Bees Know Best: Creating a Bimodal IT Organization
Bees Know Best: Creating a Bimodal IT Organization by Marshall Worster
As a technical delivery consultant, I spend most of my time on the road, helping customers drive digital innovation through the Mendix platform. But innovation doesn’t happen without some hard work and some slight adjustments to how you work. And that brings me to the point of my post today: When it comes to setting your team up for success, you need to look outside of your traditional development strategy and think about a new approach for software delivery.
The easiest way for me to describe the current situation in most IT organizations is through this analogy: your IT team is full of busy bees. They’re trying to keep the lights on and maintain existing systems to keep the business running smoothly. But that doesn’t offer much in the way of tackling new projects and applications in a way that gets the business excited. Just like in maintaining a beehive, your team should be divided up into roles that both maintain their environment and innovate for the future.
To understand the connection between honey bees and IT teams, I need to back up and describe the honey bee environment. There are three roles within a beehive, and each role is absolutely essential for survival of the colony.
- First, we all know about the queen bee, the “heart and soul” of the hive. She’s busy laying up to 2,000 eggs per day.
- Second, we have worker bees. They clean the hive, gather nectar, and build honeycombs.
- And third, we have drones, the smaller part of the population. The drones go out of the hive looking for new queens aka “honeys” ;-P. These drones ensure future growth and survival for the hive.
And while this breakdown of the honey bee ecosystem may interest you, you’re probably wondering when I’ll get to my point, right? Here I go: we can all learn a lot from nature. Bees have figured it out – they know how to maintain their hive AND how to continuously adapt and innovate for future survival.
An IT team should work in a similar fashion. Take a look at your team. Is everyone focused on maintaining existing systems? Where are “the drones” within your group? These are the innovators who have time to go out looking for new projects and ideas that will grow your company and execute on delivering said projects. Without those crucial team members pushing the business continuously forward, your company becomes a survival risk; just like your company would not survive without a team that maintains existing systems and looks for ways to create greater efficiencies within those systems. By separating IT organizations into modes of maintenance and innovation, teams can ensure that they have the right people, process, and platforms to support business initiatives without impacting long-term maintenance projects.
In similar fashion to the success of beehive colonies, I’ve found that companies who hire or give opportunities to specific people to concentrate on innovation and development with our platform have the most success over organizations that choose to enforce a balance between maintenance and innovation. If your team is busy with maintenance projects, innovation tends to be put on the backburner, which doesn’t help the business move forward. Innovation sometimes doesn’t seem necessary or important in the moment, but companies that make it a priority are the ones making headlines.
Take a look at LV=; they understand the importance of innovation and have won multiple awards for their efforts, including the Celent Model Insurer Award and multiple FStech awards. LV= created a unique team within their IT organization to fast track innovation projects and to test new ideas. This team embodies the “drone bees” and their forward-looking perspectives. They represent a relatively small group within the organization, but they’re able to test new ideas in a low risk way while the rest of the IT organization is busy keeping the “hive” running. And with this bimodal structure, LV= is able to drive significant impact across their organization, ensuring future survival for the whole group.