Agile and Waterfall: Dispelling the Myths about Bimodal IT

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In today's world of digital transformation and the Internet of Things, among other advances in technology and logistics, business agility is not just an advantage, it's a necessity.

Several years ago, Garter introduced the Bimodal IT framework to address this. The idea was to allow for two modes of operations: one for areas that are more understood, and another for areas that require rapid iterations of discovery. 

Misinterpretations also ran rampant, leading to debates, especially among the Agile community, who felt Agile was being misunderstood to be about sacrificing quality and stability for speed.

This 2016 article from Gartner, Busting Bimodal Myths, served to clarify many of the key misconceptions, though to this day, people are misinterpreting the intent. 

From the article, it's clear that Bimodal is:

NOT the slow lane vs. fast lane. 

NOT the quality lane vs. speed lane.  

NOT the planning lane vs. wing-it lane. 

NOT the stability lane vs. innovation lane. 

NOT the sustaining lane vs. the development lane. 

NOT the old lane vs. the new lane.

Nor is it necessarily about Agile vs. Waterfall. 

Both modes can have quality and speed. Both involve planning and accuracy. Both can be stable and innovative. Both can be used for development or change. And both are very much relevant today.

In a nutshell, Bimodal IT is about increasing enterprise agility, enabling a variety of tools in meeting two kinds of needs: initiatives that benefit from heavier up-front planning and phased approval gates, and those that benefit from rapid iterations of product. Agile approaches can be applied to either, but a Waterfall approach is not conducive to the latter.

The principles of Agile lend themselves to rapid iterations with the customer, where change is expected. The principles of Waterfall lend themselves to longer efforts that must be well defined, and where change is to be avoided unless carefully vetted. Waterfall does tend to move slower by design.

So yes, this is where the general interpretation comes in that Mode 1 is for Waterfall and Mode 2 is for Agile, and it isn't entirely wrong. Like any framework, there needs to be flexibility and common sense in using the right tool for the right job.

Stay tuned for an upcoming article on resource planning in a bimodal world.


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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn