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Concept Paper

Sustainable Design and Management of Industrial Systems—A Human Factors Perspective

Denis Alves Coelho
Supply Chain and Operations Management Deptartment, School of Engineering, Jönköping University, 551 11 Jönköping, Sweden
Appl. Syst. Innov. 2022, 5(5), 95;
Submission received: 30 August 2022 / Revised: 23 September 2022 / Accepted: 23 September 2022 / Published: 28 September 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Novel and Innovative Systems for the Factories of the Future)


The aim of this concept article is to articulate multiple contributions from socio-technical fields into an approach for sustaining human-centred lifecycle management of industrial systems. Widespread digitalization and advanced robotics have fostered interest on innovative human-machine integration and sophisticated organizational transformation that is conducive to meeting the challenges of sustainability. Complementing technology-driven and data-driven approaches to industrial systems development, the human factors approach offers a systems perspective that is at once human-centred while striving for overall system performance, by considering technological and organizational perspectives alike. The paper presents a set of recent human factors developments, selected based on their potential to advance sustainability in industrial systems, including an activity-centred design perspective of industrial systems, and a unified and entangled view on organizational goals yielding a dynamic change approach to socio-technical systems management. Moreover, developments in organizational resilience are coupled with recent breakthrough empirical understanding of conditions conducive to attaining resilience in operations. The cross-pollination of the human factors developments is further pursued, resulting in a proposal of combined key organizational vectors that can mutually leverage and sustain human-centred design and management of industrial systems (production and logistics systems alike) for resilience. Systems thinking encompassing human, organizational and technological perspectives supports integration of insights across entangled domains; this can leverage both system enhancements that promote the satisfaction of dynamic situation-dependent goals, as well as the fulfilment of objectives derived from long-term values of an organization.

1. Introduction

Change is pervasive; hence, it does not come as a surprise that preparing for it, despite its potential unpredictability, has become an important concern, and one that is becoming as pervasive as change itself. In a world where change is constant and has become increasingly expected, even if the details of a surprise change event might come across as situationally unexpected, the systemic approach [1] is supportive of a multi-pronged perspective on the sociotechnical system’s lifecycle (system design, operations management, ongoing development, incremental system redesign). The cornerstone of such an approach is that it embeds open systems and multi-scale perspectives. Interestingly, multilevel theory and research has been established as a basis on which to provide a “richer and more complete perspective on innovation” [2].
The data-driven decision-making and modelling approach (e.g., [3]) has gained widespread popularity in the latest decade, coupled with a new generation of AI (artificial intelligence), based on ML (machine learning), gathering a lot of enthusiasm and promising enhanced problem solving that meets the challenges of the 21st century (with sustainability and resilience at the top of the list). Arguably, this is a recent update to the widely disseminated technology-driven approach to systems development. Coincidentally, developments in software and technology have not been commonly set against the backdrop of developments in organizational and human factors disciplines, even if it is widely recognized that management of complex systems benefits from consideration of human-centred perspectives from the design stage.
This article reports on a conceptual study joining multiple approaches, inherently linked by a common denominator of human-centred, which spans the individual through the collective (community or humanity centred) to the sustainability dimensions, bringing together various perspectives on human-centred design and management of production and logistics systems. Concepts such as dynamic situated frontline or leadership activated change management (e.g., revising and actualizing a plan and its implementation, in a reprogramming activity, is a form of dynamic change management [4], biomimicry [5], resilience engineering [6], activity centred-design of production systems [7], as well as human-systems integration [8] are juxtaposed and then cross-pollinated. The aim of this conceptual article is hence to articulate multiple contributions from human-centred and socio-technical fields into an approach for sustaining human-centred lifecycle management of complex socio-technical systems, which production and logistics systems as well as industrial systems are an instantiation of.
A conceptual framework was constructed from interdisciplinary sources on recent human factors developments. A selection of human factors literature was first done based on perceived potential impact in advancing the sustainability of industrial systems. The results extracted from the selected publications are presented in the body of the paper and cross-pollinated as a representation of the key vectors extracted from the conceptual framework.
The research gap, this paper contributes to bridge across, is situated within the challenges of sustainability and resilience for industrial systems and organizations in general. It consists in practical approaches that have been missing from literature on how to accelerate leaping forward from a fragmented view of three seemingly disparate perspectives in industrial systems: technological, human and managerial (organizational). Hence, an understanding is needed on how to unify seemingly disparate recent developments on human factors and organizational design and management with the power of data-driven and technological advances, to leverage both system enhancements that promote the satisfaction of dynamic situation-dependent goals, as well as the fulfilment of objectives derived from long-term values of an organization.
In the study at hand, an approach to unification of seemingly disparate perspectives and recent developments in human factors has been essayed, resulting in the proposition of values that may be infused pervasively into the systems’ design and management as a means of orchestration across the diverse subsystems. This unified and pervasive value proposition contributes towards fulfilment of the pressing societal challenges on industrial systems (resilient and sustainable configuration and operation), as a scalable and transferrable set of values, that can be applied at multiple scales of systems and subsystems and compatibilized with disparate generations of data-driven decision-making and modelling, as well as technological generations and managerial traditions. Hence, the research question, the study reported in this article tackles, is:
How may industrial systems’ lifecycle management be sustainably enhanced with integrated human factors and socio-technical contributions?
A paradigmatic change is increasingly being called for, and long overdue, in order to leap forward in the ongoing race towards heightened sustainability and resilience of industrial and societal systems, given the seemingly planetary desolation of climate change, resource depletion, ecological degradation and pollution. The paradigm shift entailed in the unified view of systems thinking represents a leap from the fragmented view of boxed in perspectives and academic disciplines. Even if, increasingly interdisciplinary, research that departs from the fragmented stance is inherently at odds with the unification and open systems stance that seems to be beneficial in advancing towards tackling the seemingly unsurpassable contemporary challenges using only the traditional approaches. Likewise, organizational design and management is faced with the same challenges as academia, as these are essentially planetary and civilizational, and is thirsty for new effective philosophies and principles that can come to the rescue of industrial and organizational systems at large. The current study proposes one step forward towards dissemination of the unified philosophy to complex systems design and management, by focusing on specific values and promoting the view of infusion of these values pervasively across the organization. This is to be achieved in a multi-pronged approached, which includes the classical top-down infusion by leadership, and includes the participatory bottom-up approach, as well as the pervasive empowerment across the organization, promoting situated and proactive solutions across all agents (human, technological and organizational).
In the following sections, this article presents the conceptual framework extracted from selected human factors literature, starting with the activity-centred perspective on development of industrial systems Section 2 and Section 3 introduces a unified view connecting across traditionally siloed organizational structures, referencing a practical example from industry. Section 4 introduces the concept of situated activated dynamic change management and Section 5 presents a resilience engineering perspective for value-driven organization design and operations management. The discussion (Section 6) articulated the conceptual framework and integrated it into a proposition of key vectors to sustain resilience in industrial systems. The concluding section of the article also presents remaining challenges to be tackled in future research.

2. An Activity Perspective on Production and Logistics Systems

The planning models that are commonly used to support managerial decision-making in production and logistic systems have commonly neglected the specific characteristics of human workers [9]. This begs the question—‘How can such a complex reality of production and logistics systems design be centred around humans?’. If one is to position this question at a different point in the timeline of the system lifecycle, this would include the blueprint stage and the management of the operations, as well as the redevelopment stage of the lifecycle of the system. Moreover, there is typically a big amount of different people with distinct roles that are involved in any production and logistics system, as well as in any socio-technical system. Hence, how can one effectively centre this multitude of human diverse activity? One feasible way of integrating across the distinct roles is thinking in terms of values.
Traditionally, human beings have been split within organizations between blue-collar and white-collar categories of employment, in the HTO (Human Technology Organisation) framework proposed by Karltun et al. [10] these equate to the Human subsystem, of which workers are a part of, and the Organisation subsystem, which includes management (additionally, the T in HTO stands for the Technological subsystem). Moreover, the variety of activities carried out by the multitude of human actors is also great. If one considers this wide variety of roles, that could prompt thinking about values, e.g., sustainability values, as an aggregator and common denominator. Hence, armed with this key aggregator of sustainability values one may then leap forward towards the next question, which is ‘how can one integrate across people when embracing a set of sustainability values?’, which can deliberately include health, wealth, and overall well-being as well as resilience. This question might be answered simply with the word ‘activity’, and specifically in the form of human activity as an operationalization of goals and values that enables a focus on human-centeredness.
An example of part of an activity centred analysis of a logistics process taking place in an outbound warehouse process is shown in Figure 1. The actions depicted are the result of breaking down the activity, and then the broken-down actions are composed of operations. If one is to consider the design stage of the system where this activity takes place, one could call upon different methods (e.g., interviews, ethnographic shadowing, focus groups, etc.) to elicit the values and the goals that guide each one of these broken-down actions and operations, and in that way inform the design. This would lead to bringing together different fields of knowledge and different methods and tools, in which many of them are commonly used within the human factors and ergonomics toolbox, even if shared by many disciplines. It is often also considered that socio-technical systems analysis is a valid perspective to embrace when striving for human systems integration. The example provided (Figure 1) illustrates how human activity may be structured and understood as a step in guiding the activity centred design of production systems, as well as logistics systems.

Activity Centred Design of Production and Logistics Systems

Activity centred design of production is a method that was developed by Bligård and Berlin [7]. It holds the purpose of centring design decisions to become coherent with the overall purpose for the system, whether it is a production system as originally intended or another kind of industrial system, such as a logistics system. This is what the authors have considered in terms of levels of analysis in a production system, and they are broken down into five distinct levels. There is a design decision that is core to the development of a blueprint of a production system or a logistics system. For example, at the macro system level, the design decision that is most salient is ‘what impact or what intended effects will the work process achieve?’. This is then broken down into sublevels with a multitude of branches, where each branch could include several pathways. How will the work process perform its functions to achieve the desired effects defined by its inputs and outputs at the middle system level or mesosystem level? And then when we zoom in to the micro level, to the microsystem level, we can further break it down into three levels (human-machine systems and subsystems and machine systems). Hence, this approach advocates for a three-level decomposition executed twice (Table 1). We first have macro-, meso-, and microsystem, and then within the microsystem, we have human machine systems, human machine subsystems and machine or technology systems. The lowest level of analysis of the microsystem is where the design decision can be informed by answering questions such as ‘which concrete technological enablers, such as materials, tools or instructions, are needed for humans and technological functions and agents to perform the work tasks?’, which can be put into action as a way of creating a first blueprint for a production or logistics system. However, we need to keep in mind that once the system is designed, the assumptions that went into the design will need to be reviewed at some point, and that process will gradually, and if carried out persistently, trigger opportunities for an ongoing and incremental redevelopment of the system while it is operating. Here it should be noted that the design stage and the operations management stage can be viewed as the opposing ends of a continuum in production and logistics systems design and management. The continuous revision inherent in the continuous improvement stance is compatible with the activity centred design process, which can also be applied to redesign of an existing system in the operation stage of its lifecycle. Using this method as a tool for inquiry can then inform and guide the creation of a design (or redesign) blueprint. This approach is primarily aimed at the design stage, and it is one that can be easily blended with many available off the shelf templates that can speed up the process of design based on combining ready-made solutions for a faster process.

3. Unification in Bridging across System Lifecycle Stages

There are opposing views on how to tackle system design, management, and redevelopment, and one of these (the most entrenched) is the fragmented view that rises from specialization. It has its own risks of inertia, of creating a lot of resistance to change, of materializing the organizational silos that are at the heart of this fragmented stance. For an organization to work in practice, having this philosophy in the design of its structure, requires coordination of language across siloed areas as well as synchronization of goals. This will in turn eventually lead to a unification where a unified view leads the organization, the system altogether, to symbiosis and greater agility from the people in the organization, the people staffing the socio-technical system. Adaptability will be needed; this will benefit from support to ongoing competence development, which should be at close hand. The ability to share resources, including skilled workers and production capacity is also an enabler to be able to implement this unified philosophy, as opposed to the fragmented view.
The following introduces an example that comes from a real company where researchers have come in and have looked at how first line managers do their work. In this case, the researchers were shedding light on the question ‘what is the activity like on a day-to-day basis?’ [11]. What was found shows an interesting overlap between theory, particularly Erik Hollnagel’s [4] perspective of the fragmented view of siloed perspectives and how these can be leveraged with a decentralized but activated dynamic change management approach. This was seen by the researchers in a real case from manufacturing industry (Figure 2); the diagram shows the vertical line of organizational hierarchy in the blue ellipses, while the entities represented in pink ellipses represent support that is available as well as horizontal organizational dimensions in relation to the first line manager and their department.

4. A Situated Activated Dynamic Change Management Perspective

Combining a top-down approach to steering an organization with bottom-up participatory engagement by fostering worker empowerment and trusting relationships potentially yielding decentralized decision-making, are important pre-requisites to enable change management that is not only successful but supported by the workforce and relevant to situational as well as long term challenges alike (making it dynamic and responsive). Change management is increasingly more important, especially when we think about activated (and proactive), dynamic, situated change management as uncertainty keeps increasing in many ways. If there is only one thing that we can be certain of for the future is that there will be plenty of uncertainties in it. Within this reality, an organization and a production and logistics system will be better off if it is able to cope with that, especially in the operational management stage, past the design stage. Hence, in the exploitation stage, we can think of this dynamic activated situated change management as a voyage by sea, rather than a voyage by land and not a voyage by road. Although it is akin to a voyage by sea, but not a voyage by sea on a motorboat, it is better compared to a voyage by sea on a sailboat, which is where most of the abilities for skill and competence and situational awareness and dynamic action come into play in order to react to changing wind currents, as well as water currents and strategies to actually leverage the wind energy available to propel the sails in a direction that could be at an angle to the destination and revising those strategies unknowingly [4]. The price to pay for not acting in a dynamic change management way is missing targets. It is also the risk of failure, which is paramount. Moreover, what we see in general is that technological and environmental change are rampant, and we are in a crisis that we have termed sustainability crisis at large.
It is possible that some of the solutions to the sustainability crisis lie on human values, given that this is at the origin of the crisis. This begs the question, in the current era, which equates to the Anthropocene: ‘What values are shaping our production and logistics systems, in their design and operational management stages?’. As a complement to the activity centred perspective, consider a value-based perspective as a leveraging tool for both the design and management phases of the lifecycle of the production and logistics system. What we have seen in the past and given the history, is that the basis for design, the blueprints of socio technical systems in the past were very much tied with the assumptions of simplification and separation to make linear exploitation easy. This was a convenient way to disregard entanglements [4]. We can no longer blatantly disregard entanglements, given the current crisis which forces us to see the relationships among seemingly unrelated events, by taking a wider systems perspective, or rather an open systems perspective. We should focus as well on what we need in terms of competences, in terms of approach, in terms of skills to stop ignoring entanglements and get past this simplified, siloed perspective [4] and get into the unified view of dynamic change management that is situated and in real time, so more aligned with agile thinking and reconfigurability [12]. This way of looking at organizations benefits from a socio-technical systems lens in order to be able to bridge the gap that has been created by a widespread organizational practice of disregarding entanglements in the first place.

5. A Resilience Engineering Perspective for Value-Driven Organization Design and Operations Management

A system is resilient if it has a strong ability to sustain and restore its basic functionality following some event; resilience concerns the capabilities a system needs to respond to inevitable surprises [13]. Adaptive capacity is the potential for adjusting patterns of activities to handle future changes in the kinds of events, opportunities and disruptions experienced. Therefore, adaptive capacities exist before changes and disruptions call upon those capacities. Adaptive capacity means a system is poised to adapt, it has some readiness or potential to change how it currently works. Adaptation is not about always changing the plan, model, or earlier approaches, but about the potential to change plans to continue to fit changing situations. Resilience is ultimately concerned with what a system can do, including its capacity [14]: to anticipate (seeing developing signs of trouble ahead to begin to adapt early and reduce the risk of decompensation), to synchronize (adjusting how different roles at different levels coordinate their activities to keep pace with tempo of events and reduce the risk of working at cross purposes), to be ready to respond (developing deployable and mobilizable response capabilities in advance of surprises and reduce the risk of brittleness), and for proactive learning (learning about brittleness and sources of resilient performance before major collapses or accidents occur by studying how surprises are caught and resolved).
Carl Macrae published in 2019 an organizational resilience framework that also sets into perspective how the activity is at the front line of action [15]. This is a general framework (Figure 3) that relates to organizational resilience, but where the frontline of action is emphasized as the first level of decision making, in terms of the first active level of operational management, which is the situated level where resilience emerges, as situated resilience at the operational frontline. It involves mobilizing and combining existing socio technical resources unfolding over seconds, two weeks. Then we have another level one system level up, even though in the picture it is represented downwards from situated, which is the structural level. The latter is tied to the monitoring of operations where structural resilience emerges, taking the form of the redesign and restructuring of socio-technical resources, which might take weeks to years. When we zoom out a further level, we now step into the level of oversight of system structure and functions, which is the level where systemic resilience might emerge. It involves reconfiguring or fully reformulating how socio-technical resources are designed, produced, and circulate, and might take months to decades to develop.
When in the managing stage of production and logistic systems, leaders strive to look for values that will set the system management in a course that is sustainable and that is potentially leading to success. One way to get inspiration for this is to look at biomimicry or bio-inspiration [16] and how nature has solved these or similar problems, by examining natural examples of complex adaptive systems and studying emergence across distinct levels of system functionality [1]. In doing this we can learn, and we can apply the natural solutions to the management of production and logistics systems especially in how to deal with threats of saturation (failing adaptive capacity and rising complexity). There have been observations done in nature as well as in socio-technical systems, including air traffic control, emergency rooms and mission control. These have led us also to think about the local global paradox, which is tied to this emergent ability or intended competence of traveling across system levels to create the adaptability and the system behaviour that will enable dealing with saturation at the current level. Zooming out to step up one level and get distance from the details, one becomes more universal and sees more localities and patterns at a distinct granularity level, when one adopts a more global perspective (hence the paradox).
Observations have been ongoing for several decades and there is now a body of knowledge that systematizes what kind of disruptions, what kinds of challenges will lead to emergence of resilience in socio-technical systems like the emergency room, air traffic control or mission control scenarios. Table 2 shows some of the operational conditions where it was found that these resilience abilities can be fostered, given the observations. Tempo and magnitude of challenges refers to where the rate of challenge should be high enough to allow accumulation of empirical evidence about the effects of engineered change, as well as the number of challenge events which should be high enough to reinforce the value of resource sharing. Another dimension is the duration, as well as the character, of challenges; challenges that arise and evolve slowly, are those that are more likely to provide enough time to devise shared adaptive capacity at the frontline of action. Conversely, challenges that resolve quickly enough are those that will enable capacity sharing to become temporary and hence that will foster agile behaviours and agile buffers of capacity in the system, regarding local resources. Those resources that are shareable or meant to be shared should be close enough to be useful in responding to a challenge. This is also related to how long it takes to activate shared resources, which should be able to easily obtain the situational context that is necessary for them to become effective in dealing with disruptions or change. Hence, resilience is not only about having the resources and the capacity, but also about having the ability to empower these resources with information on a need-to-know basis to become effective. This is what situational context is about—communicating the right amount of information on a need-to-know basis, as one does not want to fall into overload or overwhelming of information. When there is communication as a baseline, it is conducive to sharing resources between different units and the task environment, which itself should be such that resources that are to be shared can undergo task interruption without unacceptable loss. And here we are walking towards what human centred management means—monitoring towards goals and values, such as resilience, with this approach. In this way, management is then able to anticipate changing disruptions and opportunities. The whole organization, if properly empowered, can recognize emerging new vulnerabilities in an increasingly interconnected approach. Monitoring when equipped with these values is also about supporting adaptive capacity, and it is this adaptive ability that becomes extensibility. Hence, we should reference resilience as a form of graceful extensibility, where according to David Woods [17], when we are managing the risk of saturation, we must do so by networking adaptive units and outmanoeuvring constraints. To be able do this, we would also benefit in being aware of some basic rules that govern adaptive systems, by looking at examples from nature and at the patterns that have been compiled, such as the ones covered by Cook and Long’s [18] observations.
In summary, graceful extensibility or resilience as graceful extensibility [17] is the ability of a system to extend its capacity to adapt when surprise events challenge its boundaries. In any adaptive universe, such as the universe where socio-technical systems and in particular, production and logistics systems, play out, resources are always finite, but change continues. This will prompt us to think about critical abilities for managing resiliently to attain resilient system behaviours and configurations. In managing for resilience, one needs to be able to revise earlier models and methods to recognize emerging new vulnerabilities as interconnections change and to be able to synchronize activities over multiple roles and layers of a network to scale responses to the scope of challenges. This is about meeting the challenges. We also need to be able to anticipate challenges ahead to recognize emerging new challenges, vulnerabilities and threats before saturation occurs. This requires being on the lookout, expecting the possibility of saturation. Altogether this will lead to a decentralized, transparent, and agile, empowered, supported socio-technical system that is in fact, human-centred.

6. Discussion

Systems thinking is suited to support understanding of complex adaptive systems, where industrial systems are included. The suitability of the approach (considering entanglements, as well as open system boundaries exchanging material and communicating information with the environment), has however not yet translated into its pervasiveness. The systems thinking stance might be still looked upon by many as counter-intuitive, especially given the prevailing (and even hegemonic until recently) reductionist paradigm which has infused science and scientific disciplines for many centuries. The level of entanglements across distinct disciplines is however astounding, and it cannot be ignored when the challenges inherent in the sustainability crisis are themselves mutually dependent, necessitating a change in paradigm, akin to a Kuhnian revolution in science [19]. The contribution essayed in this conceptual article is targeted towards supporting the paradigm shift that is warranted in the complex application domain of industrial systems’ engineering from the fragmented view towards unification. As daunting as the task may sound, the contribution provided herein is primarily placed within the approach demonstrated of articulating multiple contributions from distinct traditions in a tangible, actionable set of guidelines targeted at industrial systems’ design and management aiming resilience.
To summarize the values extracted from the selected literature for human-centred design and management of industrial or production and logistics systems, we place participatory activity centred design and management as a top management (leadership) infused value, which reverberates across the organization to operations and management of operations. Moreover, we emphasize the values of decentralized, empowered, supported and responsible. This requires a multiple level systems perspective, which traverses horizontal and vertical organizational boundaries to develop a unified view, which is the foundation to enable situated active dynamic change management. The focus is on integrating and bridging across skill sets and delegating decision making. Moreover, trust needs to be built for these delegations of power and decision making to be effective both bottom-up, top-down and from the middle outwards. Situational awareness [20] is also a key element to enable this decentralized decision-making agility, as well as sharing of common goals.
As a summary for opportunities in human-centred design and management of production and logistics systems, we have put together key vectors that will together support this endeavour with a focus on the challenge of sustaining resilience (Figure 4). The first factor (eight o’clock vector) is proactively valuing human centred as sustainable and resilient, encompassing all the various levels that we can relate to in terms of human activity starting from the physical, the cognitive and going on to the information dimension, as well as the interpersonal, collaborative dimensions. Practicing resilience as graceful extensibility (six o’clock vector) implies that rather than looking as human beings as mere resources, organizational leadership starts to look at employees as complex, adaptive parts of a system that can self-regulate in a way that could create the capacity and the decision-making power that is needed to fight challenges at the front end.
Synchronizing functions (four o’clock vector in Figure 4) that implies having a dynamic alignment of goals to avoid having functions inside the system working at cross-purposes with each other because they have not been actualized, they have not been updated or synchronized onto what the entire system together is trying to achieve. If that can be done, if that synchronization can be achieved, then we can see an organization march together towards a common goal, rather than people walking in seemingly random uncoordinated directions inside the organization. Monitoring across and from within the system (two o’clock vector in Figure 4) implies that rather than holding to a mindset where the top level, top management or leadership view, makes all the important decisions, active delegation of decision making is practiced. This it is also contingent on trust and empowerment, as well as the competence development that will enable the organization to build itself up in terms of competencies, in terms of abilities from the bottom upwards and from the inside, towards the outside, towards the boundaries where the challenges lie. To achieve this requires a set of values, and it needs active leadership to set and disseminate those values (ten o’clock vector) across the organization and throughout the stages of its lifecycle. That is where leading and empowering has a key role to play in human-centred design of not only logistics and production systems, but also socio-technical systems at large.

7. Conclusions

This article reviews a set of recent human factors developments, selected based on their potential to advance sustainability in industrial systems, including an activity-centred design perspective of production systems, and a unified and entangled view on organizational goals yielding a dynamic change approach to socio-technical systems management. The cross-pollination of the human factors developments resulted in a proposal of combined key organizational vectors that can mutually leverage and sustain human-centred design and management of industrial systems for resilience.
The study reported in this article does not consist of a systematic literature review within any of the multiple topics covered, at the risk of having become unmanageable and unfulfillable in practice. The developments that are covered in the article are hence not exhaustive, by any means, and are to a great extent dependent on the exposure that the author has been subjected to and actively chosen, in pursuing his own scholarly progressive path and establishing a referential network and conceptual framework. This is hence an inherent limitation, which may not be unique to this conceptual article, in that the underlying selection aspects also border, to a non-negligible degree, an autobiographically dependent narrative.
Future work is required to advance the practical application of the conceptual results attained, with a focus on co-creating tools with industrial partners and practical applications reaping the benefits from the insights communicated in this article. In combination, practical applicability of the key vectors presented argues for a clear identification of the values and at what levels in the parametric decomposition the system is demonstrating to be operating in, and what is the system leadership’s intention, and ability to steer towards correction, adapting to stay on course (or devising a new approach and new route, or different destination), intensifying, reducing, or coupling or decoupling across values in pursuit of symbiosis that leads to emergence of a new level of fulfilment of targets, goals and aim in the quest for sustainability and resilience.
A key managerial implication of the current study complements the truism that in order to deal with change, one ought to position oneself ahead of the change; this translates in the terms of the current article as accelerating the transition from a fragmented view stance (separating subsystems into silos) towards a unified view that is inherently supporting dynamic, responsive and coordinated action. Moreover, the key vectors proposed as a result of juxtaposing the recent human-centred developments reviewed in this study, shown in the previous section (Figure 4), when used as guidelines by top management and infused pervasively into the system’s design, management and reconfiguration lifecycle stages, provide a means of orchestration across previously siloed subsystems. It is expected that transforming the open systems stance into actionable leadership practice will enable reaping the benefits promised by the promoters of the unified view.
Problem understanding is a crucial component in the process of devising effective solutions. This article presents actionable guidelines that support dynamic development of context fitting system solutions to complex problems in industrial systems. It is expected that the combined key organizational vectors convened in this article for mutually leveraging and sustaining human-centred design and management of industrial systems for resilience, may assist decision-makers within complex systems and organizations to broaden their scope of understanding of the entanglements within challenging problems faced in their steering activity.


The work reported in this article was partially funded by project Hey-Sun (Human-centred Industrial and Logistic System Design and Management) sponsored by the Associate Dean for Research and the Associate Dean for Education at the School of Engineering, Jönköping University as well as the ReActS (Resilient Action Strategies for First Line Managers) research project funded by KKS (the Knowledge and Competence Foundation, Sweden).

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.


The author acknowledges the discussions carried out with the researchers, participants and leaders in project ReActS, inspiring some of the initial thinking underlying this article.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Warehouse outbound decomposition of activity (action and operations) (source: author).
Figure 1. Warehouse outbound decomposition of activity (action and operations) (source: author).
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Figure 2. The ecosystem of the first line manager (a case of decentralized proactive change management) (source: Karltun et al. [11]).
Figure 2. The ecosystem of the first line manager (a case of decentralized proactive change management) (source: Karltun et al. [11]).
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Figure 3. Moments of Resilience (adapted from [15]).
Figure 3. Moments of Resilience (adapted from [15]).
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Figure 4. Summary of suggested key vectors that can support the endeavour of sustaining human-centred design and management of production and logistics systems for resilience (source: author).
Figure 4. Summary of suggested key vectors that can support the endeavour of sustaining human-centred design and management of production and logistics systems for resilience (source: author).
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Table 1. Activity centred design decisions for production systems (adapted from Bligård & Berlin [7]).
Table 1. Activity centred design decisions for production systems (adapted from Bligård & Berlin [7]).
System Analysis LevelLevel in Production SystemDesign Decision
macrosystemproduction site—effectswhat impact, or what intended effects, will the work process achieve?
mesosystemsegment or production line—operationshow will the work process perform its functions to achieve the desired effects (defined by its inputs and outputs)?
microsystem: human-machine systems (overall)production sub-process: human-technology-organization systemswhat is the overall architecture and what are the physical limits of the work processes? How will humans, artificial agents and support structures be distributed spatially to achieve technical functionality and enable performance?
microsystem: human-machine subsystemsproduction cell work: human-technology interactionhow will technology and users interact to carry out the work? how will technology respond to its users and to the environment?
microsystem: machine systemstools and equipment—technological systems requirementswhich concrete technological enablers (materials, tools, instructions) are required for humans and technological agents and functions to perform the work tasks?
Table 2. Conditions likely to foster resilience actions and abilities, based on empirical studies (adapted from Cook & Long [18]).
Table 2. Conditions likely to foster resilience actions and abilities, based on empirical studies (adapted from Cook & Long [18]).
CharacteristicConditions Conducive to Resilience Engineering
Tempo and magnitude of challengesrate of challenge is high enough to allow accumulation of empirical evidence about the effects of engineered change
challenge events are enough to reinforce the value of resource sharing
Duration and character of challengeschallenges that arise and evolve slowly enable the time needed to devise shared adaptive capacity
challenges that resolve quickly enough enable capacity sharing that is temporary
Local resourcesresources to be shared are close enough to be useful in responding to the challenge
resources to be shared can easily obtain the situational context needed to be effective
Communicationcommunication between units is conducive to sharing resources
Task environmentresources to be shared can undergo task interruption without unacceptable loss
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Coelho, D.A. Sustainable Design and Management of Industrial Systems—A Human Factors Perspective. Appl. Syst. Innov. 2022, 5, 95.

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Coelho DA. Sustainable Design and Management of Industrial Systems—A Human Factors Perspective. Applied System Innovation. 2022; 5(5):95.

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Coelho, Denis Alves. 2022. "Sustainable Design and Management of Industrial Systems—A Human Factors Perspective" Applied System Innovation 5, no. 5: 95.

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