The "First Way" in Gene Kim's explanation of DevOps requires "Systems Thinking" https://itrevolution.com/the-three-ways-principles-underpinning-devops/

Where can one learn the ability for "Systems Thinking"? What are some of the resources that can take someone who has no familiarity with "Systems Thinking" and enable that person to start doing "Systems Thinking" in his daily work?


3 Answers 3


Googling "system thinking" returned a lot of resources that are about "Systems thinking" rather than "System thinking". This source indicates that "Systems thinking" is one of the three ways that could be applied in DevOps.

After reading several references "Systems thinking" is about interactions rather than silos. If one translates this to DevOps then "Systems thinking" is aligned with the theory and also important for DevOps as this is the interaction between QA, Dev and Ops.

In order to apply "Systems thinking" one should be able to communicate with people from Dev, Ops and QA, listen to them, understand their problems and find ways to let them work together instead of getting a "through it over the wall" mentality and unconnected departments in the company.

An element that really requires "Systems thinking" is Continuous Delivery (CD). Multiple departments are involved, while CI is mostly used by Dev, QA and Ops will be definitely need to be involved in this process as one does not want to release a newer version if integration or manual tests failed and Ops want to be informed if there are changes to the system as they monitor systems and try to prevent and solve issues on the platform.

In summary, "Systems thinking" is required for DevOps engineers. If one only sees Dev, Ops and QA as individual parts, but no interdependency then this is not aligned with the DevOps theory, i.e. intersection between Dev, Ops and QA.




a discipline for seeing the 'structures' that underlie complex situations, and for discerning high from low leverage points.


The iceberg is one of the most frequently used models to explain systems thinking (see “The Iceberg”). Thanks to movies like “Titanic,” many people recognize that most of an iceberg sits hidden beneath the water; that is, out of sight.


System Thinking allows people to make their understanding of social systems explicit and improve them in the same way that people can use engineering principles to improve their understanding of mechanical systems.


We can therefore state that System Thinking for DevOps is required to understand Software Engineering as a social construct using engineering principles.

From a System Thinking approach, DevOps thinking is fundamentally different from the traditional form of analysis. Traditional analysis focus on separating the individual software engineering pieces, e.g., architecture, coding, testing, tooling etc. In contrast, the DevOps approach focuses on how all aspects of the software life cycle interact with other constituents of the system. Circling back to the definition of DevOps we can easily identify the ‘behavior traits’ observed in the DevOps movement, namely: adaptable/flexible (improve relationship), cooperative (better communication), diplomatic (collaboration), etc.


Systems thinking is a management discipline that concerns an understanding of a system by examining the linkages and interactions between the components that comprise the entirety of that defined system.


What exactly is systems thinking? In simplest terms, systems thinking is a way of seeing and talking about reality that helps us better understand and work with systems to influence the quality of our lives. In this sense, systems thinking can be seen as a perspective. It also involves a unique vocabulary for describing systemic behavior, and so can be thought of as a language as well. And, because it offers a range of techniques and devices for visually capturing and communicating about systems, it is a set of tools.


Fundamentally, Systems Thinking is straightforward. We treat the situation of interest as a system and examine it using system properties and characteristics like purpose, context and structure to discover more.


System thinking is a method of critical thinking by which you analyze the relationships between the system's parts in order to understand a situation for better decision-making. In simpler terms, you look at a lot of the trees, other plants and critters living around the trees, the weather, and how all these parts fit together in order to figure out the forest.

  • 1
    I would accept a comment on the question asking to fix the system->systems typo. As I also copied it incorrectly from the website I linked. Oct 4, 2017 at 0:11
  • I'd add either end users or stakeholders (the business) to your answer. XP called it "the Whole team" in 2000. BDD called it "Three Amigos" around 2010. Design thinking, UX, and more recently product management, they all call out for talking to users in order to get feedback asap.
    – dbaltor
    Feb 24, 2023 at 15:10

I believe that systems thinking can be found within the three DevOps ways. For me, systems have properties that DevOps addresses very well. I've written something about in https://opensource.com/article/18/3/how-apply-systems-thinking-devops

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    I does take quite a while to understand the whole 'holistic' aspect of it, but the article is definitely a good place to start
    – Moritz
    Mar 16, 2018 at 20:44

The author of that article has misappropriated the term "systems thinking" which has its origins in biology and sociology with Ludwig von Bertalanffy and his General Systems Theory (1968), and was later applied to cybernetics (in its original meaning of feedback loops in living and nonliving contexts - cells, machines, organisations, before "cybersecurity" and similar buzzwords hijacked it). In short you cannot learn about it because it is not a thing that exists in the way he uses it, just something he made up to sound clever - but if you are interested in real systems thinking, I'd say start from GST and work your way forwards.

(Source: I have a Master's in Systems Analysis, before that term too was purloined to mean "IT support")

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