Is EA your Center of Excellence?

Raf Cammarano posted a great response to my last two blogs (here and here) on his blog. The title of his entry says it all: “No More Groups, Committees, Centres or Offices.” He asks the question whether a center of excellence or competency is even necessary at all. The risks he calls out are (with quotes from his blog):

  1. Staffing: “Who is going to look after the other things when the best architects are poached by another group?”
  2. Overlapping Responsibilities: “There will be huge overlap between the functions of the new group and the existing EA Group.”
  3. Cross-functional teams are usually temporary: “The simple reason cross-functional groups are temporary is because the best people are reluctant to get off their career path within the business and move into a ‘special project’ permanently. SOA is not a ‘project’ and it’s certainly not ‘short term’.”

His recommendation is simple: “If your EA Group can’t deliver on everything that a Centre of Excellence would be expected to – then fix your EA Group!”

I really enjoyed this post as Raf raises many good comments that you should think about before you decide to go down the path. My posts were intended to offer some advice once you’ve made that decision, but it’s absolutely critical that you first look at whether it’s even needed. Addressing Raf’s concerns one at a time, let’s start with staffing. He’s absolutely right that staffing is a concern, as most groups aren’t willing to let someone go and live within some other virtual organization that controls their day to day activities. I’ve seen an organization where the top people, the ones who should have been driving the effort, specifically weren’t chosen due to the “hero” culture that existed and the dependency the organizations had created on them. I’d be willing to bet that these organizations may struggle to establish an EA team for the same reason. The successful COEs and Competency Centers I’ve seen had sponsorship from a very high level, typically the CIO or one management level beneath them. This helps prevent people from hanging on to resources that should be contributed at an enterprise level.

As for overlapping responsibilities, again this is certainly a risk. I’ve seen this resolved by actually assigning staff from EA to the COE, as well as having sponsorship from the Chief Architect. One thing to note, though. I think any COE or CC will have overlapping responsibilities with one or more organizations. It’s important that the COE is seen as an authority (just as EA must be seen as an authority) to help mediate when it occurs. The one thing you do want to avoid is complete overlap of responsibilities with another team. A COE or CC makes sense when there may be partial overlap and focus on the effort is needed. When there’s complete overlap, then you should have been looking at the team being overlapped to begin with, whether it’s EA or any other organization.

Finally, he points out that cross-functional groups are temporary. This was actually the original theme of my posts, so I don’t view this as a concern, but rather an option. What is bad is when a group that was supposed to be temporary lingers on indefinitely.

Anyways, thanks to Raf for the great comments. If you review my posts as part of your decision making process on a COE or CC, I suggest you review Raf’s as well.

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