In short, no single person can be Bimodal. In contrast, many other entities can. Despite the hype and the mystery around the concept, Bimodal IT is actually something simple which actually gives you many tools for a better governance model.
CIO’s, IT departments and business leaders are all thrilled about the term and now every reputable organisation wants to master the one of the most popular hype words used by the Gartner. So what does it mean?
Gartner did not actually invent the concept of Bimodal. It was invented by Béla Bartók, one of the most important composers at 20th century. For him, the Bimodal meant simultaneous use of two distinct pitch collections, which do not need to be in traditional scales. So basically playing music in two different ways at the same time.
I do not know when the Gartner did adopt the term for Bimodal IT, but I guess it was around 2014. It started as a hype word, but it was quickly adopted to larger enterprises and by the most agile CIO’s as their favoured way of handling the new more quick-paced productivity requirements.
Gartner has a nice glossary, which states the explanation for the term like this:
Mode 1 is optimized for areas that are more predictable and well-understood. It focuses on exploiting what is known, while renovating the legacy environment into a state that is fit for a digital world. Mode 2 is exploratory, experimenting to solve new problems and optimized for areas of uncertainty. These initiatives often begin with a hypothesis that is tested and adapted during a process involving short iterations, potentially adopting a minimum viable product (MVP) approach. Both modes are essential to create substantial value and drive significant organizational change, and neither is static. Marrying a more predictable evolution of products and technologies (Mode 1) with the new and innovative (Mode 2) is the essence of an enterprise bimodal capability. Both play an essential role in the digital transformation.
To me, this is just a part of the explanation. When I saw the presentation of the Bimodal IT at the first time, I thought that very agile organisation could actually just be fully on Mode 2 and the whole model is nonsence. Very soon I realised, that even the most agile startup would still require some more stable systems or services for the basic parts of the business. Why would you need to have very agile Mode 2 management on your email services, since you just basically want it to work? Using Mode 1 makes sense on more stabile, traditional or legacy parts of the information management. They do not need to be complex, just more stable.
When the use for Public Cloud started to come common in business applications, it came apparent that the new way of working with new services and platforms required a new approach for the governance and processes. Cloud architects adjust the enterprise architecture much faster than in the traditional infrastructure model. Business development is faster and whole business processes change in very fast pace. Managing all this cannot be done in traditional way, waterfall organisations react too slowly and old project models fail to their own complexity. Mode 2 is needed and this really is the sweet-spot for it. Services, professionals around them and the management model are all Mode 2.
There is one additional aspect of Bimodal IT. The most important part of all business and management is the people. The people are also Bimodal. So you cannot personally be Bimodal, but you are either one, Mode 1 or Mode 2. If you think about the Gartner’s explanation, it states the characteristics of the modes as predictable, improving, renovating, exploratory and experimenting. These definitions suite to humans as well as IT. When listening to our employees feedback and wishes for the IT, there were clear split between two major groups how the people wanted to work and to use the tools in their preferred way. It is also very dependent of the individual role and the daily tasks. You should not point out who is Mode 1 or Mode 2, since it would not be correct, but you should be able to offer a Bimodal options for daily work and let everyone pick the ones they prefer.
As a summary, Bimodal IT is important and every organisation needs it. Everything can be split to Bimodal, but only governance models can handle both at the same time. The more future proof you want to be – in any aspect, the more Mode 2 you need to have.