Will Social Networking Wave Wash Away Centers of Excellence?

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Some time back I blogged about the various patterns of BPM Center of Excellence (COE) and emphasized that good governance leads to better performance. I didn’t delve into why COEs are important and what the COEs do in that post, believing enough was written already on those.

Today, Theo brought up a stirring point again, (as always :)) and claimed that social wave while removing silos will also bring the extinction of the COEs.

Well, I disagree. I left a comment there but thought I didn’t do full justice to the argument, hence this post.

Let’s first understand what all a COE can typically do (any subset of the following could be done by a COE based on the need of the enterprise and pattern(s) chosen):

  • Help in Demand Management, Projects Prioritization, and Implementation planning
  • Conduct Periodic reviews of architecture
  • Formulation of consistent approach, practices and processes across teams and geographies
  • Knowledge Management and better collaboration on reuse
  • Standardization of the architectural patterns, process modeling guidelines, notations, and design elements for cross-usage and leverage of investments
  • Facilitate faster and better delivery turnaround for Process implementation to business owners
  • Formulation of Reusable Process fragments, vertical process model, horizontal technical frameworks, centralized business rules
  • Oversight of the Process repositories and facilitate storage and maintenance including version management
  • Facilitate Technological / Infrastructural migration plans as needed
  • Cost Rationalization through the efficient governance mechanisms and various servicing models based on business needs
  • Streamlined vendor management, platform support and issue resolution
  • Plan and manage the resource needs of various skill set based on the demand-supply management in conjunction with Programs planning

and so on…

Now, the basic premise of a CoE is not to own infrastructure or resources directly (although it could be one of the possible models in a conducive environment), it is based on facilitation, collaboration, oversight and streamlining. So, a COE model formulated well can actually leverage immensely from social networking and collaboration tools. This wave, in fact should be a booster for the COE intent.

Going back to the premise of the COE extinction hypothesis, I agree that the business world could more than do well with a little more freedom, Innovation, creativity, and collaboration. However, a system, governance, and little bit of structure is still needed. In the same spirit, I’d also like to refer another post the same day from Theo that makes an excellent point –

Right now, if you look at how businesses are run, every department is silo’d, we’re not really running one ship but lots of smaller craft all heading off in different directions with the notion that they are doing the same thing. And the guy in the centre seat is so far removed from the action he really has no clue how the ship operates.

And he also adds in terms of how Social paradigm is going to help us there –

Collaboration breeds involvement, and that creates a sense of purpose. Silo’s breed disconnectivity which in turn feeds discourse

Now, that’s a good thought , full of good intent. However, it is actually a wish that can actually not be fulfilled without a facilitating mechanism beyond the tools and technology. If one wants all those silo-ed ship to go in one direction, how would that happen without some bit of governance and structure? The reason is the human angle to the silo mode of working. I had blogged a little earlier about the systemic mechanism of aligning incentives for bridging those silos and Max made a terrific point that went like this –

Create a clear and well strcutured process organization, assign the best qualified process owner, empower him and his people and that will be it. They will be proud of their achievement without a single bonus dollar paid. If you need to link your objectives and KPIs, your process organization is wrong. You have created conflicting processes, because your functional organization does not reflect them. That can be fine, if the process owner and his team are empowered.

And this is where COEs (in whatever form) provide tremendous value. It’s not just managerial governance, but more collaboration, facilitation and alignment effort.

Still, let’s consider the scenarios where one may NOT need the COE.

If the answers to the following questions is strong affirmative in the social networking paradigm without a facilitating body or some human governance, then COEs may cease to exist in any form…

  • Every individual comes up and learns by oneself, no best practices are needed, they all collaborate and learn on the fly and do the right thing (regardless of their experience,  personal competency and personal egos and preferred relationships 🙂
  • Architecture will evolve the right way without the need for an agreed upon enterprise architecture blue-print
  • All the technological components needed will become mashable, and plug-&-play. Individuals can decide by themselves what they want to use with collaborative decision making
  • Central planning will not be required for any size of programs. Project Managers of individual streams would be able to meet over a collaboration platform and devise the plan without one entity primarily accountable for the program
  • BPM will indeed become purely process and no technological development required. Plug-&-Play.
  • Competency Development and talent management would either become less important in collaborative world or become easy as a snap. Wikis will be the omni-potent platform for self-learning with no specific planning required on how many skills of what type would be needed for the BPM initiatives
  • Business will be the de-facto owner of the process initiatives. No conflicts of interest, no bonus issues, no issues on budget allocation. No facilitating body will be required to align the needs with the variety of preferences and plans. Collaboration would work like a magic wand and all the gaps will disappear with the social networking making a huge impact 🙂

If Social wave makes the above possible, we probably wouldn’t need COEs. Do you see this happening, my answer is a big NO.

So, IMHO, COEs may become more decentralized and could be a combination of various flavors/patterns that I have earlier covered, and actually may leverage collaboration tools and social networking technologies to get more effective and efficient. I don’t see them getting washed away with the social wave.



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  1. #1 by matt peterson on April 20, 2010 - 12:31 am

    A very well articulated reply. COE’s cannot add value with out a disciplined approach and focus on what is to be achieved.

    I couldn’t say it better and can add little more than applause to your reply.

  2. #2 by Joe on September 27, 2010 - 8:25 pm

    I’d like to echo Matt’s comments. Well well written article and great examples of what a COE can do.


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