Sizing your Center of Excellence

I recently was asked about the proper size for a competency center/Center of Excellence. While many might immediately try to base the size of the group on size of the organization as a whole, my recommendation was based on two key factors:

  1. The engagement model of the group
  2. The current IT organizational structure and paths of information flow

The engagement model is important, because it has a direct impact on the ability of the group to fulfill its mission. Will your centralized team strictly be responsible for establishing policies and perhaps play a role in reviews and approvals? Or, will your team take a more hands-on role, either as a resource center for projects building or consuming services or as an outsourcing center for service development efforts? The first variety is almost completely divorced from the projects being executed in the organization, and as a result, its size should not be influenced by the number of concurrent projects. The latter two varieties, however, are directly involved with projects. Choose too small, and you’ll have projects executing without your involvement, potentially running down different paths. Choose too large, and you’ll have people sitting idle or doing other non-service related work on projects. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the outsourcing model, but that’s a subject for another blog.

The second factor, and certainly the more important one from a governance perspective, is the way information flows through your organization. If you are establishing a Center of Excellence or Competency Center as part of your SOA governance efforts, the first two processes of governance are establishing policy and then educating and communicating those policies outward. Every organization is different. In an organization where information does not flow easily, and collaborative sessions quickly become fruitless due to the multitude of personalities and opinions that exist, a small group of people may work better, but that group will need to do a lot more of the work to communicate and educate, ranging from IT-wide conversations to more intimate conversations with the small teams at the bottom of the organization chart. In an organization where information does flow more freely, it may be easier to bring in a broader set of people to ensure the full organization is represented, but push the burden off to each individual member to cascade the message throughout their respective areas.

In the context of governance, a feeling of representation tends to be very important. When someone doesn’t feel they have a voice, they’re less apt to comply with the policies. While there will always be some who won’t budge unless the policy is what they want, many more are content with the policy direction, even if it is different from their own views, so long as they feel their concerns have been heard. Keep these things in mind when structuring your Center of Excellence/Competency Center, and hopefully it will help you find the right size for a successful effort.

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