by Peter Purcell

Bimodal IT: A steppingstone to agility

Jan 26, 2017
Agile DevelopmentIT LeadershipProject Management Tools

Don't compromise agility for stability. Set the standard for speed, safety and quality.

illustration of agile businessman
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Every few years Gartner advises companies on different IT strategies and processes, often coming up with new terms to define how IT should be managed. One of Gartner’s strategies is bimodal IT, and it received a lot of attention during 2016.

In a nutshell, bimodal IT is a dual strategy promoting two modes of IT delivery: one focused on stability and the other on agility. Let’s take a closer look at these two modes.

Mode 1: This can be called the “slow, safe mode.” It’s the traditional and sequential approach to IT management. Emphasizing safety and accuracy when handling problems, projects, fixes, patches, etc., this mode focuses on managing, “systems of record” (such as accounting, banking, HR and payroll).

Mode 2: This is more of a “fast, risky mode.” It’s an exploratory, nonlinear approach that emphasizes agility and speed when dealing with problems, projects, fixes, patches, etc. This mode is focused on managing “systems of engagement” (such as websites, platforms, vendor portals and CRM systems).

For older and larger companies, IT is often naturally divided between traditional systems of record and new “quick to implement” systems of engagement. These new systems are implemented in quick spurts and emphasize low maintenance while the old, larger systems tend to take years to implement and an entire group of specialized IT staffers to manage them. Gartner’s bimodal IT strategy calls for setting up two groups with completely opposite objectives — one that follows Mode 1 and one that follows Mode 2 — instead of wasting time trying to combine the two approaches or throwing out the old way of IT.

Why operate IT departments in two separate groups? The answer to that is twofold. First, for CIOs seeking to take advantage of emerging technologies, the bimodal IT approach allows for trial and error without sacrificing essential systems for new ones. Second, there is a perception that larger, older organizations can’t simply flip a switch and abandon “slow, safe mode.”

Don’t compromise

However, true market leaders don’t compromise agility for stability, but rather continually improve, setting the standard for speed, safety, and quality. Take, for example, Amazon and Google. Google and Amazon follow a rapid deployment process that incorporates all three measures of success across departments with symbiotic integration between all the functions within (development, quality assurance and operations). By working together, they average between 10 and 30 deployments each day. In contrast, bimodal companies can only hope to see that many deployments per fiscal quarter.

Market leaders embrace the agility part of bimodal IT and implement it companywide. Companies should use bimodal IT as a steppingstone to a more innovative IT management strategy, where agility is emphasized.

Here is how to do it:

Step 1. Create a new culture. This starts at the top. Follow in the footsteps of Amazon and Google to establish a lean, high-performing culture focused on collaboration.

Step 2. Begin using a hybrid of the agile project management methodology for all upcoming system implementations.

  • Design should be short and blueprinting should be based on high-level problems your team is trying to solve. Create a list of measures of success.
  • The project plan should be broken into short sprints to quickly deliver goals.
  • Each sprint should deliver a measurable metric that can be tested for quality and then rolled out to operations.
  • Allow for daily 10-minute status meetings.

Step 3. Train and/or replace IT management.

Step 4. Start with a blank slate. Transition from bimodal IT to Mode 2.

  1. Cancel all business-critical upcoming IT projects and enhancements.
  2. Gather all key department heads and leads and workshop developing a priority and risk rating for each project.
  3. Build new project teams and timetables focused on collaboration between development, testing and operations.
  4. Set attainable goals built into short sprints.

Step 5. Lastly, transition all employees into a Mode 2 mindset by focusing on quality, speed and safety when compensating IT employees for their performance. It depends on the industry, but some examples of performance metrics include the following:

  • Amount of tickets resolved.
  • Reduction in tickets on their system.
  • Number of deployments each month/week/day.
  • Business savings.
  • Issues found. (People should be rewarded for finding issues — even their own).

With digital transformation at the top of many companies’ 2017 priority lists, innovation is critical. And to be innovative, companies must acknowledge and accept the need for quick implementation.

Let’s leave bimodal IT in 2016 and move forward with an evolved Mode 2 approach.