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Optimizing Outcomes With Digital Integration

Nov 12, 2020 7:45:47 PM By Mark Henke

Ed Griebel, VP of Digital Engineering and Competitive design at Northrop Grumman shared how the company has been optimizing outcomes with their software in order to maintain high customer satisfaction. 

As a contractor for military equipment as well as other mission-critical devices, Northrop Grumman needs a very stringent strategy for how to integrate their digital systems. A good strategy centers around outcomes. No matter how much effort you put into something, if it doesn’t meet the intended, planned goals or if those goals change, it’s a waste.

Northrop Grumman calls this working at the “speed of relevance.” Their products and software need to be constantly evolving and focused on their market outcomes, which could change on a dime.

Some of the practices that allow them to do this: 

  • Digital twins 
  • Digital engineering
  • DevSecOps

Digital Twins, Engineering, and DevSecOps

Digital twins is an innovative, recent approach to changing complex, physical products. These are digital models of physical systems in order to provide accurate simulation for testing and modeling. Digital twins allow places like Northrop Grumman to experiment faster, doing things in the virtual world that they could previously only do in the physical one. 

Beyond just digital twins, we can apply digital engineering to accelerate the product lifecycle, applying DevSecOps in our pipeline. For instance, we can apply principles of flow to find bottlenecks and increase throughput. This also lets us cut down on non-recurring costs—one-time costs that arise from being inconsistent in our development process. 

We want to optimize our flow and reduce handoffs. This is a key part of DevOps and reflects that it’s all about people. While born out of software and firmware, we can also make process improvements to how our employees communicate with each other. Even beyond Northrop Grumman’s employees, reducing handoffs can allow companies to collaborate with each other quickly to achieve shared outcomes. 

As a part of the product process, Northrop Grumman applies DevSecOps. They have a consistent pipeline that they run their product changes through. This includes security checks, both automated and manual, at every step. 

Training Employees

Optimizing Northrop Grumman’s product development can be overwhelming, with all the tools and processes an employee must absorb in order to be successful. Traditional physical product development has been so mired in large batches and long releases. 

Northrop Grumman had to create a batch-less culture, where all teams are working to continuously deliver changes, integrating frequently into their shared goals. Their DevOps practices allow them to act as one team towards one mission. 

As DevOps is mostly about people, it was key for Northrop Grumman to train their people in the right skills. One of the top complaints in the industry from employees is that they don’t have time to learn new skills for changing processes. Northrop Grumman adopted a dojo model, investing time for employees to learn together in order to equip them for these practices in agility. 

Northrop Grumman values their employees highly and continues to focus on ways to bring effective training to them and equip them to be successful in an industry where products have a high risk of irrelevance.

Mission-Focused Future

With employees trained, we can turn towards being mission-focused. This will allow an organization to move faster. Sharing objectives with your customers will allow you to work cohesively, achieving more than you would if you were just handing things off, throwing product “over the wall.” 

It’s all about connecting people and ensuring that employees and customers have the tools to meet these shared objectives. 


In the past, it has taken Northrop Grumman months to develop mission-critical equipment. It’s essential for them to produce faster than the U.S.’s adversaries. This means adopting practices like lean and agile. These practices have revolutionized the way they could deliver products. 

Being mission-critical goes much beyond a single organization and your customers. Being mission-focused means interdisciplinary organizations and people getting together for an outcome that transcends any given one. Sometimes that means even competitors work together for a greater mission and to support the country. 

This session was summarized by Mark Henke. Mark has spent over 10 years architecting systems that talk to other systems, doing DevOps before it was cool, and matching software to its business function. Every developer is a leader of something on their team, and he wants to help them see that.