DevOps culture clash – when agile meets automotive

Born in the world of software, the DevOps concept has been facing some resistance meeting the classic engineering methods of automotive OEMs. But things are starting to change in an industry disrupted by the emergence of the software-defined car.

  • Published: 26. January 2022
  • By: Arne Vollertsen for Data Respons
  • Company: Donat IT

Plain and simple: The logic of the physical world is entirely different from the logic of the digital world. For instance, it takes 5 to 8 years to plan, design and test a new car model. Such a lengthy development cycle doesn’t go well with the mindset of a typical software engineer thinking maybe 4 to 6 weeks ahead.
We’ve talked to automotive software experts Jochen Scheikl and Jürgen Stern from Data Respons subsidiary DONAT IT to hear what they had to share about DevOps in the Automotive industry.

What is OEM?

The standard development methodology of large automotive is OEM (original equipment manufacturers). This type of development is usually seen as a V-shape, and is the industry’s best practice for designing cars and parts.

What we mean when we say OEMS are V-shapes is that the left side of the V, that’s all the brain work, all the planning. When you’ve finished planning you get to the bottom of the V. That’s the point, where you decide to switch to hardware and testing, which is the right side of the V. That’s the point of no return, because at that point it starts to get expensive.

Making sense in DevOps automotive

According to Jochen and Jürgen, this classic engineering methodology makes perfect sense in the automotive world and in other industries similarly focused on hardware. However, it can run against the DevOps concept of closely integrating development and operations.

«When you’re developing a product that is purely software, it’s easier to switch to DevOps values and principles. In the automotive business it’s a bit more difficult. As a contractor developing software for the automotive industry, you must follow the frames and borders of your customers. That said, things are changing, and all the big OEMs are on a journey towards faster and shorter development cycles, » says Jürgen.

Trial management experts

DONAT IT is an expert in software supporting the huge amount of work that lies before a new car model goes into mass production. In fact, even before the first prototype car is built. The DONAT software comes into play about 36 months before assembly of the first prototype. You need to determine how many prototypes must be built to carry out the extensive testing of a new model, and the software collects the testing demands of the different departments involved in the development of e.g., the drivetrain, the electronic components etc., for testing cars and engines. Some of these tests are required to secure the correct build quality and safety qualities, others are required by law.

Later, when the prototypes are built and ready for testing, DONAT software helps document the tests, keeping track of pre-series vehicles and components. The team responsible for homologation uses the DONAT system for fleet management of pre-series vehicles, pre-series parts logistics, and to document exactly which components and functions are built into each pre-series vehicle.

“We always try to convince our customers to take a DevOps approach, and to hire a DONAT DevOps team. But sometimes a customer wants two separate contracts, one for Dev and one for Ops, and obviously that makes it difficult to integrate the two. That trend was strong some years ago, but not so much now. Things are changing, and we have some nice automotive DevOps contracts, where the work is managed the way, we think is the best. Our automotive customers are thinking more and more agile. They think in sprints for instance and want one integrated DevOps team to do the job,», Jochen says.

Walls of confusion

DONAT’s preferred development approach is not only to tear down the famous “Wall of Confusion” between Dev and Ops. As long as this wall between the groups exist and the different groups only has their own goals in mind, «the wall of confusion» is inevitable. There’s another wall they would like to tear down as well, and it lies a step earlier. According to Jürgen:

  • The first wall of confusion comes before you start developing the software. It’s the requirements engineering part, where you map the stakeholders, the product owner etc. We always try to integrate that part with our software development, having a business engineer in the team focusing on understanding and modelling the process.
  • In some of our projects, where we do BizDevOps and integrating the design phase as well, we have all three skills united in one team. There’s a business engineer in the team, and the developer and the ops. We try to do that as much as possible.

BizDevOps walls-of-confusion

Before SOP

As mentioned, DONAT IT focuses on the huge amount of work lying before SOP (Start of Production), primarily test and trial management in the pre-series development process. Initially that has had a strong emphasis on the physical components of the vehicle. But DONAT is getting more and more into the software side of vehicles, as software gets increasingly important in all aspects of development.

«For instance, there is a trend towards testing of virtual components and prototypes instead of physical testing», Jochen says. «Our software is responding to that change, although the main part of the testing is still happening in the physical world. But as software becomes increasingly important in the automotive industry, it becomes easier for us as a contractor to work according to the DevOps principles.»

All in all, as the car industry turns its focus from the physical characteristics of the vehicle to the services it can provide, experts anticipate that its physical components will become fewer and simpler, with less equipment features to choose from.

Instead, software will be the key differentiating factor, and with that change we’ll see shorter development cycles, and a more software-like approach to integrating Dev and Ops. So, to sum it up, for a while the good old V of engineering will still be King. But software is Queen, and she’s wearing the pants.

Knowing the business

A crucial part of promoting the DevOps approach is DONAT’s in-depth knowledge of the German automotive industry. They know the business just as well as the OEMs themselves. Furthermore, being situated near the car manufacturing giants of Southern Germany, DONAT can interact closely with its customers, working in short feedback loops to increase efficiency.

Se how DONAT IT can help you reach your goals here!