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Cringley to Wardley to Gartner’s Bimodal

By Mike West | July 13, 2016 | 0 Comments

There is a long history of models used to describe and improve business management, ranging from the McKinsey 7S Framework (Peters, Waterman, Athos and Pascale) to Theories X, Y (McGregor) and Z (Maslow, Ouchi, Reddin). IT and R&D have had their own descriptive models for focusing capabilities necessary to create and manage different kinds of systems – also, perhaps, the different stages of evolving systems. Two of these descriptive models for categorizing systems capabilities are closely related: Commandos, Infantry and Police (Cringley) and Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners (Wardley).

In the 1960’s Robert X. Cringley proposed Commandos, Infantry and Police as a way of understanding how different were the skills and attitudes necessary to successful R&D, product development and maintenance of products. More recently, Simon Wardley recast essentially the same framework in a civil metaphor as Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners. Netflix has adopted the Wardley framework to manage organizational capabilities in development [Interview with Roy Rappoport, Netflix, conducted by Donna Scott and Mike West on June, 16, 2016].

Figure 1 – Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners


Bimodal  simplifies the intent of the Wardley framework and focuses IT transformation within the broader context of business digitalization. Note that Pioneers and Settlers are both essential parts of Mode 2, and that the Town Planners capability maps nicely onto Mode1 (See Figure 2). The two capabilities in Wardley called Pioneers and Settlers are essentially two aspects of the Mode 2 capability designed to deal with uncertainty — for example, an innovation lab or skunkworks on the one hand and productization on the other. The Town Planners capability translates to the “maintaining and ewvolving the core” aspect of Mode 1, where requirements are known and the tolerance for failure is low.

Figure 2 – Mapping the Cringley / Wardley Framework into Gartner’s Bimodal

Mapping to Bimodal

The value of mapping Wardley’s framework into Bimodal is to call attention to the different capabilities required to deliver solutions on the path to Digital Business and to the different kinds of solutions managed in Mode 2 and Mode 1. Both a skunkworks/innovation lab and a productizing capability are potential components of a Mode 2 organization. The former delivers a proof of concept, while the latter renders it as a production-worthy solution with sufficient features to engage the external customer or the end user, delivering recognized value.

Where the skunkworks or innovation lab deliver prototypes simply to demonstrate the feasibility of a solution, productization teams work through iteration, incorporating feedback and evolving the solution toward market acceptance. When significantly fewer enhancements are required by customers or end users, and change to the solution has leveled off, the solution may transition into Mode 1.

In Mode 1, the solution may be made even more efficient and stable and, when necessary, renovated to address new functional or non-functional requirements. Uncertainty and tolerance for failure are highest in skunkworks or innovation lab prototypes, lower in the productized solution and lower still as a core solution.

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