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An Agile center of excellence (ACoE) provides support and energy to an Agile transformation within an organization. It supports through leadership, evangelization, best practices, research, support and/or training for agile and lean ideas. ACoE’s support can be categorized in three inter-related areas. These areas, the three “P’s,” are people, process and project.

People are the heart and soul of any development process. As we have noted, Agile has an enormous focus on people (remember the Agile value of valuing people over process). The ACoE provides support to people though bringing new ideas into the organization, by providing coaching, developing coaches and acting as change agents.

Agile is a set of processes, or sets of steps taken to achieve a specific end. A recipe is a process, as is a daily stand-up meeting or checking code in and out of configuration management tool. The ACoE supports Agile processes by capturing process, identifying and fostering the use of relevant metrics (collection and reporting are typically PMO functions – to be discussed in the near future), facilitating communities of practices and providing tools.

Projects are the currency of most IT organizations. At its simplest a project is an enterprise with a start and end that is organized to deliver a result. ACoEs support the performance of Agile teams at a project-level as coaches. Coaches are folks who deliver help to teams, stakeholders and other leaders within an organization so they learn how to be Agile. At the project-level, coaches help teams use and tweak processes to meet the team’s needs, provide training and support for tools and processes and help the team learn how to ask the hard questions about how the team is using Agile.

The primary goal of the ACoE is to provide practitioners with the tools, techniques and capabilities they need to be Agile. By helping teams perform, the ACoE also helps sell and maintain the Agile transformation. Both of these goals begin as an organization starts a transformation to Agile and continue to be important as teams evolve and continuously improve. The ACoE delivers value by addressing the three Ps. For example, through the role of coaching and by facilitating communities of practice, the ACoE helps to promote an environment where there is consistency of practice and where innovation can happen. While the combination of innovation and consistency might sound contradictory, coaches often act as an Agile Johnny Appleseed. ACoE coaches see how teams work, the changes that have made to the processes and why those changes were made. The ACoE can then help to spread ideas that prove to be valuable through coaching, referrals or discussion in communities of practice.

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