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INSIGHT: Why Bimodal IT projects require new Project Management styles

INSIGHT: Why Bimodal IT projects require new Project Management styles

Organisations struggling with bimodal IT projects should adopt a more outcome-centred approach to project management.

Organisations struggling with bimodal IT projects should adopt a more outcome-centred approach to project management, according to Gartner.

This will help them manage the different requirements of "slow" (Mode 1) and "fast" (Mode 2) IT most effectively.

“Enterprise project management organisation (PMO) and application management leaders are struggling to adapt governance processes to handle new, agile Mode 2 efforts that don't conform to traditional project management structures," says Donna Fitzgerald, research vice president, Gartner.

“A focus on business outcome and value will bridge the gap between Mode 1 and Mode 2 projects.”

Gartner has identified three best practices to enable PMOs to better manage any type of IT project or program within the portfolio:

Use a simple approach to determine which Mode makes sense for a project

Fitzgerald says determining what Mode to use on a project often has more to do with company culture than anything else.

“While Mode 2 can theoretically be applied to any new project, Gartner recommends a simple construct: consider Mode 1 for systems of record and Mode 2 for systems of differentiation and systems of innovation,” she adds.

A system of record is a core system that an organisation uses to run its business, such as finance applications or email provision.

While a system of record is vital to the operations of the company, it provides no competitive advantage. Systems of record are classically Mode 1.

These projects tend to be more knowable both in clear outcomes and clear approaches to achieving these outcomes, which ultimately amounts to doing the process as well as any competitor.

Once this is achieved, Fitzgerald says there is little incentive to improve further or change the process unless conditions or regulations change.

Systems of differentiation are generally Mode 2 projects, because their value resides in providing capabilities that competitors don't have. Since the nature of competition is that competitors will copy successful innovations, these capabilities need to constantly improve.

The project will likely have a long-term goal that is achieved through several iterative steps that build on one another as success is demonstrated. The exploratory nature of Mode 2 projects is important to their long-term success.

A system of innovation is essentially an experiment. It needs a Mode 2 approach because it is a brand-new idea and there is no established way to plan the details of what will be done.

Define the intended business outcome as the measure of project success

Part of the problem with determining how to measure the value of a Mode 2 project lies in the way we currently measure Mode 1 projects.

With a typical Mode 1 project, for example, the sales organisation might submit a request and a business case for implementing a customer relationship management system, with a stated benefit of ultimately delivering increased revenue.

If the business case were approved, IT would work with the sales team to establish exactly what aspects of the vendor-provided system offered the core critical capabilities, to ensure the system was configured correctly.

Mode 2 projects, however, are explorative and may not have an obvious list of capabilities by which to define their success from the outset.

Instead, Gartner recommends identifying a specific business outcome, such as, "Improve lead conversion by X percent based on better segmentation of marketing campaigns," and agreeing on this while building the business case — all before the project starts.

Read more: Spark Ventures adopts ‘cloud first’ to IT service management

"This scenario works well across both Modes of projects because the outcome defines the scope, and fulfillment of the scope determines completion, rather than just depending on completing a list of requirements," Fitzgerald adds.

Clearly separate portfolio and project governance for easier bimodal governance

The final area where many PMOs struggle is how to ensure that they maintain a consistent approach toward governing the project once it has begun.

“Place responsibility for the project with the people who can practically make things happen," Fitzgerald adds.

“Place responsibility for the investment portfolio with the people who have the authority to make decisions across the entire portfolio.

“Regardless of the Mode, the PMO supports governance through reporting on progress toward successful delivery.

“This criterion remains the same whether the project is replacing a core financial system of record, or building a mobile app that enables consumers to purchase goods from the company. It ensures a consistent approach across Mode 1 and Mode 2 projects.”

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