Leveraging the Business Within Bimodal Initiatives

on March 27, 2017

Part 1: The Role of The Business in Mode 2 App Development

When thinking of application development projects, what issues typically spring to mind? At the leadership level, we often think about how to do more with less—how to create more solutions, more quickly, with the resources and budgets that we have.

For those with technical backgrounds, we may focus on ensuring that the apps that we build—and the platforms that they run on—are scalable and robust, and that they leverage the technologies that are right for our organizations. And if we’re forward-thinking, we worry about the user experience—not just ensuring that the required app functionality is there, but that our apps are efficient and useful in the hands of our users.

But how often do you hear somebody talk about collaboration in the context of application development? Sure, there may be a focus on team development and its implications. But that’s within the development team itself. How often do we think about the role that collaboration between business users, stakeholders and developers plays in the process? I’d argue, not nearly enough. Ensuring the ongoing engagement and involvement of the business throughout the entire app lifecycle is fundamentally necessary to ensuring that solutions deliver their intended business value—especially for organizations that embark on a bimodal strategy.

There’s a common misperception that the goal of bimodal is to build apps more quickly, or that Mode 2 is strictly about failing fast. In other words, that Mode 2 is only for experimentation and possibly POCs. Neither is true. Businesses adopt bimodal strategies to make the business more agile. They do so to innovate. While this does involve doing things quickly and experimenting, the full value of bimodal is only delivered when an innovative solution is in production and driving the intended business outcome.

Bimodal means supporting two forms of operations simultaneously: In addition to the Mode 1 of operation, where both the rate and business impact of change are low, a new Mode 2 capability is established to support innovation. In Mode 2, initiatives begin in an exploratory and experimental fashion, where the end product cannot be fully understood or specified. The business objective may be clear, but the means for delivering it won’t be. Detailed requirements and design of the solution only emerge as ideas are iterated upon and incremental versions of the app are shared with business users. Mode 2 projects must therefore address uncertainty.

In the words of Gartner, “Mode 1 key risks relate to schedule and cost against a defined requirement or service level. For Mode 2, the key risk is delivering the wrong thing or an underperforming solution .”[1]  Therefore, the key differentiation between Mode 2 and Mode 1 isn’t just about moving fast—it’s about establishing a governance model that addresses the inherent uncertainties so that the desired business value can indeed be delivered.

In Mode 2, the process of designing and developing apps is literally the mechanism through which the details of high-level business ideas behind the initiative are exposed and refined. The selected project management approach is therefore central to the Mode 2 governance model and ensuring that the organization iterates toward its goal without going off the rails.

Fortunately, established agile development practices provide a great foundation for the inherently iterative nature of Mode 2 projects. Agile is based on the concept of user stories as an element of work. The product owner will help elaborate the items and prioritize this backlog of features to create a minimum viable product (MVP) that can be put in the hands of users. As incremental releases are delivered and feedback is obtained, the items may be added and reprioritized based on an evolving understanding of application needs.

In the case of Mode 2 projects, the feedback loop available within agile development is particularly critical to iterating toward a successful outcome. It must be front and center. The knowledge and judgement of business experts and feedback of business users must be infused throughout each iteration for the project to converge on the proper result. What’s working and what isn’t must be continually validated with the business during implementation and operation.

The business must weigh in on the ongoing prioritization of project priorities. To make informed decisions, business users need to always be aware of features currently under development and of the knowledge gained as features are used in production. What this points to is an agile, iterative approach to solution delivery, with ongoing business-IT collaboration throughout the entire journey: from initial exploration, to prototypes, to pilots, and to large-scale production deployments. Because, after all, what starts as an idea in a lab needs to be deployed at scale to provide business benefit. In our next installment we will talk about how this collaboration can be accomplished.

[1] “Dispel the Myths of Bimodal to Succeed with Digital Transformation” – Simon Mingay & Mary Mesaglio, Gartner, 12 July 2016