Process or People Focused?

Process or People Focused?


An Agile center of excellence (ACoE) typically refers to a team that provides thought leadership to support or sustain the transformation to an agile organization. That can include providing leadership, evangelization, best practices, research, support and/or training for a focus area. An ACoE is similar to (but not the same as) engineering process groups (EPGs or SEPGs) that have been used to support and sustain organizational transformations such as the CMMI. The two most significant differences between SEPG/EPG and ACoE centers are the concept of controlling process and the ACoE’s focus on people. Groups like SEPGs and EPGs are primarily focused on implementing and controlling the process, even though most process improvement models understand the relationship between people, process and tools. Many SEPGs and EPGs views process as the most significant short-term variable. Processes could be changed, people trained to support the process and perhaps even new tools purchased to support the process, but the process was the driver.

The four values and 14 principles of the Agile Manifesto provide teams with a basis for self-organization and self-management. Agile techniques, such as retrospectives, provide a feedback loop that helps teams to regulate their performance by changing how they work. Both the manifesto and techniques create an expectation that teams will have some degree of control over how they work. This type of process self-determination is at odds with a group that defines, manages and controls a standard processes, even if that group listens to their customers which is exactly what most SEPGs and EPGs.  This type of behavior tends to depress innovation while fostering command and control management styles that are at odds with agile. An ACoE supports process innovation through coaching, collection and communication of best practices, and facilitating communities of practice.

ACoE typically have a people-first approach to fostering an agile transformation and then sustaining that transformation. As with process control, the Agile Manifesto and Agile techniques (including coaching) generate a natural focus on people. The general thought process is that if you influence people, behavior will follow. The alternate, process-focused perspective is that influencing process will influence behavior.  One of the four values in the Agile Manifesto states “we have come to value individuals and interactions over process and tools.” While that value does not say that we doe not value processes if does mean that to be truly agile we need to put people first.

All organizational transformation models recognize that people are an important component when generating change. Agile centers of excellence take a people-first approach that eschews the rigid process control of other transformation frameworks. ACoEs provide thought leadership and coaching to support teams.  Those team take the knowledge for the ACoE and use techniques like retrospectives to tune how they work. Team drive the improvements  in order to improve their performance. Earlier in my career I fell prey to the conceit that a methodologist could tell people how work (too many Industrial Engineering classes), but I learned later that a methodologist/coach needs to work with teams to unlock their potential by giving them the tools to decide how to work.