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Actionable Steps to Make Agile DevOps Work Across the Enterprise

3 requirements for enterprise-level digital transformation

Three interlocking loops in blue and purple gradients.

When I first joined Compuware as CEO five years ago, I talked a great deal about a pernicious mainframe apathy virus that had taken hold in large enterprises, hindering them from leveraging the mainframe’s unique strengths to create an unfair business advantage. Today, a different strain of the apathy virus is astir—one that locks enterprises in the vise of the status quo while change-ready, software-enabled business models grab market share. 

I’m referring to companies like Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Google and others that are successfully challenging and disrupting long-held assumptions and leveraging their software delivery capabilities to penetrate retail, insurance, manufacturing and healthcare markets traditionally dominated by complacent, change-averse juggernauts once deemed too big to fail.  

These lessons have taught us that conducting business within the familiar confines of “business as usual” is no longer tenable. In fact, it’s a roadmap to chronic decline. Companies that operate with a focus on customers, anticipating what they need and delivering it in novel and preferred ways, and devising adaptive business models that support those objectives—with software as a core component—are winning in the age of software.

Turning the Titanic 

How can large enterprises that have conducted business the same way for decades completely transform to meet these new digital realities? Unrivaled in their security, reliability and scalability, mainframe systems provide a huge business advantage, but mainframe organizations are notorious for siloed cultures, rigid, experiment-averse processes and competing priorities—challenges that prevent them from continuously turning ideas that matter into digital experiences that delight customers.  

By modernizing culture, processes and tools, adopting mainframe-inclusive Agile and DevOps methodologies, and embracing intrinsic automation—continuously—enterprises can improve software delivery quality, velocity and efficiency while enabling teams to devote more energy to fostering ideas, experimenting and innovating in service to customers. 

Three things are required to achieve this enterprise-level digital transformation: 

1. Adopt a growth mindset 
Large enterprises that leverage Agile and DevOps to deliver innovation at the rate and pace their customers expect share a common characteristic: They’ve adopted a growth mindset. A growth mindset embraces change, seeks out challenges instead of hiding from them, views failure as a part of learning, flaws as opportunities to improve, and feedback as a gift. 

If you’re an IT leader at an enterprise that has yet to transform, you should ask yourself, “Do I have a growth mindset? Do I have the passion, courage and perseverance to ensure a growth mindset is woven into the fabric of my organization? One that empowers employees to disrupt themselves, become inspired, relentless warriors who aren’t afraid to go to the mat for an idea, knowing they might be triumphant, or they might fail. Or, am I mired in a fixed mindset thinking that prevents my organization from improving throughput, creating greater efficiencies and bringing more value to my customers?” 

DevOps is called a journey for a reason. It’s the progress teams make day to day and week to week that requires embracing change, letting go of old habits, overcoming setbacks and doing it all over again in perpetuity—activities that can only be truly enabled with a growth mindset.

2. Commit to what matters most 
Customer satisfaction is the reason your business exists. Your organization, at every level, must commit to keeping customers at the center of everything you do—and attuning yourself to their urgent needs and requirements should be the No. 1 priority.

To that end, product management should be immersed in discovering what customers really care about, what they like and don’t like about your products, and what they want to see included or improved that will add value to their lives. 

Product management must also research the customer value of any new product or feature to determine whether it’s worth pursuing. Then, in collaboration with the engineering team, they must assess the new product’s or feature’s feasibility, viability and usability. After all of this consideration, once a “go” decision is made, it’s crucial they remain committed and dedicated to successful customer outcomes throughout the process.

Also critical is understanding what’s trapped in your backlog in terms of features that customers want and feeling a true sense of urgent responsibility to pull those features forward. In tandem with those efforts, technical debt should also be addressed so the future feature flow will be stronger and friction free. 

Finally, you must measure customer satisfaction whether through Net Promoter Scores, feature adoption or customer focus groups—and you must commit to, and hold yourself and others accountable for, doing the things that improve customer satisfaction. These are things that you as a leader can directly impact, like improving software delivery quality, velocity and efficiency and increasing employee engagement. 

3. Get in the habit of continuous improvement 
If your organization’s engineers are allowed to work on new and interesting customer-facing innovations, employees will be more engaged. Customer satisfaction will increase and so will your company’s long-term cash flow. Developers do far more than just write code. With the right vision and empowerment, developers can know more about your customers and be able to bring the right features and services to life. As agents of innovation, they should be treated and coached like high-performance athletes.

To that end, it’s incumbent upon enterprises to track and measure key KPIs to improve mainframe development efficiency, quality and velocity. With these, they can quantifiably know where they’re doing well and where they need to improve. Measures such as mean time to resolution, code coverage and number of defects trapped in test versus production can provide a picture of developer efficiency and quality metrics. Machine learning can be leveraged to continually monitor and analyze behavior patterns, enabling teams to continuously improve on essential measures. Enterprises that strategically leverage their data to tackle development and delivery constraints will push the needle forward on their digital transformation.

What Are You Waiting For?

Complacency, resistance to change and fixed mindsets are obstacles to overcome. If these issues are addressed, and Agile and DevOps are supported and grown, enterprises can offer customers more of what they want. 

Trailblazing enterprises are proving that Agile and DevOps on the mainframe is real and valuable. It’s a choice now whether enterprises are going to do what’s proven and required or not. What are you waiting for? 


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