Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasizing safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed.
There are IT executives who make the case that bimodal IT is ridiculous -- that an enterprise needs one development philosophy for all of IT. Others, though, make the case for bimodal IT based on their own experience.
Johan den Haan is CTO of Mendix, a company that provides a software platform for rapid application delivery and agile development. It's not a surprise that den Haan is a proponent of Agile development. "If you want to deliver the benefits of rapid application delivery you need to go Agile," he said. In his view, though, most organizations need to pay attention to how they implement Agile -- and bimodal IT makes sense.
"If you look at agile as a culture I think it could be across the enterprise," den Haan said. "Bimodal IT is the way we see it work in our customers." He said that the emphasis, approach, and processes of the two modes are so different that it doesn't make sense for them to struggle to do everything the same way. He added that the two modes might not even be in the same department.
"[Mode 2] should happen in the business units. They're close to the business process and they have the ideas," he said. The mode 2 "pioneers" should be using Agile discipline. "If you look at the skills, then Agile becomes more and more applicable as you move toward the pioneers," den Haan said. The need for constant innovation and development means that the scrum methodology with its constant stream of sprints makes sense. The same isn't true of the mode 1 teams tasked with operating and maintaining existing systems.
"You can do a kanban approach to do the maintenance and structure your process, because in a lot of cases you have much more up-front planning," he said. The two approaches to Agile don't mean that the teams should be entirely separate, though. He added, "The two modes have to communicate because new products have to integrate with existing systems."
In den Haan's experience, culture can be the biggest obstacle to good communications. "In the mode 1 teams there's a lot of skepticism about the mode 2 team and what they're trying to accomplish," he said. "People have been trying to build applications faster for decades. It's extremely important to employ the mode 2 team to create an application within a month so they show success." Why is it so important to have that initial success? "That way people come in [to the process] with new ideas. Without that, people accept the status quo," den Haan said.
Given his enthusiasm for bimodal IT, you might think that den Haan sees it as the perfect solution for every company. That's not true, though. In his view, there are definite limits to the organizations that can benefit from both modes of IT. "If you look at pure bimodal, it's for larger organizations. Startup organizations are all mode 2," he said.
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