Stuck in Bimodal IT?

2 November 2015
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Reading time: 4 minutes

“Bimodal IT” is simply an excuse to keep doing IT poorly (Jason Bloomberg). Forget Bimodal IT and focus on Continuous Improvement.





From Gartner: “Bimodal IT”

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.

So, “Bimodal IT” is a practice to manage 2 ways of delivering software, which might end up with 2 departments of software development. Hmm….
Why would I as a CIO try to enforce this practice?
Why would I want “agility” from one department and “stability” from another one?
Are “agility” and “stability” two mutually exclusive terms?

Before we dig deeper let’s quickly head over to Simon Wardley’s blog “Bimodal IT – the new old hotness”, where he describes the evolution of software.

As components evolve, their properties change (from uncharted to industrialised) and different methods of management become appropriate. Hence components in the uncharted space use in-house, agile techniques, quick release cycles, highly iterative etc. Whereas those more industrialised components tend to be six sigma, ITIL, long release cycles, heavily standardised etc.

Simon continues

When it comes to organising then each component not only needs different aptitudes (e.g. engineering + design) but also different attitudes (i.e. engineering in genesis is not the same as engineering in industrialised). To solve this, you end up implementing a “trimodal” (three party) structure such as pioneers, settlers and town planners which is governed by a process of theft.

Simon says we need not just 2 ways of software delivery but 3 structures, which potentially lead to 3 departments.
Huh. Really?

Jason Bloomberg brings in an interesting perspective by saying: Balderdash! on Dangers of Bimodal IT
Jason explains

The business world is in a perennial state of flux, and the ever-increasing sophistication of technology is only accelerating the velocity and diversity of such change. Transformation is all around us – even in the dusty old data centers filled with ancient legacy monoliths.

Furthermore, there is no black and white distinction between the two modes of IT, simply because the business doesn’t require two distinct modes.
Instead, when the business faces disruptive business agility drivers, those drivers lead both to the self-organizing, cross-organizational teams that characterize the agile/innovative mode-2 as well as the transformation of traditional IT – but in a step-by-step, business-driven fashion.

Fundamentally, Bimodal IT recommends maintaining your organizational silos, which is contrary to the entire notion of business transformation.

I highly suggest you to read the whole blog post http://de.sys-con.com/node/3208685, Jason explained very well the major issues with Bimodal IT and gives great advice at the end 😉

Stop listening to Gartner

In our experience at Zühlke a “Bimodal IT” is something that most large corporations have already in place. We have clients in the telecom, financial and medical industry where we observe a Bimodal IT that is caused by old legacy systems that do not match present business needs. That’s why IT had to add agile to at least somehow fulfill those needs. Companies started new agile teams that work on new stuff that excites customers. And they have other teams that keep the business running and work in long winded legacy applications with 3-month-release-cycles. The culture differences that you create within these 2 ways of working is only 1 aspect of the problem.
The biggest problem is though that:
Being bimodal is not the goal.
Being agile is not the goal either.

Tweetable quote: “Being bimodal is not the goal. Being agile is not the goal either. What is the goal of your business?” 

A little refresher… What is agile?

Look further!
Concentrate on the questions below and decide whether or when to change the legacy systems.

  • How can you delight your customers with new products and better service?
  • How can you continuously improve your business with little steps?
  • How can you optimize the whole value chain?
  • How can you ensure that the business drives the change and not the IT or marketing department?

These are questions worth exploring.

If you thought:

“Ahh relieved, BiModal IT is great. I don’t have to change anything.” #quote #bimodalIT #doingIt #wrong

consider your competitor who might not think this way! You are on a good start with bimodal IT but the journey just started. Keep improving.

We at Zühlke have people waiting to help you.
For more information check out our Digital Transformation section.

In the next post we will look at some remedies. Stay tuned.


Stephan Janisch, Frank Beeh, Arnaud LHote criticized, tore apart and provided great feedback.

Comments (2)



5 November 2015 at 12:52

Further on http://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/why-digital-business-needs-bimodal-it/ it says:
>> Avoid the Timid Middle
>> IT organizations should start with “island” projects that protect Mode 1 from Mode 2, and note that
>> Mode 2 still requires a rigorous, disciplined approach.

So Mode 1 (aka an Agile approach) cannot be rigorous and disciplined.
Maybe we (as engineers) need to proof that an Agile approach can be disciplined…


Harald Schnagl

5 June 2016 at 15:26

Jez Humble has written recently about the same thinking behind bimodal IT.

>> But leaders wishing to create a significant, lasting impact on IT performance should look to move beyond the Bimodal paradigm in the space of months rather than years.
>> The most important enabler here is a sense of urgency at all levels of the company that significant change is absolutely necessary. Given this sense of urgency, a clear set of goals, and a culture of collaboration and problem-solving throughout the organization, anything is possible.


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