In a 2014 report, Gartner identifies the challenges of the IT organisation in view of the nature of the demands they need to satisfy: provide innovative solutions with agility; provide operational continuity as “business as usual”. Gartner’s model establishes these as two different types of needs that require two separate approaches: one operational IT organisation (“Model 1 – Traditional”) and an innovative IT organisation (“Model 2 – Exploratory”). And that this “Bimodal IT” has to co-exist.
Gartner’s advice is that for organisations to ensure their IT readiness into the future, they “must” establish the bimodal approach – add to their existing operational IT services a Model 2 IT structure focused on innovation.
If the prediction is correct, there is an epic journey ahead. Changing culture in order to set up an Agile, innovative environment where teams and individuals are free to experiment requires a paradigm shift and the willingness to give in to a different organisational system, where the traditional bureaucratic organisation (where hierarchy and power rule decision making and flow of information) need to be dismantled so that a new system of social intelligence, collaborative relationships and information sharing takes place. At all levels of the organisation.
Agile transformations are becoming part of the mainstream IT industry although it is still very early days for companies that were not “born digital”. Web-scale giants like Amazon, and Google count on more than a decade building their Mode 2 teams, but these are exceptions. In the business world it is still the vast majority operating in “Mode 1” only; barely able to maintain their industrialized applications run by teams that focus on risk aversion, security and compliance.
“While these will likely not match the innovative velocity of agile IT teams and applications, traditional IT teams are still under pressure to get faster, more agile, innovative, productive and cost-efficient. Yet, the Mode 2 playbook can’t be applied wholesale to Mode 1 transformation work because it often assumes a Greenfield situation—kind of like a new home construction. By contrast, Mode 1 modernization is more like renovating an existing home that must proceed in steps that address the present realities of applications, legacy infrastructure, business mandates, organizational interactions, and technical skills” (http://devops.com/2015/06/24/bimodal-it-and-remodeling-traditional-it-for-greater-agility/)
According to Gartner, project execution is no longer a game of “either/or.” Maturing organisations that operate in the new creative economy have given rise to bimodal—making it possible to combine Mode 1 or 2 within the same portfolio and enabling PMOs to decide what model is right on a by-project basis. Project and Program Management frameworks are adopting Agile transformations incorporate transitional states where various methods co-exist within the same portfolio. This seems to be sensitive approach given the incremental nature of an Agile adoption, where the process start by “creating awareness”: implementing a series of training and behavioural change activities with strong emphasis on changing to the new Agile mindset at different levels of the system, usually involving a pilot team and different levels of management (both IT and Business) before the model is scaled up to more teams / broader organisation.
Bimodal IT and Agile
Arguably Gartner’s bimodal approach assumes that the business as usual IT organisation (Mode 1) cannot be operated under an Agile model. This separation in two independent systems actually contradicts one of the most powerful concepts of Agile, which is the creation of a learning environment where social intelligence emerges: by participating in identifying the problem and deciding on and implementing a solution, knowledge is created and retained by the system (opposite to one person, a manager or a group) regardless of the problem being a new feature or a fix to an existing one, working as one team where silos and handoffs are eliminated is the goal of the empiricist and knowledge sharing nature of Agile.