A few years ago, Gartner invented the bi-modal IT paradigm, suggesting that technologists need to approach the management of technology differently. They postulated two separate and simultaneous tracks: Type 1 being traditional, focused on reliability and security, maintaining the existing infrastructure; and Type 2 emphasizing speed and agility. Now, in fairness, there are a lot of naysayers who believe IT has always had multiple modes and may not be limited to just two tracks. But, setting that aside for now, Gartner estimates that by 2017, 75% of global CIOs will have moved to this bi-modal approach.
As the technology footprint becomes commoditized – Type 1 projects and tasks created to “keep the lights on” are likely to be increasingly outsourced, though many may still remain on premise. Technology will also become more integrated with business functions, and this will likely lead to a rise in Type 2 initiatives that are functionally not just the domain of IT, but the jurisdiction of matrixed and cross-functional teams that include members from multiple departments and levels within the enterprise.
Can a Type 2 initiative succeed if only IT has the understanding of working bi-modally? That might be hard if not impossible to do. We have seen similar problems when basic project management methodologies are not understood by all members of a project team. Therefore, bi-modal may not work as just an IT phenomenon. Rather, in order to be successful, the entire organization may need to become bi-modal.
What does this mean?
First, this requires a recognition that there is indeed a difference in the manner in which bi-modal initiatives are executed. IT teams are having to learn this and are beginning to create the models and skills to make both modes work, and now, the entire organization may have to do the same. One model for such a bi-modal roll out may be the PMO (project management office) which was historically first stood up in IT, and then became a key organizational entity.
Second, we will need a common understanding of the best practices around Type 2 projects and initiatives. Currently, this is not well understood, and it needs to be, otherwise success may be elusive. We are well versed in traditional Type 1 methodologies, but are less sure of the nuances of the fast-tracked approach.
So, who creates this bi-modal curriculum and where does this training come from? This is one of the most common questions I hear when discussing this topic with peers. What is apparent is that a new core set of organizational skills and training related to agile endeavors, needs to be developed.
There are different factors in play for fast tracked Type 2 projects. One is the assumption of a higher risk because there may not be enough time for the traditional discovery and vetting process. Hence, Type 2 projects fail more often. This needs to be understood. The mantra here is: “Fail fast” – so that losses can be minimized. This is not the modus-operandi for traditional projects. “Failing fast” is not a recommended methodology in the “Project Management Book of Knowledge” or PMBOK.
Another difference is the dynamic between the team members which may not have a chance to gel and be established like it does for slower paced Type 1 initiatives. Here, communication and collaboration take on a whole new meaning and urgency. Also, Type 2 initiatives are by definition less predictable. The plan is normally very fluid, and traditional precise change management processes loose relevancy. Accountability may also be impacted because delays in one place can have a catastrophic impact on success since there is less time to recover and speed is paramount.
Most organizations are not staffed for the challenges driven by multiple simultaneous Type 2 initiatives. In many cases, resources have to be brought in from outside to meet the deadlines. This is an additional cost and exacerbates team integration issues and requires more familiarity with the management of “spot” and virtual teams – the former being teams assembled on-the-spot.
The “change-elasticity” of Type 2 teams also needs elevation. The ability to pivot quickly and be more agile is a key marker for success here. Agile and iterative methodologies are very useful and need to be embedded as a core skill at the organization level. There is a science to agility.
The velocity of change in organizations is not expected to ease. On the contrary, it is accelerating, meaning that for success, we will need to overcome a different set of vectors. The formal organizational bi-modal approach may be one way to ramp up and expand on the agile skills, processes and methods that may help meet some of these new challenges.