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Bimodal and Agile 1: It's Bimodal evil?

In this series of posts I would like to talk about Bimodal IT, the organizational IT model from Gartner, and its relationship with Agile. The first post is a bit provocative in view of the bad reception of Bimodal within the Agile community. Although it shows some flaws from my point of view, some serious research has been done around it and deserves a detailed analysis.

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As a summary, Bimodal is an IT capability consisting on IT having two operation modes [1]:

  1. Mode 1 (M1) is traditional, emphasizing predictability, accuracy, stability. M1 systems need traditional and rigorous development and testing methodologies.
  2. Mode 2 (M2) is exploratory, emphasizing agility and speed. Its systems should be released frequently and quality is not as critical as M1 systems and benefit greatly from Agile and DevOps approaches.

Bimodal assumes that a traditional IT department has too legacy systems and organization to shift instantly to a clean state status working as an Internet startup [2], so the best way to achieve the responsiveness and flexibility of a digital company is to set up a separate M2 operating group which produces customer centric and innovative systems and co-exists with M1, while M1 systems, architecture and organizations evolve to meet the future digital requirements (perhaps with an undefined deadline).

While Bimodal it’s an interesting effort to evolve traditional IT management and systems with a more modern and responsive approach, it has its roots based heavily in the mainstream IT mindset and therefore has some serious misconceptions which hamper its capability to draw an evolution path for existing organizations. In my opinion, the two main misconceptions are:

  1. All aspects of agile (e.g. quality, efficiency or governance) are suitable for non-critical systems.
  2. The IT organization can operate permanently in the dual M1/M2 modes without much overhead.

Both misconceptions are false. On one hand, as Humble says, the top Internet companies such as Google, Netflix or Amazon operate mainly in with an Agile/DevOps approach (with a much broader scope than just IT delivery) and provide secure and quality applications. On the other, two permanent and separated modes can easily create great operating, cultural and delivery issues and inefficiencies.

To sum up, Bimodal it’s not evil on itself because has some positive and valuable advices, but it’s dangerous because it can be misleading for IT managers, showing them a false secure way to evolve to agility.

References:

  1. The Flaw at the Heart of Bimodal IT (2016) by Humble from ThoughtWorks
  2. A two-speed IT architecture for the digital enterprise (2014 ) by Bossert, Ip & Laartz from McKinsey
  3. Bimodal IT: How to Have It All Without Making a Mess (2015) by Mingay from Gartner
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