Lately I have been working with a certain large Financial Institution. We are putting in place a pilot program for VisibleThread as part of their global Quality Management initiative.
It was in this context that the particular pilot customer brought up the term ‘Center Of Excellence’ or ‘COE’. They were kind enough to share the definition that they have come up with.
For them, it involves ownership of the Business Analysis practice area to support effective elicitation and management of requirements and related artifacts as well as putting in place the tooling and disciplines surrounding. The particular customer feels that VisibleThread can play a central role in the oversight and support for their COE, which is nice because it certainly is a sweet spot of VT. What’s also interesting is that the COE has the buy-in of the executive management team.
But wait, wasn’t this really a PMO (Project Management Office) in disguise I thought to myself?
Well actually not quite, in fact distant cousins as it turns out.
PMO’s tend to be concerned with effective project management practice, focussing on the entire lifecycle, all aspects, ranging from resource management right down to effective delivery practice. I guess the key difference is that the COE (or RCOE, Requirements COE) concept is really very focused on Business Analysis and sponsoring Best Practice in that area. A second clear differentiator from the classic PMO is that the COE is also actively involved with ‘in-flight’ projects, playing an active mentoring role. This marks it out as quite a different animal to a PMO, at least in my experience. This latter hands-on aspect is one of the most important enablers for successful process improvement in my opinion, as well as of course executive sponsorship.
The conversation did prompt me to dig into the whole area of Centers of Excellence. After a quick survey of some of our sales guys (and specifically what they’re hearing in the field), it turns out COEs are popping up quite a bit and have become fairly common in the IT space over the last year or so.
Now, it’s not like this is completely new. The RCOE concept has been around for some years, albeit in many cases called something else. For instance, LogicaCMG, in the Netherlands, whom I did some work with about 5 years ago had a very strong ‘Competency Office’ in place. This effectively conducted the same type of activity as the COE. What is refreshing however is to see the traction behind this in the US. If it only serves to prompt a discussion at executive IT level about the importance of high quality documentation (with clear metrics), it will have served a very good purpose.