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3 Common Inhibitors to the Bimodal Approach and How to Address Them

3 Common Inhibitors to the Bimodal Approach and How to Address Them by Danielle Goodman

What is the purpose of bimodal?

The reason the bimodal approach exists isn’t to do IT better or to do things faster, it is actually to create a platform to allow IT to support the business and the business’s goals in a much more adaptive, agile way.

What stems from this is finding a new way of doing things within IT. Mode 1 is the traditional, classic way of going about IT, where there are lengthy planning cycles, the organization adopts technologies that they use for decades, and you make minor improvements. Mode 2 is about building a new culture within the IT organization so you can establish teams that can operate in a much more agile, adaptive way in support of actual business problems and needs. It is quite a shift for many organizations, particularly smaller organizations, to get into that mindset.

The key and sustained difference between the two modes is the differentiated styles of work, and the planning and governance applied to situations of greater predictability versus those of greater uncertainty where an exploratory approach is taken.”- Gartner

How to get started with a bimodal approach:

Think of bimodal as building a capability; it’s more than just building apps fast, it’s about accelerating time to value when solving new business problems.

Creating Mode 2 requires the following:

  • Establish an initial Mode 2 owner who embodies the right attitude and leadership skills. Someone who understands enough about software development and process, and has the emotional IQ to be able to support a cultural change within the IT organization and out to the broader organization. Someone who networks well and can speak in terms of value and solving problems very well, but can also get in and actually do the work in helping transform how things are done. Their role is to help lead the first of what could be many small, interdisciplinary teams that operate autonomously, that are charged with going from the initial problem statement to a solution over time.

Bimodel Approach to Development Diagram

  • Create small, fast-moving, multidisciplinary teams – drawing from the business as well – that are self-directed and collectively responsible. These teams have to be multidisciplinary and should be relatively small, particularly when you get started. As you scale out, you may have many of these teams.
  • Begin creating an agile, iterative approach to solution design and development, leveraging Design Thinking and DevOps principles. Mode 2 requires rapid, iterative development with a strong feedback loop and an ability to scale on success. Accumulate feedback as you do rapid releases and sprints so you can become smarter, so your IT organization can become a learning organization with respect to the initiatives that you support.
  • Structure Mode 2 projects to deliver incrementally with clear and measurable business outcomes.

This all sounds really great, and most business and IT leaders like the idea of supporting more agility in their business. But there are some common inhibitors that are stopping organizations from adopting a bimodal approach. A Gartner report shows that while 42 percent of CIOs reported having some forms of agile modes of operations, only 6 percent indicated they have formally implemented bimodal IT.

6% of CIOs have formally implemented bimodal IT.

The 3 Most Common Inhibitors to Bimodal Adoption

  1. “We are too small to have two modes.”
  2. “We don’t have the funding to support two modes.”
  3. “We are too busy in Mode 1. Our emphasis is on improving stability and modernizing existing systems.”

Each of these inhibitors can be overcome with the right mindset, resourcefulness, people and tools.

Tips for Small IT Teams Adopting Bimodal

Bimodal doesn’t have to mean two separate organizations – it can simply mean two ways of working. You can draw from the same group of individuals. Identify existing personnel who have an appetite for new ways of working and exhibit the right attitudes.

Think about leveraging external resources and business partners. This is encouraged, but you need to be careful about how you go about it. If you entirely outsource Mode 2 initiatives, you will most likely not be successful with them because they are probably not going to be adopted within the organization. Plus, you are spending time and money educating other people about what’s different about your business and possibly how to go about approaching projects this way.

When you leverage external resources, it is important to do it in the right ways, like for mentorship. People who have seen it done successfully can help your organization adopt bimodal; however, the core team should be internal.

Tips for Funding Mode 2 Initiatives

Work with the business to create a shared funding model. It should be a shared investment between the business and IT. Getting the business to the table is important. Create a sense of urgency by sharing examples of competitive threats.

A great example in the insurance industry today is Progressive Insurance. Because of Progressive, and how easy it is for consumers to get a quote and actually get an insurance policy (it takes under 15 minutes in most cases and most of it is automated behind the scenes), you will find insurance companies in very different segments feel a strong need to emulate that behavior. And as soon as one does it, everyone else has to do it. Using these anecdotes will help push the organization forward with these initiatives.

Another tip for funding Mode 2 initiatives is to use incremental savings to fund new initiatives. Use savings that you find in places like operational efficiency or reduced IT costs as a way of funding new initiatives. This is a great way to continue to fund Mode 2 initiatives. Think about it as a capability you are building, and not just a one and done.

These savings don’t just apply to new initiatives. Finding a way to funnel those cost savings and new revenue back into the core systems is very important. Use Mode 2 success as a leverage to invest in the renovation of core systems and common service layers.

Tips for Organizations Stuck in Mode 1

IT organizations that focus solely on internal day-to-day operations will miss the window of opportunity to strategically impact the business. Consider Mode 2 projects focused on the customer – improving the customer experience extends across every department.

Showcase prototypes and MVPs that deliver rapid business value and publicize early wins and lessons learned. Demonstrate effective delivery with the efficient use of resources.


The core principles of bimodal are fundamentally necessary to compete in today’s market. The ability to operate in a more iterative and agile way in support of real business problems is fundamentally necessary. If you don’t, you’ll risk your competitors out-innovating you in the market.

The bimodal approach is not just for organizations with large IT staffs and budgets, and it doesn’t require a separate organization for Mode 2. These principles can and should be fully embraced by smaller organizations. It is, in many ways, easier to deal with in a smaller organization if you can figure out how you are going to get started and how you are going to get funded, because the cultural shift is a lot easier to deal with and you don’t have the complexity of dealing with large multi-divisional IT organizations and people who span them.

Remember to start small with Mode 2, drawing from existing resources in IT and the business. Do not over-invest or over-engineer Mode 2. Be prepared to get your Mode 2 initiatives into production and into the hands of your employees and end users, or it will never provide the intended business value.