1 business day without movement. Anything that sits for more than a day will continue to drop in priority and has a low chance of being delivered on-time and on-budget. Bottlenecks can occur at many levels, but are often attributed to one very busy person who is struggling to get to a task, which leads me to Brent. 

4. Identify “Brent”s

In the book, Brent is the resource who always saves the day in production issues. Because of the company’s dependency on Brent, he is also a source of many issues. My COO tells me all of the time that a task cannot be done by the same person all of the time just because “That is a task Brent does.” Brent occasionally goes on vacation or has competing priorities. Brent being the only person that knows how to do something can bottleneck a project, likely resulting in more work for others and risking the project success by not being delivered on-time, on-budget, and on-quality. Additionally, just because Brent always has done something, does not mean he is doing it the most effectively or efficiently. 

5. Implement Continuous Delivery

Don’t wait until a course is built before it is reviewed.  As we build courses they are published regularly for QA and ID review. We publish courses section by section, sometimes even screen by screen for regular feedback. This approach allows for continuous improvement throughout the lifecycle of the course development. 

By addressing each of these lessons on our team, we are regularly exceeding expectations of my three success metrics. In an upcoming post, you will see how we implemented Agile along the training and development cycle to operationalize our project work.  


Could you use some help getting your elearning projects completed on-time, on-budget and with the quality everyone at your organization expects? Drop us a line, we’d love to talk about how we could work together to make that happen!

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