RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Four Misconceptions about Bimodal IT Project Management

Bimodal is all about getting the two modes of delivery -- such as waterfall and agile -- to coexist. We expose the truth about bimodal IT.

In today's project management news, you're hard-pressed to find an outlet that isn't talking about "bimodal IT" (bimodal IT being the practice of managing two, separate modes of IT delivery within the same organization -- one focused on stability, the other on agility).

For a concept that is so natural for the evolution of project management -- particularly in terms of where technology is going -- there's a lot of controversy about how to implement bimodal, what a bimodal framework would even look like, and if it's worth it at all. Here's what I can't figure out: Why is this even a debate?

According to the recent report by Accenture Strategy, "Increasing agility to fuel growth and competiveness," more than 75 percent of respondents are focused on "cost reduction to free up funds to invest in growth initiatives," with more than 54 percent citing digital transformation as the means to the end (Schulmann and Timmermans, 2016). As the world of business undergoes digital transformations to stay relevant and competitive, an agile approach is called upon for faster results. In this arena, traditional methods (such as waterfall) won't cut it. They weren't designed to -- and that's fine.

Bimodal isn't the nail in the coffin for traditional execution methods. It's about getting the two modes of delivery -- for example, waterfall and agile -- to coexist. That way, a project management office (PMO) can pursue varying kinds of initiatives -- picking the execution model that best fits the nature of the project instead of trying to fit all projects into a traditional framework.

To that end, there are four misconceptions about bimodal IT that I'd like to debunk.

Misconception #1: Multiple delivery methods can't exist in the same portfolio

Of course they can. That's what bimodal is. Today's project portfolios can support multiple methodologies if integrated with the right systems and technology. For example, although a traditional project portfolio management (PPM) tool may lend itself to waterfall, rich integration with an agile tool can support a bimodal PMO and provide simultaneous, real-time visibility into both systems. Projects within the same portfolio can be executed differently without sacrificing portfolio data or having to manage information through disconnected systems. Instead, integration can provide a real-time view of initiatives -- regardless of the execution method.

Consider this scenario: A work package for a storage solution will likely have a hardware, firmware, and software component. The hardware lends its development to waterfall -- particularly to control the supply chain -- but the firmware and software can be delivered more efficiently with agile in iterative stages. Through integration, the progress of all three can be viewed and monitored through a centralized dashboard in the PPM system.

Misconception #2: Agile projects don't provide enough executive input and visibility

Agile processes are centered around agile teams making quick, fast decisions relative to change. That does not mean executive input isn't needed or even required at times, and it isn't suggesting that visibility or reporting be compromised.

However, there are differences between agile and traditional reporting. One struggle that bimodal, or even just agile, teams may be facing is how to provide this information to executives. There's a learning curve, and rightfully so. Executives are accustomed to receiving reports in formats that align with waterfall methodologies -- or anything other than agile; for example, requiring agile teams to submit time and task metrics or "percent complete" falls out of step with the very nature of how agile teams are run.

Instead, when a PMO makes the decision to go bimodal, standardizing reporting metrics across both modes is a must. That way -- regardless of the delivery model -- visibility is available through dashboards and reports without getting teams to provide metrics that are irrelevant to their process.

Misconception #3: Agile projects don't have reliable "scheduled finish dates"

Agile is used to run quick-and-dirty, exploratory initiatives that support digital transformation, new technologies, and innovation. Using just-in-time estimations for each iteration, agile teams focus on delivering business value incrementally, so naturally for every agile project there's a "cone of uncertainty." Though the outcome is less certain than that of a legacy system update managed by waterfall, it is possible for an agile project to forecast a planned finish date and, for longer-range estimates, provide road map planning.

Misconception #4: Agile and traditional practices aren't compatible

Combining multiple methodologies to create a powerful portfolio management framework is possible, but it circles back to integration. When it comes to solution capabilities, agile is in its infancy. Agile does provide the basis for a swift and collaborative delivery, but it lacks governance around project intake, resource management, and initiation processes. This is where traditional portfolio management systems are the greatest asset -- in their ability to provide a standardized framework that supports (not hinders) the agile process. A capable bimodal framework and an experienced project manager can add practices from traditional methodologies without disrupting the culture and work practices of an agile team. In fact, that's bimodal.

The Truth

The agile movement is in full swing, but having the right tools for the right job with transparency is critical. That's why bimodal is so important for PMOs. With two coherent modes of IT delivery, PMOs can drive traditional, legacy-system initiatives that "keep the lights on" and pursue more cost-efficient, experimental initiatives that target larger, more innovative growth opportunities.

Bimodal IT is not about choosing between the two -- traditional and agile -- it's about combining them to your advantage, remaining competitive, and continuing down the road of digital transformation -- reducing cost and increasing gain. The truth is, if you're a naysayer -- whether it's about the advent of agile, the demise of waterfall, bimodal as a whole, or all of the above -- then you're in the wrong industry.

References

1. Schulmann, D., & Timmermans, K. (2016). "Increase agility to fuel growth and competitiveness." Retrieved from AccentureStrategy: https://www.accenture.com/t20160114T032721__w__/us-en/_acnmedia/PDF-4/Accenture-Strategy-Increasing-Agility-to-Fuel-Growth-and-Competitiveness-Research-v2.pdf

About the Author

Alan Shefveland is director of product management – strategy and innovation at Changepoint. He has more than 37 years of experience facilitating business and technology transformation for companies. For more than 25 years, Alan has demonstrated leadership with project, portfolio, and value management process implementations that span a wide variety of industry verticals, including finance, high-tech, light manufacturing, telecommunications, and utilities.


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