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October 3, 2023

Early Adopters of Industrial DevOps

By Suzette Johnson ,Robin Yeman

The following is an excerpt from the book Industrial DevOps: Building Better Systems Faster by Dr. Suzette Johnson and Robin Yeman.

The Early Adopters Are Reaping Success

Industrial DevOps practices provide an innovative approach to address many of the unique challenges faced by the development and manufacturing of cyber-physical systems. Where we see pockets of these principles being adopted, the companies are recognizing clear benefits. Early successes of some Industrial DevOps principles can be found in companies such as Tesla, SpaceX, Planet Labs, Bosch, and Saab Aeronautics.


To build a competitive presence in the auto industry, Tesla applies what they call “first principles” coupled with attention to how people collaborate. This means when they want to improve a system and innovate faster, they take a systems view. Innovative thinking increases through increased knowledge sharing and strong team collaboration.

Through the efforts of Joe Justice, chair of the Agile Business Institute (ABI) and CEO of Wikispeed Inc., applying an Agile mindset and practices has been fundamental to Tesla’s ways of working and their success in building a continuous improvement culture. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated the importance of innovation at Tesla: “Speed of innovation is what matters.” As reported in the ABI article “Tesla Agile Success,” while innovations are ongoing at Tesla, some specific innovations include “designing the battery casing as part of the car structure, the Giga Press, the octovalve and its manifold, and enhancing their car seats from being the worst in the early Model S to being the best on the market (according to Sandy Munro).”

One well-known investment is the Giga Press. The use of the Giga Press to manufacture large parts of vehicles has resulted in increased speed of production and improved operational efficiencies. By using the Giga Press to manufacture parts for the Model Y, the Fremont factory was able to reduce the body shop by 30%, or about three hundred fewer robots, as compared with the manufacturing of the Model 3. Taking a systems view and building teams for improved collaboration helps Tesla build better systems faster. Today, they have a larger market cap than the next six auto companies combined.


Anyone who is familiar with Agile principles and is watching SpaceX recognizes the importance these principles play in the innovative learning cycles of their space systems. As reported in the article “SpaceX’s Use of Agile Methods,” SpaceX makes vast use of end-to-end systems modeling, and as Elon Musk says, they can “take the concept from your mind, translate that into a 3D object, really intuitively  .  .  .  and be able to make it real just by printing it.”1

The Industrial DevOps principles have been demonstrated by SpaceX through their ability to test often and early and get rapid feedback on their testing. Using these principles, in December 2022, “SpaceX has now edged out Lockheed, which has a valuation of $137 billion, making it the third-most-valuable aerospace and defense franchise in the western world behind only Raytheon Technologies (RTX), which holds the top spot, and Boeing (BA).”

Planet Labs

Planet Labs is an Earth-imaging company that operates a fleet of over two hundred satellites, providing high-resolution imaging of the Earth’s surface for a variety of stakeholders, from agriculture to government to energy. Planet Labs refers to their approach as “Agile aerospace,” where, over the last decade, they have completed fourteen major iterations of the Dove spacecraft design. Planet Labs explains that getting their first satellites into space quickly enabled them to learn many lessons about constellation management and optical systems before the cost of change was too expensive. These days, Planet Labs launches satellites into space every three to four months. They were able to parlay early learning into a company that is currently estimated to be valued at over $2.8 billion.


Bosch is a German engineering and technology company whose products  are seen in our everyday life. For several years, the organization has been leveraging Agile and DevOps principles across several areas, such as their autonomous systems and control units, sensors, smart heating controls, and power tool division. Soraia Ferreira, a software engineer supporting Bosch in the area of smart heating and heating systems, stated that by applying Agile practices, “we created a product that has been a smash hit in the market,” and “without innovative physical heating technology, we wouldn’t make any progress with IoT software.”

Saab Aeronautics

The Gripen fighter jet, owned by Saab Aeronautics, has been one of the earliest adopters of Agile, Lean, and Scrum for a large cyber-physical system. For the JAS 39E Saab Gripen, there were two thousand to four thousand individuals working across every level and across software, hardware, and the fuselage. Based on the article “Owning the Sky with Agile: Building a Jet Fighter Faster, Cheaper, Better with Scrum,” Agile practices have enabled Saab “to manage variability and drive performance with clarity and commitment. The result is an aircraft delivered for lower cost, with higher speed, and greater quality.”


NASA has some of the world’s largest cyber-physical systems in the space domain. They, too, have embraced Agile, Lean, and DevOps principles across some parts of the agency. The Federal News Network captures how their Agile implementation has helped align strategy to execution, with the ability to deliver value incrementally with fast feedback from stakeholders through regular system-level demonstrations. As quoted in this article, Shenandoah Speers, NASA’s director of application and platform services in the office of the CIO, stated that his team has “created a DevSecOps pipeline platform that allows them to do on-demand continuous integration (CI) and continuous deployment (CD) utilizing containerization to automate the build security, scanning and deployment process.”

Wider Adoption of Industrial DevOps

Wider adoption of Agile and DevOps principles continues to expand into other functions, as demonstrated through industry professional organizations such as the Project Management Institute, International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE), National Defense Industrial Association, and Software Engineering Institute. For example, in June 2022, at the INCOSE 32nd Annual International Symposium, a working session, “SE Modernization Strategy Session Follow-Up,” was held to discuss systems engineering modernization to include Agile practices, and the organization continues to promote the practice Agile Systems Engineering. These organizations are taking positive steps to include Agile and DevOps into areas beyond software development.

A 2022 report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlights the DoD’s emphasis on iterative development and continued modernization of its software development efforts. While iterative development and software modernization are on the rise, fast feedback and the frequent release of capabilities for these systems is still suboptimal. The GAO has also reported on the significance of cybersecurity for weapons systems. These capabilities are critical for ensuring the safety and security of freedom.

These examples are not meant to imply that the efforts of these organizations are perfect; however, it is clear that these organizations are experiencing positive results through a set of Lean and Agile principles for the development and production of cyber-physical systems. Companies that solve this problem first will increase transparency, reduce cycle time, increase value for money, and innovate faster. They will build better systems faster and become the ultimate economic and value delivery winners in the marketplace. It is evident that we can leverage Agile and DevOps practices to address the unique challenges of cyber-physical systems and obtain similar outcomes.

- About The Authors
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Suzette Johnson

I have spent most of my career in the aerospace defense industry working for Northrop Grumman Corporation, a global aerospace, defense, and security company. My initial experience with Agile-related practices began in the 1990s with product development for an innovative and cutting-edge technology startup company during the emergence of the dot-com era. This early experience gave me an understanding of the importance of quick delivery times to meet customers’ needs. On-time delivery was paramount for success and ROI for the company. This experience played a critical role for me when I changed industries and moved into aerospace and defense. In my role in aerospace and defense, I was the enterprise Lean/Agile transformation lead (overseeing more than ninety thousand employees, domestic and international). In this role, I launched the Northrop Grumman Agile Community of Practice, with over ten thousand members, and the Lean/Agile Center of Excellence, which provides resources and guidance to leadership and teams. I have supported over a hundred enterprise, government, and DoD transitions to and the maturation of Lean-Agile principles and engineering development practices. I have trained and coached over four thousand individuals on Lean/Agile principles and practices and delivered more than one hundred presentations on Lean/Agile at conferences both nationally and abroad. My current role is as Northrop Grumman Fellow and Technical Fellow Emeritus, where I continue to actively drive the adoption of Lean/Agile principles with leadership at the portfolio levels and within cyber-physical solutions, specifically within the space sector. As a mentor, coach, and leader, I launched the Women in Computing, Johns Hopkins University Chapter; the Women in Leadership Development program; the Northrop Grumman Lean-Agile Center of Excellence; and the NDIA ADAPT (Agile Delivery for Agencies, Programs, and Teams) working group. I received a Doctorate of Management at the University of Maryland with a dissertation focused on investigating the impact of leadership styles on software project outcomes in traditional and Agile engineering environments. I am also a Certified Agile Enterprise Coach and Scaled Agile Program Consultant/SPCT

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Robin Yeman

I spent twenty-six years working at Lockheed Martin in various roles leading up to senior technical fellow building large systems including everything from submarines to satellites. I lead the Agile community of practice supporting a workforce of 120,000 people. My initial experience with Lean practices began in the late ’90s. In 2002, I had the opportunity to lead my first Agile program with multiple Scrum teams. After I had a couple months of experience, I was hooked and never turned back. I both led and supported Agile transformations for intelligence, federal, and Department of Defense organizations over the next two decades, and each one was more exciting and challenging than the last. In 2012, I had the opportunity to extend our Agile practices into DevOps, which added extensive automation and tightened our feedback loops, providing even larger results. Currently, I am consulting for a range of Fortune 500 companies in highly regulated environments, enabling them to achieve the same results we experienced at Lockheed Martin. I engage in everything from automotive, pharmaceuticals, and energy to reimagining legacy to modern solutions using all of the tools in my toolbox, including Agile, DevOps, Lean, digital engineering, systems theory, design thinking, and more. My goal is to make a positive impact for those around me. I am and always will be a continuous learner. My education includes a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in Computer Information Systems and a master’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Software Engineering, and I’m currently pursuing a PhD in Systems Engineering at Colorado State University, where I am working on my contribution to demonstrate empirical data of the benefits of implementing Agile and DevOps for safety-critical cyber-physical systems.

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