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:

  1. The COE is a hail mary pass (an act of desperation to achieve victory in the face of defeat).  As a general rule, hail mary passes rarely connect.
  2. The problem the COE is targeted at solving is not important to a substantial portion of the organization.  COEs are implemented as enterprise-wide

    initiatives.

  3. The COE is targeted at a localized problem.  COEs are most effective when used to fix an enterprise-wide problem.
  4. The COE and the solutions they develop do not have deep executive understanding and buy-in.
  5. The COE is underfunded. All types of COEs require resources, people, money and political capital to generate and guide change. Underfunding will also impact the caliber and quantity of the people that are part of the COE.  The bottom line, goal (stated or unstated) of all COEs is to affect change; change is not free. Note: In some very rare cases I have seen passion overcome funding (however the probability of this happening is lower than the average hail mary pass).
  6. The COE is viewed as an administrative necessity rather than a business imperative.  Administrative COEs will be buried deep in an organization rather than being elevated to the leadership levels of the organization.
  7. A lack of a demonstrable return on investment. COEs need to identify and measure their impact on the organization and, if possible, on the product/service the organization brings to market.  WIthout a demonstrable impact, the countdown clock for the dissolution of the COE is running.
  8. The COE’s goals, process, and collaboration approaches are intransigent in the face of a dynamic business environment.  COEs that lack the capability to evolve are more akin to timeboxed taskforces and will become irrelevant when their goal is achieved or changes.

COE’s, like any formal group within an organization, are political in nature.  They need a goal, they need to be able to show progress and impact, and they need to make a difference. Each of the seven items in the list is enough to critically wound any COE.  At the same time, being able to tick each box does not assure success. COEs must have the right people, the right political acumen and the passion to achieve their goal. The COE must demonstrably improve either the product or the process of building and delivering that product to survive.

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SPaMCAST 503 features our essay “Culture: The Knife’s Edge of Change.”  I have often heard the line, culture eats change for breakfast. Culture, culture, culture – the success of every change that is considered or implemented balances on the knife edge of culture. Aligning cultures so that change is possible requires seeing the differences and then minimizing enough of those differences to allow change to happen.

We also have an installment of the Alpha and Omega of Product Development with Jon M Quigley.  In this installment of Jon’s wonderful column, we discuss the muda of underutilizing people. Muda, waste, is not just generated through process or transforming raw material.  

We conclude with a visit with Gene Hughson.  We discuss an entry from his Form Follows Function Blog titled: “When asked for the time, don’t explain how your watch works”. Communications between the user and technical domains is fraught with difficulties. A problem? As Gene always says,  “exactly!”

Re-Read Saturday News

We will complete our re-read of Turn The Ship Around next week with a few final thoughts.  The next book in the series will be The Checklist Manifesto  (use the link and buy a copy so you can read along) by Atul Gawande. Today we complete re-reading the chapters in  L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around!  Chapter 28, 29 and Afterthoughts complete Marquet’s reflection on the leader-leader model and his journey of discovery.

Current Installment:

Week 18: A New Method of Resupplying and Ripples  – https://bit.ly/2mgVFtI (more…)

Bottles of bacon and chicken wing soda

Bacon and Buffalo Chicken Wing Soda – things have to change!

Culture is a reflection of how the people within an organization act. The culture is protected by peer pressure and the processes, procedures and policies teams and organizations enact and enshrine. Overall organizational culture is difficult to change. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick, would call culture “sticky.” One major reason culture is sticky and generates defense mechanisms is that once a culture is entrenched those people that are inside the culture become comfortable. They understand how to make the culture work.  Organizations also find how to make culture work. Alignment to culture fosters higher worker satisfaction, more employee engagement, higher productivity and employee retention. Cultural fit matters to organizations and to individuals.  The dark side of cultural alignment (all forces need to have balance) is that cultural alignment can lead to stagnation and low levels of innovation. As we have noted in the past, “culture eats change for breakfast.”  New organizations establishing a culture and organizations and cultures that have generated hardened boundaries will have several levels of defense beginning with hiring for culture. Culture guides information sharing, how work is done and how individuals and groups interact therefore directly impact value delivery at a team and organization level. Cultures that generate prescriptive processes, procedures, and policies and then make adaptation difficult make change and innovation hard. (more…)

Edge and point of a knife

The knifes edge!



Culture, culture, culture – the success of every change that is considered or implemented balances on the knife edge of culture. Culture not important enough?  Then remember, culture guides what work gets done and how that work is done. Culture is a summation of all of the things we use to distinguish one group from another.  The more significant the difference is perceived, the more drastic we will perceive the culture difference. Differences invite comparison which reduces trust and generates resistance to change   Aligning cultures so that change is possible requires seeing the differences and then minimizing enough of those differences. Culture is shaped or shapes many common organizational attributes, including: (more…)

Before we dive in – let’s begin a new poll for the next book in our Re-read Saturday.  I have had a number of suggestions:

Pick two and we will start on the top choice!  Note: There are two books on the list that will be first reads for me (I will let you guess).  All of these books are very relevant to agile, lean and process improvement.


Whether you like the word transformation or not, many in the process improvement and agile communities help to facilitate change. Involvement in any non-trivial change effort requires resources, people, support and the expenditure of political capital. If change uses an organization’s people and assets someone will ask what the return on those assets are and whether those assets could return more if used elsewhere. I can tell (and often have told) a great story about the impact of a good working environment, doing the right work, and good processes. The response I get to my rationale on the value of being agile is ‘can you prove it.’ Can you prove it’ translates directly into ‘can you measure it’, and ‘are those measures meaningful?’ A model for answering that question that I am sketching out at a program or organization level has to answer the following questions:

(more…)

Child in snazzy raincoat!

Sometimes innovation is just a tad outlandish!

Innovation is a hot topic in organizations. Innovation is not an innate talent; it can be developed and nurtured given the right environment and coaching.  We care about innovation because there are several important benefits to innovating. Important benefits include:

(more…)

Book Cover

Part III: Competence

One of the two pillars that support Marquet’s concept of control is confidence. Confidence requires people to be technically competent to make the decision effectively. While this sounds pretty obvious, the classic leader-follower leverages the premise that followers do not have the competence needed to make decisions. Part III focuses on the mechanisms Marquet used to establish and strengthen technical competence.

Chapter 16: Mistakes Just Happen (more…)