Compuware | Agile development | mainframe
May 23, 2019 Mainframe Agility

‘Cathedral Thinking’ with Agile Development, 1296 BC to Now

Overview: Just like the Florence Cathedral’s dome that waited 140 years for the right technology before being built, mainframe teams can use Agile development to break big projects into minimum viable products and have faith that the process will produce the desired outcomes, even when they can’t be realized in the moment.


Work on the Florence Cathedral (Cattedrale di Santa Maria Fiore) started in 1296. At the time the plans included a magnificent dome on the basilica even though the technology didn’t yet exist that would allow for supporting the necessary weight. The working theory was that, by the time they reached that point in the construction, technology would exist that would allow for the dome.

And they were right. In 1418 they introduced a competition to come up with the necessary architectural design. The winner was selected, and the cathedral was completed in 1436.

In IT, this situation is as relevant today as it was in 1296. Time frames are greatly compressed, but IT teams are often pressed to work on rapidly evolving systems with clear objectives but fuzzy paths as to how to achieve them. The future may be wrought with missteps, rework, frustration. It’s no place for the faint of heart.

Agile “Cathedral Thinking”

That’s why adopting an Agile mindset toward development and operations work is critical. Agile breaks big projects into manageable pieces called minimum viable products. This makes it possible to fail fast and pivot quickly when you hit a roadblock. It makes it possible to plan for building a magnificent dome before you know how you’re going to do it.

Read the eBook

But when you’re coming off years or decades of linearly planning, analyzing, designing, developing, testing and maintaining—rather than doing these things iteratively in, say, two-week sprints—it’s naturally going to be tough to put your trust in a methodology like Agile that embraces unpredictability and requires a fail-fast mindset. But, in reality, this “cathedral thinking” is what will enable your teams and organization to rapidly innovate and accomplish architectural feats in software.

How Committed Are You?

This is the true test of your commitment to Agile:

  • Is your organization committed to responding to change rather than following a plan?
  • Is your organization truly willing to accept the risk that comes from experimentation to receive the rewards accrued from it?
  • Are your team(s) confident that they can overcome the hurdles as they arise to continuously deliver value to your customers?

Innovation is the gold of the realm in today’s digital world, and fear of the unknown is its sworn enemy. Once your organization and your teams can embrace this challenge, you can start to reap the rewards. As Bertrand Russel said,

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

So, when you’re faced with something that feels insurmountable, roll up your sleeves and get to work. You can’t get there if you never head there!