As organizations strive to undergo a digital transformation and scale their agility, the implementation of Agile Centers of Excellence (CoE Agile) has become increasingly common. However, the creation of such centers is not to be taken lightly. Our experts provide invaluable insights to ensure a successful transition!
In the current era of digital transformation, agility has become a necessity for organizations aiming to maintain their competitive edge. Teams, companies, and specialized coaches all boast the virtues of agility, and rightly so. In increasingly volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous work environments, agility is an indispensable asset. Nonetheless, the transition to agility must be carefully orchestrated, as improper implementation can exacerbate existing issues rather than resolve them.
This is where Elodie Emo, Transformation Lead Consultant at Wemanity, steps in with her expertise, providing essential recommendations for ensuring a seamless transition to agility. In this article, we shed light on a pivotal strategy to circumvent potential pitfalls in agile transformation: Agile Centers of Excellence (Agile CoEs).
1. Elevating Agility to New Heights
In recent years, it has been difficult to escape the agile wave. From a multitude of emerging solutions to businesses keen on facilitating their digital transformation, as well as engaged teams and specialized coaches, agility dominates discussions. And so much the better! In increasingly volatile, unpredictable, complex, and ambiguous work environments, agility is an invaluable asset for organizations, businesses, and their teams.
However, when not adequately directed, the energy invested in embracing agility yields minimal added value. Worse yet, it may have the counterproductive effect of increasing the challenges in team collaboration, rather than enhancing interactions and streamlining operations… But, no need to worry. In this article, we present a comprehensive strategy to avoid such a catastrophic scenario: Agile Centers of Excellence (Agile CoEs).
Is there a Transformation Pilot?
The concept of Agile CoE is far from novel; it emerged simultaneously with the growth of agile transformations. It appeared as the conductor capable of guiding and successfully executing the initiatives essential for the transformation of businesses and organizations.
Hence, it is a subject that, if not old, is well-known. Nevertheless, our experts are constantly sought after to support the establishment of CoEs or fortify existing structures. These needs are significant and should not be taken lightly. They undoubtedly indicate issues, which are by no means insurmountable…
… provided they are identified!
Among these obstacles, we can highlight:
- Teams that have undergone training for transformation but hold differing views and practices of agility, to the extent that they become unable to collaborate effectively.
- Sponsors who backed out because they had too little visibility of the transformation.
- Business units excluded from the transformation, leaving it solely in the hands of the IT department.
- Organizational structure, governance, and processes that are ill-suited or inadequately adapted to the new agile environment.
- C-Level executives with limited insight into the actual impact of the transformation.
- A disconnect between frontline teams and top management during the implementation of agility.
In such a context, no matter how many post-it notes teams affix to their walls, how many agile tools they master, or how many roles they create, it is unlikely that the benefits of agility will be felt at all levels of the organization. Hence, it underscores the importance of approaching the establishment of a CoE with the utmost seriousness.
2. Agility: The Core Purpose of CoE – Stepping Up the Game
What is a CoE?
Today, various acronyms exist to describe the Agile Center of Excellence. Whether we refer to it as CoE or LACE (Lean Agile Center of Excellence), these acronyms all refer to a single concept: a team that combines centralization and decentralization, entrusted with setting the pace for transformation. The CoE serves as the single point of contact for sponsors, C-level executives, and operational teams whenever their concerns intersect with the transformation. In this capacity, the CoE acts as the orchestrator of agility within the organization, addressing questions about “why” it’s being implemented, “when” it’s taking place, and “how” it’s executed.
This responsibility entails, among other things:
- Possessing expertise to maximize the accessibility and scope of the agile mindset.
- Employing mechanisms to facilitate innovation and knowledge sharing.
- Utilizing tools to align agile practices with business objectives.
- Implementing best practices to meet the expectations of teams and stakeholders.
CoE Roles and Responsibilities
The CoE’s mission extends beyond merely overseeing the roadmap of agile transformation. It also involves guiding and supporting this transformation. Specifically, this includes the following tasks:
- Training teams and selecting the appropriate support (i.e., consultants, mentors, coaches, trainers).
- Enhancing the skills of team members and other tribes.
- Facilitating knowledge transfer.
- Documenting best practices.
- Establishing an operational model.
- Monitoring and measuring progress.
- Promoting common tools within the organization to support agility and delivery.
In essence, the CoE does not wear a single hat but dons six distinct roles:
- The leader of transformation.
- The primary advocate for agile teams.
- The compass for governance.
- The overseer of agility’s effectiveness.
- The purveyor of knowledge.
- The chief enabler.
Keys to Successful CoE Implementation
However, the CoE must also be capable of wearing the coach’s hat. The goal? Assisting individuals in enhancing their skills while empowering teams to take ownership of the transformation process. To achieve this, the CoE can adopt three organizational modes:
- Centralization: The CoE must serve as an exemplary model, ensuring it possesses the necessary tools and a critical mass of expertise to operate in an agile manner, thereby establishing credibility with teams that will also transition to agility in the future.
- Decentralization: The CoE’s mission is not to hoard knowledge but to share it. Consequently, engaging teams in the field is crucial, which can be achieved through the creation of communities of practice.
- The choice of “simultaneous governance,” a combination of centralized and decentralized governance: Over time, more capabilities are integrated within teams, naturally leading the CoE to step back and focus on providing feedback or sharing its centralized expertise with newcomers or anyone seeking assistance.
Another pivotal aspect, perhaps the most crucial, is knowledge management. Unfortunately, this aspect is often overlooked. While companies invest in guiding the transformation journey, they tend to pay little attention to the initial documents created for knowledge management.
What is the risk? The transformation terminology may become a forgotten language. This can pose a significant problem, particularly when scaling up and involving independent coaches or external providers, each with their distinct agile practices. Teams may eventually find themselves with completely disparate practices and perspectives. Thus, the CoE can be seen as the “academician” of transformation terminology. It will create and diligently maintain a written record of the nomenclature of agile practices while ensuring constant updates.
Regarding the size and composition of the CoE, ideally, it should comprise several members, with at least one dedicated full-time to transformation and CoE responsibilities. Above all, members mustn’t be novices to the concept of transformation when they assume their roles. Any transformation entails phases of resistance to change, and CoE members must be equipped to navigate them effectively. They should also be adept at building networks, communicating with all employees, and serving as a bridge between different hierarchical and operational levels.
3. Agility: Overcoming Scaling Challenges with CoE
Benefits of a Well-Executed CoE
One potential pitfall for a CoE is the risk of being overly influenced by the C-Level, leading to a mimetic approach towards the organizational direction. The danger in this scenario is that the CoE may isolate itself in an ivory tower, losing touch with operational teams due to excessive centralization.
However, by maintaining a balance between centralization and decentralization, the establishment of a CoE offers numerous benefits:
- A common, standardized vocabulary used across the organization.
- Teams and tribes working in a harmonized and homogeneous manner while considering their unique attributes.
- Comex and sponsors fully engaged in the transformation, possessing a comprehensive view of the roadmap’s progress and its impact on the organization.
- A single point of contact for HR teams and their training-related issues.
- Simplified negotiations with external vendors for the procurement department due to the adoption of a single methodology.
- Streamlined processes that enhance user and client experiences.
However, it is crucial not to take these benefits for granted once the CoE is firmly established. Its implementation should align with a mindset of continuous improvement.
In this regard, the CoE must remain vigilant to:
- Identify methods and tools that can assist individuals improve their work processes.
- Share techniques for scaling operations.
- Organize and support communities of practice.
- Maintain a record of processes and strategies.
- Enhance training paths and programs.
- Define and monitor key performance indicators to measure the transformation’s impact.
- To conclude, our experts offer a final piece of advice: regardless of whether you prefer OKRs or KPIs, what truly matters is defining these metrics at the outset of your transformation. Otherwise, it becomes challenging to measure the impact of the transformation and successfully fulfill the CoE’s role.
What is an Agile Center of Excellence (CoE)?
A Center of Excellence is a small team dedicated to implementing agility within organizations and supporting transformation.
What are its Primary Missions?
The CoE’s core mission is to provide support, which includes aiding and training teams in transitioning to agility, documenting and anchoring best practices within the organization, promoting common tools and vocabulary across all teams, facilitating knowledge transfer, establishing the organizational model, and monitoring the transformation’s impact.
Which structure should you choose?
The structure can vary between organizations and even within subsidiaries of the same company. The Center of Excellence can adopt either a centralized or decentralized model. Each organization must assess the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, but most commonly opt for a hybrid approach that combines elements of centralization and decentralization.
De combien de personnes un CoE doitHow many people should a CoE be composed of?
Ideally, a CoE should be structured around a small number of individuals, with one leader dedicating 100% of their time to the CoE and the transformation.