Door with caution tape.

Good or Bad?

Functional Centers of Excellence (COfE) are a fact of life in many organizations.  When used correctly, which is easier said than done, functional COEs deliver value. (more…)


Four Centers of Excellence

I used the term DevOps Center of Excellence to describe a COE that delivers a service to the organization in the essay, Types of Center of Excellence.  This type of COE is a consolidation of the personnel to deliver a service into a group that can be drawn on by other parts of the organization.  Another name or description of this type of COE is a Center of Functional Excellence (COfE). After reading the essay Pete Franklin (@PeteFranklin) tweeted:

Eight Avoidable Reasons Why COEs Fail… via @TCagley – I’ve almost never seen a functioning CofE

When asked his opinion on why that was his experience he responded:

My theory is that the whole model is based on some fundamentally incorrect assumptions. In particular, that skills that exist in one place can be deployed into another team with no losses or issues. The old ‘fungible resource’ fallacy 🙂

I have seen functional COEs work and work well, however, I tend to agree that the seeds to make this type problematic are often present. (more…)

A COE gone wrong?

Organizations implement Centers of Excellence (COE) for a variety of reasons. Not all reasons are created equal.  COE’s that are developed in a calm reasoned manner will tend to get the nuances right or discover and correct problems as they continuously improve. When COEs are put in place as a last ditch effort to save an initiative or generate an innovation that will save the organization, problems set in.  Typical indications that a COE will have problems (success anti-patterns) include: (more…)


Paraphrasing the definition from Wikipedia, a center of excellence (COE) is a team that provides leadership, research, support and/or training for a focus area. COE’s are deployed for many reasons such as developing an organizational skill, rescuing a troubled initiative, or sometimes sheer desperation.  The reason and implementation path of the COE will impact the perception and value delivered This might seem like common knowledge, but to quote Voltaire, “common sense is not so common.” Done well, a COE can help infuse knowledge and energy into an organization. Done differently, a COE ends up becoming bureaucratic auditors under the flag of best practices. (more…)


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.

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.