Trail running | Stop Trying to Fix Your Mainframe Culture—Help It Adapt! | Compuware
March 28, 2019 DevOps, Workforce

Stop Trying to Fix Your Mainframe Culture—Help It Adapt!

Overview: There’s no way to magically fix your mainframe culture to align better with the transformative goals of your business. Learn from Compuware’s CEO why you have to instead help your mainframe culture adapt.


We are creatures of habit. If we aren’t forced to change, we’ll remain comfortably complacent within the bounds of familiar constraints. We like to work with what we know, in ways we know how without any unwelcome disruptions.

Such is the world of expert mainframe developers at large enterprises whose role and responsibilities have long been defined by their knowledge and experience in coddling specific codebases for decades. There is hardly a reason to change when the work to be done has been dominated by maintenance and defect-resolution on existing systems that provides little to no value that customers care about.

But, that nature of required work has changed forever. In the digital age, competitive advantage or disadvantage is determined by the velocity, quality and efficiency of turning digital ideas that matter to customers into digital experiences customers care about—continuously. The sum total of required work now entails a value stream of simultaneous efforts in:

  • Delivering new capabilities
  • Resolving defects
  • Reducing risk in security, privacy and compliance exposures
  • Removing constraints (e.g., technical debt) to improve the throughput of future deliverables

As product managers aggressively prosecute ideas and decide on priorities for better serving always wonderfully, beautifully dissatisfied customers, the expectations of why, what and how work gets done by developers radically changes. Responsibilities in working with and within the unfamiliar increase while the competitive requirement to continuously improve digital velocity, quality and efficiency is omnipresent.

Mainframe developers have been running in their lane on a well-lit, temperature-controlled, indoor track at a self-determined pace for years. But the running path has changed in a digital economy. The expectations of today’s beautifully and wonderfully dissatisfied customers puts developers on a rugged trail rife with roots and divots, protruding branches and rocks, inclines, declines, curves and narrow passages. And, customers’ insatiable expectations determine the pace.

The path—the work—has changed, and therefore, mainframe developers must change how they run. No longer can they complete lap after lap until reaching the end of their daily jog. Today, they must maintain a high-speed sprint, keeping pace and in sync with a team, while constantly monitoring their footing and adjusting how they land to avoid obstacles that could slow them down, trip them up or knock them off the path.

The former way of running is always familiar and much more comfortable. It worked when all customers expected were healthy applications that only required a mainframe developer to keep in shape with a daily jog. But your customers today are constantly shifting expectations, ceaselessly demanding new innovations that, when left without a worthy and urgent response, can set your company back and cause it to lose precious customer loyalty.

When you’ve been grounded in a culture of jogging at the same pace on an indoor track for years, it’s going to be hard to shift to “adaptable trail running.” Shifting to this requires a seismic change in mindset and culture. But, as Jay W. Lorsch and Emily McTague write in Harvard Business Review:

Culture isn’t something you ‘fix.’ Rather … cultural change is what you get after you’ve put new processes or structures in place to tackle tough business challenges … The culture evolves as you do that important work.”

It’s crazy to expect the people in development roles to change if you aren’t changing the nature of the work to be done and how you are setting expectations and measuring performance. Culture change happens when you give developers a new way to work. Here’s how:

1. Give them an ambitious goal that is important to the business.

This is essential to a) break away from the current “fits and starts” habits of developers that are determined by “what they know” within Waterfall methods and b) setting a new trajectory for continuous improvement by inspiring developers to deliver worthy ideas that create preferred digital experiences for your customers.

2. Put in place an expectation to accomplish two-week sprints, and provide the proper tools.

There should be no difference, other than syntax, in how developers work on mainframe code and data versus code and data on another platform. This requires providing them with modern tools that ease the analysisediting and building of complex programs, as well as, make it possible to extend responsibilities, like unit testing and test data management, with the help of automation. This new DX (developer experience) will enable them to make iterative code drops towards an improved CX (customer experience) with improved velocity, quality and efficiency within two-week sprint cycles.

3. Push these changes with continuous measurement of velocity, quality and efficiency.

You need to make every two weeks count. That requires building out a robust set of key performance indicators (KPIs) around quality, velocity and efficiency that continuously challenges and nudges organizations, teams and developers to seek and embrace new methods to continuously improve.

Only when you change the expectations of the work to be done will people necessarily adapt. Hoping things will somehow improve by giving a 40-year mainframe development veteran new tools without a change in expectations within a new role with new responsibilities is delusional. You must start a transformational effort by getting people to believe in why, what and how they need to change, then provide them a new framework to do so.

To learn more, please watch this webcast demonstrating the elegant simplicity of the “Compuware DX” in nailing the development jobs to be done within Agile and leveraging DevOps methods.

And, please watch this webcast on how Compuware zAdviser can provide mainframe customers with the proper information to understand how they can become high-performers in delivery velocity, quality and efficiency as well as to provide a means to measure, challenge and celebrate redefining achievements in continuous improvement.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.