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Working Bi-Modally for Teams, and What Does it Really Mean?

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Understanding and implementing business theories and practices can have significant impact on our efficiency and production, regardless of your industry. At Coras, we focus on Agile for its flexibility and transparency for data and speed. In James Smith's recent article on the validity of timelines, Is Timeline Sill Important in Agile? he discusses how business in the real world requires adapting methodologies to fit your organization's needs so that it yields actual results. Focusing on how you can align your team and project with the greatest amount of efficiency and production is key. Consider applying a Bi-Modal approach. 

What does Bi-Modal mean to the average working person, and more importantly, why should they care? Gartner’s IT Glossary defines Bimodal as a way of working in two separate styles. There are endless iterations as to how people and groups of people work. The traditional project management style (mode 1) focuses on predictability and set agendas and outcomes. But because this linear style of organization doesn’t allow for change, its rigidity explains why so many projects are not brought to close using this “waterfall” style. “Agile” is the second mode that centers around taking a journey approach to your project or assignment. Teams break down work into small, manageable segments; they focus on their customer, and frequently assess progress, and adapt or change the work in response.

Traditional project management and agile started within the IT community, with engineers developing the complex and intuitive computer programs that we all use today to do our jobs. Combining these processes have real-life applications that are simple and can bring value and results to any team. Examining a project’s course of action and trajectory means you are responding to status and determining whether your goal can be reached. It also demands you establish a set of objectives, timelines and finished product. However, project failure rate is alarmingly high, and there are stunning statistics to back it up. According to 4PM.com, “Project success = produce planned deliverables, within budget and on time (including approved changes).” Applying this formula to the definition of success, most organizations have a 70% project failure rate. 

As a member of a small marketing team, we all hail from different departments, and our project manager adopts a Bi-Modal style of running the project. The campaign started with a discussion of our mindset which eschews hierarchy and lays out our agenda in two-week sprints. Every assignment is articulated and assigned to a team member. We meet for short, 15-minute periods that allow us to discuss our status and address any obstacles. The more traditional project elements include implementing deadlines, setting goals, and keeping schedules and a Gantt chart of assignments to maintain accountability.

For creative personalities, the agile style of working is very appealing. Small windows of time allow focus on specific items, with the opportunity to pivot and change direction or create a new iteration.  However, we all need to get things done. The more formal and traditional style of working, one with a planned course of action, deadlines, and predictability offers comfort and confidence to a group that is tasked with an assignment and a deliverable. Considering the cost of doing business, deadlines mean project delivery, because the bottom line is we all need to get paid. In Why Good Projects Fail Anyway (Harvard Business Review) the article details the challenges that encroach and derail even well planned projects.

The beauty of working bi-modally is that it takes the best of both worlds. We start with our end-result in mind, thereby establishing a plan of action and timeline. Breaking everything into small bites makes an unwieldy task much more manageable and psychologically accessible. The bi-modal approach allows for creative and ordered personalities to work within a team environment. For the project manager, it offers the opportunity to tailor assignments based on team members' strengths. It also helps to bridge working styles between generations. In many offices now, you can have two or three age groups working together. Applying a combination of structured elements and more fluid processes let people work more the way they are comfortable, but also keep objectives front and center. 

Another agile element that is highly applicable for teams are mind maps. They allow participants to work together to lay out the strategies or ideas in a highly visual format. This helps them literally and figuratively “see” the plan of action, feel a sense of individual contribution that also sets expectations and supports predictability. One of the biggest positive features of business agility is its promise of speed and performance that goes hand in hand with benefits to team culture and management.That’s not pop psychology; statistics show us that teams create results.

An Atlassian report suggests that 50% of team members are motivated more by team success than by the company’s (27%) or individual’s (23%) personal goals.  It’s clear that an engaged and invested team is going to accomplish more work, reach their goals, develop better ideas, and have higher staff retention in turn. Clearly, applying bi-modal concepts to your next project or team assignment is a journey worth taking. Nothing ventured, nothing gained: the risk is minimal, and the rewards are great. What do you have to lose? - except antiquated, failing practices, your professional reputation, and your competitive edge in the market.