Disciplined Agile

Centers of Excellence (CoEs)

A Center of Excellence (CoE), and sometimes called a Center for Excellence (C4E), is a group of people with specialized skills and expertise whose job is to provide leadership and purposely disseminate that knowledge within your organization. CoEs should not be confused with Communities of Practice (CoPs), discussed later, are sometimes referred to as guilds. In the last few years we’ve seen Agile CoEs, Testing CoEs, DevOps CoEs, and Architecture CoEs created within organizations to help their continuous improvement efforts.

This article addresses the following topics:

 

Why CoEs?

A Center of Excellence (CoE) is typically formed to address a skills/knowledge deficit within an organization. The members of a CoE are typically coaches, so an Agile CoE is a collection of agile coaches, a testing CoE a collection of testing coaches, and so on. CoE coaches will be involved with many of the activities of Continuous Improvement:

  1. Identifying techniques. Coaches will work with one another, and with the people that they are coaching, to identify potential techniques (practices, strategies, principles) that they can help people to adopt to improve the way that they work.
  2. Sharing techniques. Coaches will help practitioners to share techniques that they find effective with one another. Helping to build a learning organization is the primary way for CoE coaches to scale their efforts and better yet work their way out of job.
  3. Capturing techniques. CoE coaches will work with practitioners to capture viable techniques so as to build organizational memory around their processes and strategies.
  4. Supporting teams. The primary mission for CoE coaches is to support individual and team learning. As you can see in the goal diagram below, there is a wide range of strategies available to you.
  5. Organizing CoPs. Very often a CoE will initiate, or at least support the initiation of, one or more communities of practice (CoP) to aid their educational efforts. For example, an Agile CoE may help to organize an Agile CoP, an Agile Testing CoP, a Lean Architecture CoP, and many others.
  6. Governing improvement. A CoE will often collect and track a collection of metrics to help them both govern and to justify your organization’s investment in the CoE.
2021 Project Management Institute Continuous Improvement v5.2 Identify Improvements Guided continuous improvement (GCI) Cross-team retrospectives Team retrospectives Value stream modeling Process modelling Structured surveys Project postmortems Analyze Root Cause Direct observation Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) Fishbone diagram Five whys Gemba walk Pareto chart Scatter diagram Share Improvements Coaching Open spaces Hackathons Lean coffee sessions Practitioner presentation Discussion forums Steering group Capture improvements Newsletter Word of mouth Capture Improvements Expert system Process repository Wiki Documentation repository Manage Improvements Impediment board Improvement backlog Steering group Support Teams Run an experiment Coach and mentor Train and educate Identify improvement options Assess current strategy Process tailoring Organize Communities of Practice (CoPs)/Guilds Support one another Share improvements Identify improvements Capture improvements Organize Centers of Excellence (CoEs) Support teams Share improvements Capture improvements Co-develop guidance Develop guidance Certify practitioners Govern Improvement Monitor and measure Track improvements Develop improvement metrics Develop guidance Measure Improvement Outcome trends Number of experiments run Cumulative flow diagram

Figure 1. The process goal diagram for Continuous Improvement (click on image to expand).

Forming CoEs

A CoE will be formed by identifying people who have the skills/knowledge, the ability to coach and likely train people, and who have the drive to continue learning on their own. The following table compares and contrasts common strategies for finding CoE coaches.

Strategy Advantages Disadvantages

Hire from within

The person is known and (hopefully) respected within your organization

The person knows how to navigate your organizational environment

May not have experienced the CoE’s topic outside of your organization, and as a result may struggle with “that’s the way it’s done here” type issues

May still be wrapped up in the activities of their existing position

Often new to being a CoE coach

Hire new employees

Brings a new viewpoint and fresh experiences into your organization

Often has CoE coaching experience

Can be very hard to find, particularly if you don’t already have people experienced in the CoE topic to help you identify viable candidates

Can be difficult to get rid of a full time employee (FTE) if they don’t work out

Hire consultants/contractors

Easier to find candidates to choose from because many experts choose to become consultants

There may be opportunity to hire the person as a full time employee (FTE) once you’ve tried them out

Difficult to identify this type of person if you don’t already have people experienced in the CoE topic to help you identify viable candidates

CoEs will self organize, and within larger CoEs a Team Lead, often called a CoE Lead, will emerge to guide the team.

CoEs and Other Teams

CoEs have close relationships with, and overlapping membership with, two other types of teams:

  1. Communities of Practice (CoPs). A Community of Practice (CoP) is a collection of people who share a craft or profession who have banded together to ‘learn’ from each other to develop themselves and often even the organization. The primary difference between a CoE and a CoP is that a CoE is often purposefully created by an organization with funded members whose full-time job is to coach, teach, and mentor people whereas CoPs are voluntary efforts that typically aren’t funded. CoPs, because of their voluntary nature, often last much longer than CoEs and may be the end result of a CoE once its official funding disappears.
  2. Work teams. Very often there will be work teams within your organization whose purpose is to perform the some or all of the work activities supported by a CoE. For example, your organization may have an Enterprise Architecture (EA) team (or simply an architecture team) whose actual purpose is to evolve and support your EA strategy. In parallel you may also have an Architecture CoE helping people to learn and share architecture skills and even an Architecture CoP. Note that a CoE is a type of work team.
Communities of Practice