If your company is struggling to find one effective approach to managing technical change, consider whether you’ll do better by taking two approaches. That’s the suggestion from Gartner, which recently defined bimodal IT as the use of two different means of managing IT change.
Two Modes of Development
Mode 1 is about preserving stability, rather than driving change. It’s appropriate for systems that relate to core business functions and those that hold systems of record. Traditional waterfall methodologies, where the end state is known at the start of development, are suitable for these slow-changing systems.
Mode 2 is about innovation and making changes fast. It can be used when time-to-market is crucial. Agile development methodologies, with their emphasis on responding to changing needs, suit mode 2 applications.
Use the Right Mode on the Right Project
Most businesses probably already have both types of IT management going on; in fact, the key issue for many businesses is making sure that the right mode is applied to the right project.
Groups that manage legacy systems lean towards mode 1; they use older technologies and may be older applications that are less well understood and more fragile, subject to breaking due to unknown dependencies. However, mode 1 can’t mean preserving these systems in a frozen state. They need to continue to change to integrate with new applications (after all, an ancient accounting system still needs to record sales from new online portals) and need to change so they can continue to be supported—the technologies needed aren’t taught in schools any more and finding staff with the needed skills will become ever more challenging if these systems aren’t updated.
New product development fits into mode 2. Innovation labs and skunkworks have the main goal of creating a new product; they need the freedom for creative destruction that can’t be tolerated when supporting production systems.
Balance the Modes
Some view the bimodal perspective as nothing new; companies have distinguished between new development and systems maintenance for a long time. Others fear the bimodal approach puts companies at risk; by telling existing IT systems that they can’t participate in transformation to new technology, they may turn off developers from working on those projects at all. In addition, although CEOs may be frustrated at the slow pace of change from traditional IT teams, it may not be possible to easily integrate the output of mode 2 teams with the systems supported by mode 1 teams. And since ultimately both mode 1 and mode 2 teams are part of a single organization, the entire business ends up suffering from the tension between the two IT development groups.
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