The Cloud Experience Everywhere

DevOps with Systems Thinking

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein


Living in a hybrid IT world, powered by the internet across all geographical boundaries right through to the very edge of human innovation requires continuous design, thinking and vision. Consequently, the CIO and technology is at the center, driving and enabling effective business services.

IT operating structures are designed within service principles in its infrastructure, development, design, testing and operations – they exists to provide service to each other, and by extension to the organization’s customers.  The objective of the CIO is to serve and provide continuous quality IT services.

In order to deliver effective services, IT since its beginning in the 1930s, has produced systems structures across all levels of technology and its management leading to “Systems Thinking” as the ultimate approach to analyzing structures.

Systems Thinking is a holistic approach to problem-solving. It's the opposite of analytical thinking, which separates a problem from the "bigger picture" to better understand it. Instead, systems thinking studies all the elements of a problem, along with the interactions between these elements – essential in software design, development, building and strategy.

However, this is now not enough for IT Service Delivery due to the changing hybrid world of

  • complex consumer demands,
  • unpredictability,
  • new market opportunities

These require a broader way of thinking. Systems Thinking helps to understand the systems we are part of, which in turn enables us to manage them rather than be controlled by them.  DevOps fully integrated within a Systems Thinking environment enables an organization to deliver faster.

All systems include properties that DevOps addresses through its practices and tools. Awareness of these properties helps us properly adapt to DevOps.

What are systems?

Systems have a purpose and delivery an outcome – they are sets of interacting and interconnected components or relationships that together form an integrated whole. Systems are everywhere and they are often complex. Within teams the order in which the components are arranged, directly affects the performance of the system and ultimately the outcome. Hence, systems are always subject to change in order to continually meet changing demands.

How most systems work?

Systems are all around us, they explain how we will reach our goals but they require quality inputs, which we then process and generate into appropriate outputs. Feedback is essential for ensuring we deliver. Without a purpose, the system dies.  Within IT departments we often see this in the operating model and IT teams. 

The more specialized the teams, the more handoffs happen between them and generating value to its customers is more likely to have bottlenecks and ultimately take longer.

DevOps aims to optimize the flow of hand-off throughout the organization that ultimately delivers value to the customer, making it faster. This is done in part by maximizing automation, but mainly by targeting the organization's goals through continuous improvements in culture, processes and systems.  DevOps culture empowers teams to prioritise and reduce duplication in order to deliver its goal which in turn enables Systems Thinking overall.

Failure in systems 

All systems have a certain level of unpredictability and oftentimes can fall into disarray, nothing can really prevent its degradation – failure is a matter of time. To mitigate against this, systems require continuous improvements and tweaking to avoid degradation.

DevOps can break the degradation challenge via its continuous improvement methodology.  With DevOps a team becomes aware quickly about the inevitability of failure. Its blameless culture enables the opportunity to learn fast from failures and tweak the system quickly.

System complexity

Complexity abound in systems, where in the majority of cases, one effect can have multiple causes, and one cause can have multiple effects.  The more elements a systems has the more complex it is.  Consequently it is near impossible to predict the outcome with 100% certainty, we constantly make assumptions.

DevOps handles complexity by encouraging experimentation through continuous feedback. Small changes inserted into the system can be tested and validated quickly. With a "fail-fast" approach, organisations can change quickly and achieve resiliency. Reacting rapidly to changes makes organizations more agile.

System limitations

All systems (even within DevOps) have constraints that reduce their performance and ultimately are dependent on organizational capacity. Experience shows that the longer a system operates, the more likely it is to fail and that most systems work better with some level of slack.  Ignoring the environmental limitations around you, puts a system at risk of failure.

However, with DevOps principles there is a tendency to look at improvements holistically rather than specific to a local issue.  It doesn’t matter when and where the improvement is put into effect.  DevOps is not dependent on one specific team or skill or competency by instigating a culture and behaviour of collaboration, knowledge sharing and cross-functional teams.The Thinker!The Thinker!Conclusion

The hybrid world with digital disruption at its core is undergoing a cataclysmic seismic shift towards faster co-created services and products that shift the way we view our world. This business environment is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous with more and more organizations linking passion with the analytical, society with technology and business with social purpose as they seek to reinvent themselves.

I believe that CIO’s must build a hybrid culture of Systems Thinking with DevOps (and perhaps even Design Thinking – where design thinking further evolves systems thinking by adding further tools of creativity, sketching and prototyping to systems) into the nature of their operational structure and teams. These principles working together will instill a passion for their users and ultimately their customers.

The following four points highlight the journey for a CIO in System Thinking with DevOps:

  1. Integrating systems thinking with DevOps into the IT strategy towards a future IT target operating model that is focused on holistic and strategic business initiatives. IT people begin to understand the continuous process, IT designers begin to understand that they must design with ALL business realities in mind, not only those that affect the aesthetics of the end product. Co-producing instead of silo production.
  2. Systems Thinking a la DevOps instead of just problem solving, this provides a counterpoint to the analytical, best-practice methodologies that have been around for over 100 years.
  3. Systems thinking with DevOps is not a process but a collection of tools and methods. It is an evolution, which does not just focus on one method. Focusing on constantly building a collaborative capability across a range of disciplines that can think critically, solving problems creatively, seeing things systematically and engaging in co-creation using a strategic mindset.
  4. Systems thinking with DevOps becomes a discipline with cultural, personal and strategic implications. This will fundamentally change the IT operating model and ultimately the organisation by demonstrating wins on simple products and services.

Aligning these principles within an IT Operation Model, in particular when delivering hybrid cloud services is core to HPE Pointnext World Wide Strategic Transformation, Governance & Operations Center of Excellence.  From our CoE we run customer centric workshops that develop strategic roadmaps that provide our customers with our Point of View on DevOps – for further information take a look at our HPE Transformation Workshops.

Or more specifically our DevOps Workshops, including DevOps Awareness.

Additionally, take a look at our  DevOps Transformation Experience Workshop through our Strategic Customer Engagement Centers.


Mario Devargas
WW Strategic Transformation
Hewlett Packard Enterprise


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About the Author


CIO Advisor, World Wide Strategic Transformation, Governance & Operations CoE -- Mario is sixty+ year-old Spaniard with English undertones – living in Preston, North West England.  He has worked in the Information Technology field for over 35 years, most recently in the Public Sector as IT Director for a Northern UK Metropolitan Council and as CIO for the second largest Police Force in the UK.  As a Senior Executive he majors on advising organisations on Corporate IS Strategy, Enterprise Agile, DevOps, Collaborative Shared IS services and building and leading high-performing IS teams.