According to Gartner, as enterprises grow their suite of digital solutions, it’s essential to transition from organizing work around projects to organizing work around products. But transitioning your enterprise from a project-based mindset to a product-focused operational model requires more than just the right tools. It also requires safeguarding your employees – making sure they’re in the loop and contributing to the ongoing success of the agile transformation.

Because these transformations include significant changes in your employees’ current processes, it’s important to ensure they’re comfortable with them and that teams stay aligned and up to date with what the organization is doing. One way to do that is to create a Center of Excellence as a single source of truth. Here are five tips for creating and using a Center of Excellence for your agile transformation.

What is a Center of Excellence?

A Center of Excellence (COE) can be used to gather information, lead change, share best practices, and keep people on the same page as the organization moves forward. Scaled Agile, Inc. calls this a Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE), where a small team of people is dedicated to implementing the SAFe® Lean-Agile way of working. According to Scaled Agile, Inc., “Creating a LACE is often one of the key differentiators between companies practicing Agile in name only and those fully committed to adopting Lean-Agile practices and getting the best business outcomes.”

A COE serves as the central organizing body for an agile transformation. As such, it should be the go-to resource for employees seeking information about agile initiatives. Because of the organizational commitment that’s necessary to create a COE, it can also inform others about the importance of the agile transformation and create a sense of urgency around new initiatives.

5 tips for using a Center of Excellence to lead your agile transformation

Scaled agile with Atlassian and SAFe

We’ve gathered tips from our webinar with industry experts Deema Dajani of Scaled Agile, Inc. and Atlassian’s Mark Cruth, Modern Work Evangelist, for using a COE to lead your agile transformation.

1. Form a Center of Excellence to build coalitions, identify opportunities, and uncover challenges

During the webinar, Deema introduced us to Scaled Agile, Inc.’s Lean-Agile Center of Excellence (LACE). This COE strives to create tipping points throughout the organization where teams unite and rally around the change, often working at the same cadence as other agile teams. To accomplish this, COE team members should come from different areas of your enterprise to identify opportunities and challenges that may go unnoticed without adequate representation from each area. 

How many people should participate in your COE? Your organizational structure and size dictate how the COE is set up. A smaller organization typically uses a centralized model, while a larger organization uses a decentralized or hub-and-spoke model. Choosing whether to use a decentralized or a hub-and-spoke model sometimes comes down to whether funding for COE members comes from individual business units or a central source.

2. Understand the roles and responsibilities of leaders, change agents, and team members

Changing organizational behavior and processes requires dedication and buy-in at all levels of the organization, from lines of business to the C-suite. Everyone on the COE team brings their own set of skills, experiences, and networks to the table. For example, individuals on finance, marketing, and software development teams have different skill sets, but share the common goal of satisfying customers. Recognize these differences as strengths and allow people to shine in their respective areas, but also encourage them to step outside their comfort zones and learn about other areas of the company.

The responsibilities of COE leaders, change agents, and members involved in business agility transformation include:

  • Ensuring C-suite support
  • Identifying opportunities and challenges
  • Planning and execution
  • Committing to ongoing communications
  • Coaching and training
  • Benchmarking and setting metrics
  • Evaluating and adapting as needed

3. Build strategic business cases

The Lean Portfolio Manifesto: a conversation-starter

To gain buy-in from executives and other key stakeholders for an agile transformation, provide specific examples of current problems that hurt the company’s performance. Strong business cases help put everyone on the same page, especially stakeholders that might be unaware of the underlying issues causing delays and inefficiencies throughout the organization.

Deema Dajani shared that her team studied one organization’s projects, including lead time and cycle time at each stage. The organization thought it was efficiently addressing customer and market opportunities since most of its initiatives averaged about a year to completely build and release to market. But they found that before it reached the build stage, it took two years to get the initial idea onboarded, funded, and staffed to even start the project. So, the time between the opportunity and the release date was actually three years. 

For your own organization, you need to identify the topics that are most relevant to stakeholders. Business case topics can include:

  • What are the implications and costs of delays? 
  • Will products become obsolete before they’re released?
  • Could regulators shut the company down for noncompliance?
  • What other external factors, including competitors, need to be considered?
  • How do your processes impact current and potential customers?  
  • Are valuable employees quitting leaving out of frustration?

4. Find a balance between short-term opportunities and long-term strategies

Aligning decision-makers, senior leaders, and influencers on clear strategic themes sets the stage for success. One way to do this is through outcome-based objectives and key results (OKRs) – a method used to identify priorities within backlogs, create long-range product roadmaps, and develop value stream budgets. OKRs keep teams on track in real-time to meet short-term goals, while being flexible enough to allow teams to pivot when markets change. For example, your organization may need to quickly adapt to supply chain issues in the short-term, while assessing the impact it has on growth strategies.

To accomplish this, organizations need visibility and tracking tools for planning and analysis at quarterly program implementations (PI) and annual reviews to make sure resources are allocated correctly. Organizations need to assess how much money and staff time they want to invest in current projects, new products, feature development, infrastructure vs maintenance, tech debt, compliance, and so on.

Creating a new enterprise agility framework isn’t a one-and-done process. It’s a live system designed for adapting and improving to make the best investment decisions. As Deema said, “You’re not gonna get it right from the first go around, so give yourself some grace.”

5. Use Jira Align to gain broad visibility and connect strategy to work

Having the right tech tools in place to facilitate organizational and portfolio change is important for a smooth transformation. For example, organizations that use Jira Align during their agile transformation are gifted with immediate benefits, such as broad visibility and transparency.

In the past, companies ran portfolios off spreadsheets on someone’s computer, which slowed down the process because updates were done manually. This put a lot of pressure on the person responsible for maintaining and updating the spreadsheet. Their ability to gather information, slice-and-dice data, create useful charts, and share data was limited. “Having a product is one thing, but understanding how to use the product to accomplish your goals is another thing,” said Mark Cruth. 

Jira Align helps organizations with their agile transformation by giving them a single source of truth. This way, everyone uses the same information to make decisions. This includes outcome-based OKRs at all levels of the enterprise, which are aligned with the corporate mission, vision, and goals to make sure the right initiatives are being funded and completed efficiently.

Using Jira Align, teams can look at data from different perspectives and formats – from a high-level snapshot of portfolios to detailed timelines of tasks, including the ability to meet deadlines for a single product. Because data is shared throughout the company, teams can react quickly to customer feedback and market changes and can adapt or pivot away from products that are no longer relevant to customers. For example, agile companies were able to react quickly to the demand for robust online shopping apps and websites during the pandemic.

Watch the webinar to learn more

To learn more about improving your organization’s performance using a Center of Excellence, click on the button below to watch our webinar, The Center of Excellence: A key factor in LPM success.

5 tips for using a Center of Excellence for your agile transformation