Busting Bimodal Myths

August 11, 2016

Contributor: Christy Pettey

IT leaders must address the myths of bimodal to drive their organizations digital transformation.

As enterprises seek to deliver on the promise of bimodal operations, they will need to separate fact from fiction and dispel some misunderstandings that have emerged about bimodal.

Bimodal is the practice of managing two separate but coherent styles of work: one focused on situations of greater predictability, the other where exploration is required. Mode 1 is optimized for areas that are more well-understood. It focuses on exploiting what is known. This includes renovating the legacy environment, so it is fit for a digital world. Mode 2 is exploratory, potentially experimenting to solve new problems. Mode 2 is optimized for areas of uncertainty. Mode 2 often works on initiatives that begin with a hypothesis that is tested and adapted during a process involving short iterations.

“ Mode 1 is neither "business as usual" nor an excuse to avoid tackling the troublesome issue of renovating the IT core.”

According to Simon Mingay, research vice president at Gartner, IT leaders must recognize the equal importance of both modes in delivering the digital strategy. “Bimodal capability that marries the renovation of the IT core with the exploratory approach to developing new digital products and services is essential for an enterprise to survive and flourish in the digital era,” said Mr. Mingay. “Both modes will play a crucial role in innovation and the digital transformation.” Mr. Mingay explained that Gartner sees myths emerging that complicate and delay the clean execution of bimodal. Gartner has highlighted bimodal in the context of these myths and dispels them.

Myth No: 1 - If You Are Using Agile or DevOps, Then You Are Bimodal

Agile is the most common capability that organizations start with when establishing a Mode 2 work style. But agile and other iterative methods are just as applicable to Mode 1 initiatives. Agile can deliver predictability, quality and an ability to neatly handle change to Mode 1 projects. DevOps is also applicable to Mode 1. However, bimodal is not just a set of IT-related capabilities; it must embrace a set of business capabilities as well if it is to be effective, and certainly if it is to scale.

Myth No: 2 - Bimodal Is About Increasing the Speed of Software Development

Bimodal is focused on increasing enterprise agility. It allows the enterprise to innovate and change in a timely manner, so it’s important for Mode 2 development teams to regularly put releases out into the field and get rapid feedback. However, Mode 2 must not be defined by, or focused on, the speed at which code can be written. If you try to increase agility by focusing on the production of code you risk increased architectural and application complexity, which reduces enterprise agility.  

Myth No: 3 - Mode 2 Is Less Rigorous Than Mode 1

In a Mode-1-style initiative major risks are usually related to delivery schedules, budgets, service levels and requirements, so in a relatively predictable environment it makes sense to address such risks early. Because of the uncertainty surrounding digital initiatives, in Mode 2, enterprises tend to adopt an iterative model whereby they explore and experiment as necessary. It is an approach that embraces the learning as central to steering the product development, you may choose to not proceed any further, or change direction part way through the initiative. This is by far the approach best-suited to the risks posed by these kinds of initiatives but it is no less rigorous than Mode 1, and certainly less risky than trying to apply a Mode 1 approach to these areas of uncertainty

Myth No. 4 - Mode 1 Is Static or Business as Usual

Mode 1 is neither "business as usual" nor an excuse to avoid tackling the troublesome issue of renovating the IT core. For the digital strategy to succeed, renovating the IT core and opening it up with a service-oriented architecture (SOA) and application programmable interface (API) strategy is a very real need, and it is a central part of the bimodal approach. If Mode 1 doesn’t renovate the IT core then any Mode 2 capability will prove to be a niche capability. Therefore, renovation activities conducted largely in a Mode 1 style are as essential to the digital transformation as those activities undertaken in a Mode 2 style.  

Myth No. 5 - Everything Becomes Mode 2

Neither Mode 1 nor Mode 2 are defined by an end state of technologies, methods, tools or processes. It is the business context, work style, the decision model and governance that differentiate. Even if you are 100 percent agile, 100 percent cloud, 100 percent microservices, you are not 100 percent Mode 2. Yes, these are the capabilities organizations are developing in the Mode 2 nursery today. But the Netflixs and Spotifys of the world have domains where applying a lean startup and minimum viable product approach would not be appropriate, they still have situations where a Mode 1 approach is best suited.  

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