Sunday, October 04, 2015

If you really want bimodal then you'll need to give something up.

Back in 1993, Robert Cringely wrote the excellent book Accidental Empires (I have the 1996 reprint) which talked about the three different type of companies using the metaphors of commando, infantry and police.

During 2004-2006, having discovered a process of technology evolution and a mechanism of understanding the competitive landscape (known as Wardley mapping), I implemented the equivalent three party structure (known as pioneers, settlers and town planners) to mimic evolution within a single company. A description of this three party system can be found here and the importance of the middle for sustainable and competitive advantage. Over the last decade, I've written numerous articles and gave lots of presentations around the world on the three party structure and the importance of the middle.

In 2014, I came across bimodal / dual operating system and twin speed IT. I can't tell you how much this caused me to howl with laughter. I'm no fan of these concepts. I view them as old ideas, poorly thought through and dressed up as new. I've seen two party systems in the past that have degenerated into 'them' vs 'us' and with no consideration of how things evolve they are not sustainable. There is no effective process for how the new (i.e. tomorrow's industrialised components) become industrialised. The idea that somehow the two groups will work together in a 'dance' is fanciful. Brawl would be more like it. Pioneers and Town Planners are polar opposites, they don't get on well.

I'm quite convinced that those undergoing re-organisation into bimodal will be facing a future re-organisation into a more three party or spectrum based structure in the near future. Certainly that means oodles of cash for consultants advising on these multiple re-organisations and be honest, I don't care if it's private companies that I'm not involved with. My concern is this spills over into Government Departments.

There is however a way of creating a workable bimodal structure but it means you need to give something up. To remind readers, the three parts for which you need brilliant people are :-

Pioneers. Pioneers are brilliant people. They are able to explore never before discovered concepts, the uncharted land. They show you wonder but they fail a lot. Half the time the thing doesn't work properly. You wouldn't trust what they build. They create 'crazy' ideas. Their type of innovation is what we call core research. They make future success possible. Most of the time we look at them and go "what?", "I don't understand?" and "is that magic?". In the past, we often burnt them at the stake. They built the first ever electric source (the Parthian Battery, 400AD) and the first ever digital computer (Z3, 1943).

Settlers. Settlers are brilliant people. They can turn the half baked thing into something useful for a larger audience. They build trust. They build understanding. They learn and refine the concept. They make the possible future actually happen. They turn the prototype into a product, make it manufacturable, listen to customers and turn it profitable. Their innovation is what we tend to think of as applied research and differentiation. They built the first ever computer products (e.g. IBM 650 and onwards), the first generators (Hippolyte Pixii, Siemens Generators).

Town Planners. Town Planners are brilliant people. They are able to take something and industrialise it taking advantage of economies of scale. They build the platforms of the future and this requires immense skill. You trust what they build. They find ways to make things faster, better, smaller, more efficient, more economic and good enough. They build the services that pioneers build upon. Their type of innovation is industrial research. They take something that exists and turn it into a commodity or a utility (e.g. with Electricity, then Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse). They are the industrial giants we depend upon.

The process of evolution (see figure 1) causes a change of characteristics which is why you need multiple attitudes and why one size fits all methods don't work (i.e. why agile, lean and six sigma should die and be replaced by agile plus lean plus six sigma). 

Figure 1 - Evolution

If you want to create a bimodal / dual operating system structure out of this then you really have to give up on one part. For example :-

You could focus on Settlers and Town Planners alone i.e. your company could all be about product development and industrialisation. Simply drop the pioneering research function. The best way to do this is with the press release process i.e. force the writing of press release before any project starts because no-one can write a press release for something unexplored. Don't attempt to do any pioneering stuff and instead use ecosystems models such as ILC or some equivalent to do future sensing

You could focus on Pioneers and Settlers alone i.e. your company could develop novel concepts and then create products out of this. Simply drop the town planning function and outsource all industrialised components (including dropping your own products) where appropriate.

You could decide to focus on just one aspect i.e. be Pioneers (develop novel concepts), be Settlers (create great products) or be Town Planners (create highly industrialised commodity and utility services).

However ... 

1) DON'T try and break into Pioneers and Town Planners. These two groups are far apart. You'll create a them vs us culture. None of the novel concepts will ever be industrialised because the Pioneers won't develop them enough and the Town Planners will refuse to accept them for being underdeveloped. Both groups feel they are the most important and both ridicules the other.

2) DON'T bury your Settlers into one of these groups. They won't feel welcome, they will be in conflict with the group becoming second class citizens. Put them in the Pioneer group and they'll be denigrated to documenting the "glorious" inventions of others and fighting a losing battle over user needs. Stick them with Town Planners and they'll be seen as 'lightweights', the people whose job it is to deal with those annoying Pioneers and document what they've done etc.

Either drop one aspect (i.e. Pioneers or Town Planners), or focus solely on one aspect (i.e. Pioneer, Settler or Town Planner) or focus on ALL three. This means the Settlers (the missing middle) need to be recognised.

Create one mode to focus on "core system maintenance, stability, efficiency, traditional & slow moving development cycles" and another mode to focus on "innovation & differentiation with high degree of business involvement, fast turnaround & frequent update" ... wellPioneers and Town Planners don't mix and creating two camps focused on this won't make for a happy environment.

Oh, but isn't Bimodal / Dual better than Unimodal / Single? No, I'm far from convinced that this is the case. In the past many ignored evolution and squashed all three attitudes, cultures and type of people into one group called IT, Finance, Marketing or whatever (yes, evolution impacts everything we do). Those groups would tend to yo-yo in methods between the extremes hence in IT we had Agile vs Six Sigma (ITIL etc) battles. But every now and then the 'middle' would get its chance. Today you're seeing this with Lean, with focus on user needs etc.

If you organise by the extremes e.g. pioneers and town planners or mode 1 and mode 2 or whatever you wish to call it then you're burying the middle. This is not good. This middle group are not mode 1 or mode 2 but they have a vital role to play. They deal with the transition between the extremes. However in a dual structure then you've given the other attitudes a flag to rally around, you've formalised a structure to support this and left the settlers singing in the wind. You've gone from ignoring them (which you did to all attitudes under one group) to actively discouraging them and sending a message that only pioneers and town planners matter.

Well, you've been warned, tread this path carefully. This will be my last post on this subject (I hope) given it's such old hat but I'll come back in a decade and we shall see what has happened to these dual structures.

P.S. The mapping technique, the characteristics, the use of multiple methods, the pioneer / settler / town planner structure and a host of other stuff you'll find in this blog is all ... creative commons share alike. You can do this yourself. You don't need external consultants, license fees etc.