Centers of Excellence – what are they and why should I consider one?
June 15, 2023 |
8 min read
The Center of Excellence model originally gained popularity in the 1990s as a means of sharing best practice knowledge so that it can be followed more consistently by an organization’s various internal functions.
Essentially, a Center of Excellence is concerned with coordinating and delivering consistency across an organization’s processes, ensuring that staff are aligned and using standardized methods. It is about encouraging everyone to follow those processes and delivering a pan-organizational way of working.
In terms of project management, most organizations tend to be good at disseminating knowledge of methods such as PRINCE2, Lean Six Sigma, and Scrum, typically sharing tips and best practices on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. Yet while there has been a widespread effort to promote Centers of Excellence, there is still some way to go. In many cases, they can be seen as ‘nice to have’ and are probably not as interesting as they could be.
Insight and information
The pace of life and the demands of today’s businesses mean a lot of people have short attention spans. They want succinct, easy-to-digest information. Rather than attending an hour-long meeting on PRINCE2 without any practical examples, people would prefer something more concise and interesting.
That is why the most effective Centers of Excellence are those which include people who are genuinely passionate about certain topics or processes; that want to share their experiences. It is important to establish someone to take responsibility for coordinating this within the overall organizational structure. People should be taken from within the business as well – such as project managers – who can spend some dedicated time each month to provide valuable insight.
A Center of Excellence should involve people from outside that have the right perspective. It might be a member of the finance team, for example, that has particular knowledge of budgeting control processes, or it could be the head of the project management office that is simply trying to encourage a more organization-wide use of a certain best practice method or framework.
Whoever is chosen, this outside perspective is vital to the success of a Center of Excellence. Without taking on board information or ideas from people on the ground, there is a risk that a Center of Excellence may not be properly implemented, or that the program it promotes may not sit comfortably with the organization’s way of working.
Reinforcement and encouragement
A mainly voluntary approach to joining Centers of Excellence should be encouraged, emphasizing the need for people that are passionate about specific areas. Then, if it delivers as it should, word should spread, with more people joining a Center of Excellence’s sessions quite organically. The need to force people to join would tend to suggest that those sessions are either uninteresting or simply do not have any perceived benefit.
For it to truly thrive, a Center of Excellence requires a degree of enthusiasm from the organization’s leadership. It does not have to be the most senior person in a business, but it is important that someone at the level of leadership vouches for the best practice guidance; reinforcing to everyone within the organization that it is well thought-out and encouraging people to participate.
In today’s fast-paced environment, where attention spans are short and time is limited, best practice information must be shared as widely and as succinctly as possible. Therefore, Centers of Excellence have never been more essential for effective project management.