Conversation about agile
March 23, 2016 COBOL, Two-week Sprints

The Two-week COBOL Sprint: Having a Critical Conversation About Agile

Perhaps you’ve realized how poisonous distrust is to your organization. Productivity is suffering, but you’ve discovered Agile can help. Now it’s time to start a conversation about Agile and adopting processes like the two-week COBOL sprint with business leaders . In this post I’ll tell you how to start the conversation, what criticism to expect and how to respond well to it.

What to Expect from the Conversation About Agile

First, identify projects for which your organization needs to perform faster mainframe development. Then have the CIO/CTO and a key Business Unit VP meet with application development and operations leaders to insist on the change to Agile/DevOps.

Teams that try Agile within their limited organizational scope will conflict with other departments. That’s why you need business leaders to sponsor a company culture change; however, many will oppose it. Below are some common objections to Agile from business leaders, and what I consider the proper responses:

How will we maintain our quality? 

You maintain quality and develop faster by automating manual tasks. Automated deployment and source code management tools help you prevent mistakes and make decisions easier.

We don’t have the right tools to be Agile. 

Agile tooling is available. Over time, resistance to faster development will become more expensive than implementing better tools. If business leaders want to transform the company, tooling is a priority.

We can’t retrain everyone on new processes and new tools.

The retiring workforce is forcing you to hire and train new people regardless. Training reinforces the expectation of change as real and non-negotiable. New tooling with GUI interfaces, online help and elegant user interfaces speed up the new-employee learning curve and simplify on-boarding.

We can’t afford to hire people to work in COBOL. 

You need leaders on the mainframe who can work with critical COBOL programs. You can’t hire good leaders for meager wages—you have to pay market rate again. Pay good wages for great talent and stay in business, or pay low wages for subpar work and lose to competitors. Give millennial developers more responsibility and upward mobility as people retire. With room for growth, many will see COBOL as an opportunity rather than a second choice.

I can’t get people to change. 

Wrong; people can change, but sometimes it takes a crowbar to move them. Company survival requires Agile for improved communication, automation and exploration. Make the adoption of an Agile attitude part of your company’s job performance reviews. Some people who have retired on the job may have to finish their retirement at home, but losing a few stubborn employees helps make the urgency of change clear to others.

After a Successful Conversation About Agile

For a successful conversation about Agile with business leaders, be confident in your belief of its importance. Before you have the conversation, do a recap and read my posts. If business leaders seem beyond convincing, bring up competitors who’ve transitioned to Agile and had success. Or, bring up the Uber-like industry disruptors bulldozing enterprises that refuse to change.

When you do convince business leaders to become Agile—even if it’s just a trial—you’ll need a team to drive the culture and processes. In my next post I’ll explain how to build a scrum team with ambitious, daring individuals who will be a model of Agile and the two-week COBOL sprint for others to follow.

Read the other posts from “The Two-week COBOL Sprint” blog series by following the links below:

Photo by Liv Martin and Chad Morgan