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April 9, 2024

An Industrial DevOps Framework for Building Better Systems Faster

By IT Revolution

This post has been adapted from the book Industrial DevOps by Dr. Suzette Johnson and Robin Yeman.


As organizations transition into the digital era, they need to shift their ways of working to deliver value to customers faster. Industrial DevOps provides a framework to enable this transformation for organizations building large, complex cyber-physical systems. This post outlines the key components of an Industrial DevOps framework and actions leaders can take to put it into practice.

The Industrial DevOps Framework

The Industrial DevOps framework brings together principles and organizational enablers to support a successful transformation. The main components are:

  1. Build a Generative Culture and Lead by Example
  2. Achieve Strategic Alignment to Deliver at the Speed of Relevance
  3. Build the Foundation
  4. Organize for Flow
  5. Execute with Agility
  6. Continuously Improve
  7. Invest in Digital Capabilities

Let’s dive into each of these steps in more detail.

Step 1: Generative Culture and Leadership

Surviving in the digital age requires allowing time for innovation and greater team autonomy. This is the foundation of a generative culture—one aligned around shared goals, learning from failure, and continuous experimentation and knowledge sharing.

To build this culture, leaders must exemplify these behaviors themselves. Find your blind spots as a leadership team and be intentional about shaping the culture through your actions.

Step 2: Strategic Alignment

Applying Industrial DevOps is not the end goal itself. The objective is to deliver value to customers faster. Organizations should define strategic goals and align teams around specific business outcomes. Two popular frameworks for this are Hoshin Kanri from the Lean community and the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) approach used by many software companies.

Whatever the approach, the key is for leadership to define the “what” while empowering teams to determine the “how”.

Step 3: Building the Foundation

With strategic alignment in place, organizations need to establish a foundation for change. This includes:

  • Establishing a focal point, such as a Value Management Office, to lead the transformation.
  • Assessing the current state and defining the desired future state.
  • Building a transformation backlog of prioritized actions.
  • Defining a change management approach to build awareness, create urgency, and reinforce new behaviors.

Step 4: Organizing for Flow

To optimize for speed of delivery, organizations need to inverse Conway’s Law by flattening their structure and creating cross-functional teams. Take a stepwise approach to reorganization that maintains support for specialized skills through communities of practice.

Planning processes also need to change to allow for multiple time horizons and cadences for teams to synchronize around. Decouple scope and time in schedules, adopt a team-based resourcing approach, and establish rhythms to frequently update plans with empirical data.

Step 5: Executing with Agility

Delivering at speed requires architecting systems for changeability. Gradually evolve monolithic architectures to modular microservices using approaches like the Strangler pattern.

Find opportunities to integrate and test as early and frequently as feasible. Use techniques like behavior-driven development (BDD) to shift testing left. Ensure teams have the tools and environments they need to integrate and test continuously.

Step 6: Continuous Improvement

As organizations roll out Industrial DevOps practices, they need to continuously improve their adoption of the principles. The Improvement Kata and Coaching Kata from the Lean community provide a scientific model for iterative improvement:

  • Define a challenge or desired future condition.
  • Grasp the current condition.
  • Define the next target condition.
  • Experiment toward the target condition.

Leaders act as coaches, using the Coaching Kata to guide teams through developing new skills and improving processes.

Step 7: Investing in Digital Capabilities

Underpinning the behavioral and process changes of an Industrial DevOps transformation are key digital capabilities. Create a road map for digital investments that may include:

  • Integrating tools across the value stream.
  • Establishing a CI/CD pipeline.
  • Investing in labs with simulators and hardware-in-the-loop capabilities.
  • Creating models, digital twins and threads for greater system insight.
  • Leveraging additive manufacturing to reduce risk.

Where to Start

While the prospect of an Industrial DevOps transformation may seem daunting, organizations can start where they are. Establish situational awareness of your current state, define a desired future state, and create a prioritized backlog to start taking incremental steps forward.

Most importantly, leadership needs to lead by example. Be intentional about your culture, empower teams, and adopt an iterative, scientific approach to improvement. With these elements in place, organizations can harness the power of Industrial DevOps to build better cyber-physical systems faster.


Read more about how to build better systems faster with the book Industrial DevOps by Dr. Suzette Johnson and Robin Yeman.

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IT Revolution

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