Compuware's devops transformation four years on

Back in 2014, private equity firm Thoma Bravo agreed to take legacy mainframe software mainstay Compuware back into private ownership in a £2.5 billion deal. Christopher O’Malley was appointed CEO, and the company quickly set about transforming the organisation from a ‘waterfall’ delivery model to devops and agile – now permeating every aspect of the business, from the traditional dev and operations teams through to marketing, finance, and accounts. Perhaps bucking the trend in big private takeovers, Compuware didn’t engage in any mass layoffs, product VP David Rizzo tells Computerworld UK, reflecting on the four years between then and now.

“Compuware was recreated, if you will,” says Rizzo. “Wanting to be the innovator on the mainframe platform, we looked at what was necessary and that required us making a transformation from our waterfall methodology to a devops and agile methodology.” The company started by setting its mission out, which was to be “the mainframe partner for the next 50 years”, as well as modernising the mainframe, and delivering new product or features every 90 days – a promise it has kept good on.

“One of the biggest challenges was we had very experienced staff, we had a company that was entrenched in a process, and we had to make a transformation and take it forward. We did that by recognising it would be difficult, change is always difficult.”

The staff remained “pretty much the same” save for some retirements, who were replaced with recent graduates. Rather than swinging the axe, Rizzo says the company actually grew over that four-year period. “The goal was to keep the people we had and have them work in new and different ways, so we could take advantage of the opportunities we get with agile and devops,” he explains.

“Of course, the people is the biggest challenge – bringing everybody along, so providing formal training, having coaches available, giving them tools they need to be successful. As we started, we looked at what was needed, we wanted to make sure the culture was right, the environment was right, and the tools they had were right.

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“We didn’t do this just in the product development organisation, we made it a company-wide initiative so that everybody was going through this – our product requires cooperation with the legal department, with the finance department, contracts, sales, across the whole organisation.” One of the things the company did was give itself a deadline day to start, so in November 2014 the whole company would begin its transition to devops. “We like to say, ‘burn the boats’, and just went forward with it,” Rizzo says. “Looking back, that proved to be very successful to us and was the right way to do it.”

The new leadership encouraged the whole company to read the Phoenix Project by Gene Kim amongst small reading groups that mixed up people from various departments, so HR and finance and developers were all talking with each other. “They saw how it relates to their everyday lives and the groups, not just in development, were all very supportive and understanding,” Rizzo says. During the process of rethinking how the company worked – with the ultimate goal of collectively deciding on the most important issues facing the business and pooling resources to achieve that – the developers began to change how they worked on the technical side too.

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The source code management tool at Compuware really was legacy, having been in place for over 20 years. This lead to the developers evaluating a few tools themselves to help them do their jobs better – for example, allowing for working on multiple lines of code or enhancements at once.

The tool they picked ultimately led to Compuware acquiring the company that produced it, and that can be now found in the ISPW tool from Compuware. Similarly, when developers were working with code they were unfamiliar with, one developer had an idea for a new graphic visualisation product that would clearly illustrate the application and the files and data that it touches. Together the developers created a minimal viable product in 84 days.

“That was the first time we could look back and say, ‘this really is working for us – this new methodology provides us with an opportunity to be very creative, very innovative, and work at a much faster space than what normally would be done, especially in the mainframe environment’,” Rizzo says.

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Regular metrics involve analysing the number of defects reported by customers, and since the 2014 organisational rehash there has been a steady decline here.

The company has also managed to match the 90-day new product cycle that it promised at the beginning of the transformation.

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