We all want an excellent COE, don't we?

According to a recent poll quoted on the teraneon web site,  only 12% of companies have a business process centre of excellence. I have no empirical evidence to think this number is wrong so I'm willing to believe it. The question that this statistic raised in my mind is : If 1 in 8 companies have a BPM COE, how many of them are doing it right?

What defines a good COE? Especially as 1 in 3 companies has no intention of creating one at all and only 1 in 3 is thinking of going to the trouble of creating one. Is there fear, uncertainty and doubt about COE's??

What are the elements of a good COE?

Let me start by saying that I don't think it is necessary to have a centre of excellence for BPM. Of course if you want to do it right it helps to have people who are dedicated and trained in the capability. But this doesn't mean that you can't do this without a centre of excellence. It just means that a centre of excellence is a good idea. In fact it's a great idea. But what does a centre of excellence mean? According the interwebs there is no commonly agreed definition of what a centre of excellence actually is. However by breaking down the words we can get some idea of what  a COE should be

Centre : a single localised place
Excellence : the state, quality, or condition of excelling; superiority

Thus we have a single location which displays superiority in the chosen area. In this case that area is BPM.

Centre: So here's my first question : how many COE's actually exist in a central location?  I would be willing to bet that they are either located somewhere out of the way or they are not individual locations. They become virtual centres of excellence. Is there anything wrong with this? Not really, but once you start to physically remove people from a single location you start to bring in some of the issues that employee psychologists have encountered regarding remote team working. I personally have worked with a global group  which consisted of 15 folks based in an office in the United States, me in England and a guy in France. Let me tell you that we did not feel like part of that team

Excellence: How many  companies that set up a COE actually spend the time and money to ensure that there is excellence within the COE? Merely creating a 'unit' and adding a few people to it does not create excellence. In the big scheme of things even sending these people to a training course does not create excellence (although it does make them a little more excellent than the people who have not been trained). Excellence is a habit. It is something which occurs as a means of doing things rather than as an end result in itself. The people who work in the centre of excellence have to have some (or all) of the following attributes:

  • Training
  • Experience
  • Attitude
  • Patience
  • Tenacity

Two or three of those together will not produce excellence, it will produce 'very good'. But add all of these together and you have the recipe for a genuine function which displays an excellent level of knowledge and understanding, coupled with a level of ability to communicate with the end user, answer questions and guide them through the quagmire which is the world of process.


But how do we know whether excellence is being maintained? We measure it. And this is not easy. How do you measure excellence? How do you quantify the level to which excellence has been achieved? The short answer is that you don't. In the same way as astronomers cannot measure certain aspects of the cosmos becasue they cannot see them or get close enough to measure them, you have to measure excellence by the effect it has on things around it.

Therefore you should be looking at measuring customer satisfaction, measuring output from individuals, measuring level of training taken by COE employees. These are the measures which will indicate whether excellence is being achieved.

The Ivory Tower

A Centre of Excellence is also not an Ivory Tower. Having a group of folks gathered together in one place, holding hands, singing 'Kum Byah' is not a centre of excellence, it is a group of folks gathered together in one place, holding hands, singing 'Kum Byah'. The whole point of a centre of excellence is to ensure that it is adding value to the organisation. The capability that the COE is supporting (in this case process management) should be one which is integrated into the business at all levels.

I worked with a major multinational who had decided to implement a global SAP system. They created a centre of excellence to manage this. However there were a number of problems. The first was that a number of the people in the group were not adequately trained to be 'excellent' - they were learning on the job. The second was that the COA was one of two. This one was European based but the other one - which had all the real knowledge and expertise - was US based. There wasn't enough transfer of knowledge and resource between the two to make it work. The final problem they had was that they were supporting something which was being introduced piecemeal and with minor acceptance across the organisation. The capability side of the COE was never exploited.

It must be said, however, that over a period of around 8 years as the roll out continued around the world, the Centre Of Excellence managed to overcome each of these obstacles: The experience came to the people, they were sent on the right training courses, knowledge was transferred across, and the whole capability become more embedded in the organisation.


So a lot of companies are looking at COE's. A smaller number already have them. Don't be fooled by the terms. Without having key items in place a COE is just a group of people without a portfolio. Have the right people trained, motivated, experienced and measured and the COE will then become more than just a tick-box on a corporate roadmap

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

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