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Software Engineering Happiness: The Five Ideals

The Unicorn Project by Gene Kim is an outstanding novel which should be instantly recognisable to anyone who has built, deployed or run an IT or software system in a company of any size.

A key message in the book is The Five Ideals. Five rules for making those who do the work, the happiest, and therefore getting the work done in the best way.

Gene Kim has confirmed that it is DevOps which is crucial to achieving better value from IT investment. He wanted to show how teams and individuals need to be put at the centre of what is done every day.

Therefore developers, engineers and operators must be working in a way which makes them happy and brings them joy.

  1. Locality and Simplicity
  2. Focus, Flow and Joy
  3. Improvement Of Daily Work
  4. Psychological Safety
  5. Customer Focus

What do these mean?

  1. Scope: ensure that the team can work on a context over which they have complete control. See Team Topologies, see SOLID principles, see DDD.
  2. Flow: Work in small batches with complete mastery of our domain.
  3. Agility: Make our context better every day. Improve our experience.
  4. Freedom: to experiment, to try without fear.
  5. Delivery: provide solutions to customers with minimal possible overhead.

These are ideals. Are they ever achieved? And if so, what software engineer wouldn’t like to work like that? Is our job as engineering leaders as ‘simple’ as ensuring this can happen?