Systems Modeling and Analysis

Is all the hype over Gartner's bimodal IT justified?

What’s in a word? Quite a lot, if the reaction to Gartner’s bimodal IT is anything to go by. It’s supposed to make the obvious point that IT development styles and speeds vary, depending on the need for reliability and agility. This has pretty much always been the case although in the past terms like ‘quick and dirty’ or ‘skunkworks’ might have been used. Perhaps this background, and the fact that Gartner coined the name, has conditioned the outraged responses. The reactions can be typified by sentences such as, “How dare they split the IT department?” or “It’s unfair to treat two groups of developers differently.”

Dig deeper and these same protestors argue that the IT department should be kept together, that the different types of IT (Modes 1 and 2) should be accommodated and, often, that the traditional Mode 1 applications would benefit from a Mode 2 refit. Guess what? Gartner wouldn’t disagree with any of this.


The complainers also pick on elements (see chart above) such as the first item in Mode 1 – Reliability – and conclude that the inverse must therefore be true of Mode 2. Only a madman would deliberately create unreliable or insecure systems, no matter how much of a hurry they’re in. Or they might pick on the last item in the list – Long cycle times – for Mode 1. Sometimes an implementation of an API from Mode 1 has to be hurried up a bit to keep pace with the demands of Mode 2, but this is an occasional issue. It doesn’t break the fundamental model.

Two years down the track, some people are still confused. The basic fact is that some developments are dealing with known factors: they can be analysed, solutions specified and work carried out pretty much as it has always been. On the other hand, you have the unknowns; they might be new technologies, new customer needs or changes in user behaviour. These needs have to be addressed, maybe experimentally. The approach might be more like prototype, test, analyse and refine – the sprint approach. But nothing happens in a vacuum. Mode 2 developments are almost always going to need to work with Mode 1 systems, even if it’s only extracting existing data from them or providing fresh data to them.

The ideal is for the business to take a long view of its needs, for the departments to get involved with each other, as well as IT, and for the whole ensemble to work together towards business goals. Isn’t that what the CEO and CIO should be encouraging anyway?

Let’s see what Gartner has to say today, now that the laughter and catcalls have died down. Research vice president Simon Mingay has been kind enough to talk to IDG Connect. He says, “Bimodal is not defined by an organisational split. It is about two styles of work, united by a shared, compelling vision of the future that positions the essential role of both modes in the enterprise’s ‘digital transformation’.” He adds, “But, whatever organisational construct is used, it is very important that there is a collaborative, transparent, approach where all teams (regardless of work style) are working to aligned priorities, united by a shared vision of the digital transformation.”

These remarks appear to address head-on many of the criticisms levelled at bimodal working. It does, however, seem to represent a bit of an idealistic view of organisations and we wondered what it was really like in the field. He told us, “We have to operate in the context of an organisation’s culture, relationships, et cetera. Some organisations can be very collaborative. Others, for many reasons, can be more competitive, so how bimodal gets implemented needs to reflect the behaviours on the ground. Bimodal, like any other approach needs good leadership and management.”

One of the good things about keeping Mode 2 ‘in the fold’ is that the Mode 1 folk get familiar with how they work and, given the richness of their own organisational and IT knowledge, they might start to spot new opportunities and better ways of doing things. When Mode 1 or Mode 2 methods are picked up by development teams based on the needs they’re addressing at any time, then you know you’ve won this particular battle. (Which really shouldn’t have been a battle in the first place.)

Ignore the naysayers and those who say this is old wine in new bottles. None of this matters. What matters is creating a responsive IT organisation that serves the company from top to bottom and the customer throughout their lifecycle. As a senior IT person, it’s your job to make sure that no-one is marginalised – inside or outside the IT department – and that all have the opportunity to contribute and add meaningful value to the business.



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David Tebbutt

David Tebbutt spent 14 years in IT (programmer to IT manager) before re-launching Personal Computer World magazine in the UK in 1979. This led to parallel careers in writing, editing, software and media skills training. He sees himself as a closet techie who loves the media, IT and training in approximately equal measure.

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