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How to Get Through Your Mainframe's Waterfall-to-Agile Transformation

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How to Get Through Your Mainframe's Waterfall-to-Agile Transformation

A veteran of the Agile transformation/adoption process shares the experiences his company went through during this period of change.

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How to Make It Through Your Mainframe's Waterfall-to-Agile Transformation

Some people envision writing the great American novel. CIOs are busy trying to write the great business transformation story. As goes the writing of a good novel, starting a transformation journey is the hardest part - especially for CIOs who must also strategize the transition of their mainframe from Waterfall to Agile as it increasingly supports web- and mobile-driven digital transformation.

Compuware experienced something similar as it began its own Waterfall-to-Agile transformation in 2014. As a mainframe software company practicing Waterfall development for 40 years, change was difficult for us. Fortunately, under new leadership with a new vision for the company's culture, processes, and tools, we determined what we needed to do to be successful.

Our story could help you if you're a CIO looking to move your mainframe from one end of the IT spectrum to the other, but it's worth doing some research into what "transformation" means before you set out to make it happen.

What's Transformation Anyway? Three Truths

Intellyx Principal Analyst Charles Araujo - an internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise and author of The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change - writes about three truths of transformation in a recent post, "Three Digital Transformation Truths and One Great Myth":

  1. Transformation is a power shift.
  2. Transformation begets new business and operating models.
  3. Transformation drives organizational change.

Araujo elaborates on each truth, plus more, in his piece. I recommend reading it - and subscribing to Intellyx's newsletters. While Araujo writes about the broader concept of digital transformation, not about transforming your mainframe, you can apply his insights to the context of a Waterfall-to-Agile transformation on the system of record powering your mission-critical assets.

The Power Shift

Araujo talks about the shift in power away from organizations to their customers following the consumerization of IT. Many companies "lost control of the narrative" during this shift, precipitating digital disruption from smaller, nimbler competitors.

This is what large enterprises are battling today - and, in our opinion, their secret weapon is the mainframe, if they're willing to realize it. But the mainframe has been fighting its own battles for years as the rest of IT looked away.

To utilize this platform to its fullest potential, there are some things CIOs need to repair. Compuware CEO Chris O'Malley points out two in his blog post "Your Mainframe's Bad Attitude-and What to Do About It": 1) minimized mainframe budgets and 2) disinvestment from vendors.

So, here's another power-shift angle: as a CIO, to transition your mainframe from Waterfall to Agile, you must be willing to give power back to your mainframe organization via organizational re-investment and re-tooling with modern software from vendors that care about the health of your mainframe.

In the same vein, mainframe teams must be willing to shift power from their silo of control to a cross-platform model under the supervision of "someone already leading Agile and/or DevOps in a non-mainframe context," O'Malley writes.

In essence, this is the deconstruction of silos and the integration of IT, a necessary step to leveraging the power that now sits with your customers. They choose organizations that react to their needs fastest and with the highest quality. Providing that level of service in a digital age requires IT to be cohesive and nimble enough across systems, and that entails shifting power to fully integrate your mainframe into whatever enterprise DevOps toolchain you're currently building.

New Business and Operating Models

Araujo says digital transformation is the response to digital disruption, but it doesn't mean "simply introducing new technology." Likewise, Greg Caimi and Elizabeth Spaulding explain "digital savvy is important, but technology is the means, not the end," in their Bain & Company article, "The Inner Game: Why Culture Trumps Code in Digital Innovation."

A true digital transformation will beget revolutionary business and operating models, Araujo says. For example, some CIOs assume they must convert everything on their "legacy" systems to cloud, but when you think about the differences between the cloud and the mainframe, it's silly to argue which is better - each has different strengths. That's why Compuware uses Two-platform IT, an approach that advocates for leveraging the mainframe for mission-critical assets and the cloud for more generic business functions.

CIOs should focus less on moving to new technology for the sake of it being new and focus more on leveraging the value of worthy systems they already have in their data centers. But when you get into the mainframe itself, using modern tools matters for performing a Waterfall-to-Agile transformation.

The mainframe is a special case, often strapped down with antiquated tools that can't integrate as seamlessly with non-mainframe tools or be mastered easily by mainframe-inexperienced developers. Alternatively, modern, more intuitive tools are what enable mainframe teams to carry out new processes like iterative, cross-platform development and delivery, made possible using integrations between mainframe and non-mainframe DevOps tools.

Still, it's true "a digital 'transformation' that is not driven by [the] transformation of business and operating models is just window dressing," Araujo writes. It's entirely possible a CIO could be innocent, or deliberate, enough to equip their mainframe team with tools that have been marketed as revolutionary while, as Araujo says, "the underlying technology itself is not necessarily that revolutionary."

That's why, for one, it's important to seek a vendor you can trust that is dedicated to the continuous improvement and modernization of its toolset based on customer feedback - not just the cloaking of antiquated tools with new interfaces. For another, that's why you must focus primarily on changing IT, not technology, as an organization that will catalyze change for your business. The mainframe is key to that process.

Organizational Change

The mainframe is probably the hardest platform to align with the tenets of transformation Araujo lays out, which is why so many CIOs - despite 88 percent agreeing the mainframe will be a key business asset over the next decade - are struggling to transform it.

This isn't due to the platform itself, which is, arguably, as modern as any system available. The mainframe is difficult to transform because its Waterfall-steeped culture, processes, and tools are incredibly frozen. In fact, a 2016 survey found 63 percent of CIOs see mainframe culture as a major inhibitor to Agile cross-platform development.

"Mainframe teams...have built a 'culture of excellence' over decades that admirably achieves high reliability through a highly-cautious approach to testing and updates - but that can also create business risk by failing to respond quickly enough to changing business needs."

People generally don't relish change, especially when they've had success by doing things a certain way for three decades. However, that success is quickly coming to a halt for mainframe shops that are unwilling to change in our digital age, primarily due to apathy:

  • Business Resents Apathy: Refusal to adapt and innovate is tantamount to surrendering the relevance of the mainframe to the business. Your company is moving forward, and whether it knows now or realizes soon, it needs your mainframe because its applications represent irreplaceable, high-value corporate IP that can't be migrated safely, quickly, or economically to other platforms. The mainframe is going to stick around, but it needs to change. If mainframe teams are unwilling to change, businesses will find people who are.

  • Talent Resents Apathy: Speaking of finding people, you need to be thinking about how to build your next-gen workforce. Systems programmers may still find a need for tools like ISPF - for the time being - but mainframe developers are far from needing them thanks to the availability of superior, modern alternatives.

Too many veteran programmers refuse to agree, but to grow the workforce many of them are retiring from, you're going to need to provide younger developers with tools that make languages and systems they're unfamiliar with - COBOL, PL/I, Assembler, DB2, CICS - easy to understand. If not, the talent you need will go elsewhere. 

There's a great white paper from SHARE that goes into more detail on these and other points related to the dangers of apathy. These are ongoing issues most mainframe teams are still battling or haven't even begun battling, which make them priority issues you as a CIO must battle if you're going to complete a Waterfall-to-Agile transformation.

Fortunately, for those who win the battle and do transform, as Araujo writes, "the natural outcome - the only outcome - of this power-shift and creation of new operating models is a fundamental transformation of the organization itself."

That's right. CIOs who truly transform IT, who truly carry out a Waterfall-to-Agile transformation of their mainframe, will see it. It will be observable. Auraujo writes, "At a minimum, this will lead to the breaking down of organizational silos, the pushing of decision making deeper into the organization, the adoption of self-organization principles, and the flattening of hierarchies."

That's exactly what the mainframe needs.

The CIOs Greatest Asset and Challenge: People

This is the greatest challenge a CIO will face when it comes to carrying out a Waterfall-to-Agile transformation of the mainframe: convincing the people in that vital organization that change must occur for the sake of the platform, the company it supports and, most importantly, the customers it ultimately serves.

The time for mainframe teams to begin a Waterfall-to-Agile transformation is now. It's a necessary and achievable goal. Read Compuware's story to help you through it. To those who are afraid to change or who scoff at the idea, consider these final words from Araujo's piece:

"Simply dismissing [digital transformation] as mere hype and carrying on as if nothing is changing is pure folly. You must accept that digital transformation, in all of its hype-laden glory, is real and will impact you, your organization, your children, and everyone and everything you know. And it will happen sooner than you think."

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Topics:
agile ,agile transformation ,agile adoption

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