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It wasn’t merely a casual message. Bimodal was a veritable drumbeat, pounded home over and over again in keynotes, classes, and one-on-one meetings with Gartner analysts. We’re going to be hearing a lot about bimodal development, from Gartner and the industry, because it’s a message that really describes what many of us are encountering today.
What does “bimodal” mean? It’s a phrase that Gartner launched in early 2015 (the AADI conference was in early December) to describe two separate types of IT projects. To quote Gartner’s official definition: “Bimodal IT is the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, one focused on stability and the other on agility. Mode 1 is traditional and sequential, emphasizing safety and accuracy. Mode 2 is exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed.”
Gartner sees that we create and manage two different types of projects – some, Mode 1, being very serious, very methodical, bet-the-business projects that must be done right using formal processes, and others, Mode 2, being more opportunistic, quicker, more agile. That’s not to say that Mode 1 projects can’t be agile, and that Mode 2 projects can’t be big and significant. However, we all know that there’s a big difference between launching an initiative to implement a Black Friday sale on our website or designing a new store-locator mobile app, vs. rolling out a GAAP-compliant accounting system or migrating critical systems to the cloud.
You might argue that there’s nothing new here with bimodal, and if you did, you’d be right. Nobody ever claimed that all IT projects, including software development, are the same, and should be managed the same way. What Gartner has done is provide a vocabulary for understanding, categorizing, and communicating project differences more efficiently – and nailed home the two-mode message in the AADI keynotes and analyst-led sessions.
From Gartner’s perspective, bimodal encompasses the entire range of IT projects, from staffing to data center server configuration, from mobile deployments to implementing cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Let’s focus, though, on what Gartner said about applying the bimodal concept to software development and quality assurance.
In his session, “Living in a Hybrid World: Application Organization Design in a Bimodal World,” Matt Hotle predicted that “by 2017, 75% of IT organizations will have a bimodal capability. Half will make a mess. The main reason will be because they didn’t address organizational and cultural issues.”
Hotle sees trouble in organizations that consider Mode 1 – traditional applications development – to be the default and preferred approach, with Mode 2 seen as “the people who don’t have to follow the rules.” He argued that both development modes must be seen as vital equals, and urges organizations to think about culture. Key, he said, is to discourage thinking that either Mode 1 or Mode 2 projects are more important, more exciting, more prestigious, and so-on. They are both important.
Mike West taught a session called “Seven Lessons From Agile for Bimodal IT.” West follows the common language used by many Gartner folks in describing bimodal strategies like this:
Mode 1 – The Samurai model of software development: Exists in a hierarchy, predictable, ultra-reliable, takes the order and delivers, always follows the rules, somewhat inflexible, and high ceremony
Mode 2 – The Ninja model: Works in small self-managing teams, focused on the outcome, chooses own tools, no fixed rules, adaptive to context, and low ceremony
West noted that Mode 1 projects tend to use traditional (i.e., Waterfall) methodologies, and Mode 2 tend to be more agile (i.e., Extreme Programming, Scrum). However, he insists that agile practices from Mode 2 can enhance Mode 1. For example, he believes in test automation for both Mode 1 and Mode 2 projects: “Involve QA before design and coding, automate testing on new builds,” he said, adding, “combine testing and coding into a single activity with shorter, more frequent delivery cycles, transforming the SDLC.”
Continuous integration is important in all projects of both modalities, West believes: “Implement scripting solutions to create a tool chain that ensures consistent, efficient deployment.”
Tom Murphy (a good friend and former colleague; we worked together in the early 1990s) taught a session, “Bimodal QA/Test Automation Success.” Murphy said the value of QA and testing is generally misunderstood across the board, because people focus on cost of quality, rather than value of quality and the cost of poor quality – and this is an issue when assessing the two types of projects. “Bimodal IT means you will have two different approaches to software testing — this means tools, organization and metrics,” he said.
In the big Mode 1 projects, Murphy said requirements are known and are often formally documented, and so testing should be to validate that the software meets those requirements, with an emphasis on testing business processes, data and functionality.
By contrast, Murphy said that in Mode 2 projects, requirements are fuzzier, more empirical, and often are designed to test hypothesis, like “what happens to checkouts if we do this thing to the shopping cart?” Development work on Mode 2 projects is often geared to validate those hypotheses, which might mean only small changes to the code base in an iteration. In Mode 2, Murphy urges continuous quality engineering, and DevOps-style automation of everything to facilitate rapid iteration.
Again, there’s nothing groundbreaking in the concept, but in giving us the terminology, and in focusing on bimodal development at AADI, Gartner has offered some valuable insights. Expect to see more about bimodal development across the software tools industry in 2016.
Alan Zeichick is principal analyst at Camden Associates; previously, Alan was Editor-in-Chief of BZ Media’s SD Times. Follow him @zeichick.