Bimodal IT and Agile – Fraud or opportunity?

Gartner has provided us with the Bimodal IT model, which gives us the opportunity to choose between waterfall and Agile. First, let us take a look at a brief definition.

Gartners Bimodal IT model

Software product development efforts or IT-related projects are classified into two modes. In short, if you’re risk-averse and want reliable software and predictable projects, you should stick with traditional IT and be placed into Mode 1. Mode 2, on the other hand, is for you who adhere to the new-style Agile and other buzzword laden IT. Mode 1 keeps the lights on, while Mode 2 goes off and does all the new, fun and innovative stuff. So what’s the problem with that?

Agile criticism

First of all, we might ask ourselves whether it actually exists any ”predictable” and ”reliable” projects anymore? I guess you could say that some projects are more predictable and reliable than others? Anyway, what the model actually says is that agility stands against reliability. But wait, who said Agile isn’t reliable? And is really waterfall that reliable and predictable? Actually it has proven to be the other way around. Quality is built in from the beginning within an Agile process, and maintained through continous delivery. While within waterfall processes quality often is sacrificed until the end of the project, when it in most cases is too late.

”Never compromise quality” is for example a principle of DSDM / AgilePM. And quality is also addressed among the Agile Manifesto principles:

Agile Manifesto principle #9
“Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.”

Next thing that seems peculiar from an Agile point of view is the ”thinking” metaphor of Sprinter vs. Marathon Runner. Actually the Sprinter metaphor has no relevance withing Agile. The name ”Sprint” of a timeboxed development iteration in the Scrum framework might confuse us here. Agile requires long-term thinking and promotes sustainability, in fact rather the Marathon Runner. Are the two modes rather all about moving fast or slow? But who wants to constantly move in a slow pace? Regardless of mode, shouldn’t we rather move forward in a constant sustainable pace?

Who’s moving within a sustainable pace?

Once again, lets refer to the original definition of Agile:

Agile Manifesto principle #8
“Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.”

Based upon this reasoning you might question whether Gartner has understood what Agile really is about. Actually Mode 2 smells a lot like what once was called Rapid Application Development (RAD). Solutions to these kind of problems were what for instance DSDM aimed to solve in the mid 90’s. Also as pointed out, one of the founding principles behind the Agile Manifesto. And frankly speaking, the Agile community Bimodal IT criticism had no long time coming. Regardless of Gartner’s misconception of Agile, you might ask yourself whether Mode 1 and traditional projects present the right solution where additional rigour may be needed?

Jason Bloomberg, the man behind the book Agile Architecture Revolution, and also a frequent columnist at Forbes, goes even further in his criticism. He calls Gartner’s Bimodal IT a recipe for disaster. Based on the fact that large enterprises have a lot of their challenges within legacy modernization, the Mode 2 modernization efforts might never take off without support from the slow-paced Mode 1 legacy maintenance team.

On the other hand, his fellow Forbes columnist Kurt Marko believes the Bimodal model is a bit misunderstood as well, and only considered harmful when oversimplified. The dichotomy of old and new, development and maintenance, and sustaining vs disruptive technologies, has been around since the dawn of IT, he says.

Agile no matter what!

In the end it might boil down to sustaining versus disruptive technologies, and not really a battle between Agile and waterfall. There is a new disruptive market where demands for speed and adaptability are high. Which of course isn’t the case for all organisations. For instance, the Lean and Kanban communities do in a way criticize Agile coaches in driving organisational change and Agile transformations to hard. Statements like ”start where you are”, respect for people, continous improvement, and standardization are words of honor within Lean that fits better with the sustainability mode.

Predictability doesn’t really exists, but some businesses might perhaps be more predictable than others? And innovation and exploration activities also takes place in more traditional organisations. The fact is, both BAU and innovation activities exists within any organisation. Within the same organisation, or even within the same program or project, you might need to execute within those two modes. But you can’t really do BAU and innovation apart from each other. You have to innovate, improve and maintain your solutions continously. The good thing is, there’s no reason for NOT being Agile regardless of what mode you’re in at the moment.