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The Need for an Agile Center of Excellence

18 April 2016

Navdeep Jain
Cognizant Technology Solutions

"Successful implementation of multifunctional teams requires a fundamental redesign of the entire organization."
— Christopher Meyer, Fast Cycle Time: How to Align Purpose, Strategy, and Structure for Speed

For organizations with a large workforce in which a variety of software, tools, and processes are used, with multiskilled people who are working on multidimensional projects, and problem statements crossing paths with each other, it is imperative that they create a centralized structure for a successful transition to Agile.

One of the most important things is to cultivate agility at the organizational level, helping people from all levels understand the principles and propagate them to various groups and departments. "Doing Agile" is now common, and organizations and their teams are doing it day in, day out. However, "being Agile" is tough, so it's advisable for organizations to form a group or a more formal entity, such as an Agile Center of Excellence (COE).

Agile COE brings together a dedicated team of professionals made up of Agile experts, coaches, and practitioners, as well as domain and technical experts who have an understanding of Agile. These individuals provide support to ensure a consistent Agile implementation across the organization. Although at the individual levels they may be involved in Agile consulting, Agile coaching, or in the Agile delivery process, the Agile COE's focus should also be on supporting, standardizing, and bringing agility from top to bottom. These individuals are not preachers but rather practitioners and change agents who show how things work in an Agile environment.

An Agile transformation is often focused at the Scrum-team level, with the least focus at the program and portfolio levels of the organization. An Agile COE can help by sustaining the momentum of the transformation efforts. As a result, the entire organization reaps the benefits of Agile principles and practices that are effectively scaled throughout the business and operations.

In general, an Agile COE should follow these guidelines:
  • Establish thought leadership as a way to increase the organization's maturity level and thus its ability to adopt Agile.
  • Maximize an Agile transformation at a strategic enterprise, program, and project level.
  • Define and craft an Agile processes and best practices charter that can be shared and scaled throughout the enterprise.
  • Build a knowledge base of Agile practices, and support the team by answering any queries while working in an Agile ecosystem.
  • Provide business solutions to presales, clients, and delivery teams.
  • Standardize tools and templates across the enterprise and tailor them according to need.
  • Achieve operational excellence, enhance business values and business process improvement, and augment develop/deploy methods that comply with industry best practices.
  • Keep up with the latest technologies and innovation.
  • Coach and train engineers and managers on Agile values, principles, methods, and practices.
  • Assess the Agile implementation of different projects, identifying any gaps or improvement areas.
  • Put in place output measures that track results delivered.
  • Formalize the team, integrate it with strategic planning, and expand it across the organization.
  • Continue to improve, adapt, and advance capabilities.
  • Build competent, collaborative teams.
  • Employ a leadership collaboration style.
  • Encourage teams to commit, act, be open, and to have the courage to follow rules.
  • Be open, transparent, and available so that people can reach out to have their their queries solved or get clarification and support in implementing Agile.
One of the most important responsibilities of COEs is to cultivate the Agile mindset at the top level of the organizational hierarchy. It is quite easy to train and coach a team that is going to work on a project, but it is difficult to transform top management's thought process about the Agile framework. The top-down approach always helps the team; it increases their faith in management and enables transparency at all levels. The responsibility lies with the leadership hierarchy that runs the operation. They are the teachers/coaches on this journey.

The fifth Agile principle, "Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to the job done," makes sense for the Agile COE to follow and put into practice in programs.

Initially, most organizations deploy a steering committee, group, or forum with a defined set of people, which gradually matures into a full-fledged Agile COE. In a nutshell, Agile COE is formed to provide support, guidance, learning, governance, and measurements at the enterprise, portfolio, and project levels so that Agile values are consistent and create an Agile DNA for the organization.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.6 (5 ratings)


Pedro Gustavo Torres, CSD,CSM,CSPO, 4/19/2016 3:40:49 PM
Great article. A COE is a great way to have a smooth transition.
Navdeep Jain, CSM, 4/25/2016 3:56:10 AM
Thanks for reading and liking.
PENCH BATTA, CSP,CSM, 1/2/2018 3:34:35 PM
Great Article! Enjoyed reading. Do we have templates for Agile COE Charter?
Rick Regueira, CEC,CTC,CSP,CSM,CSPO, 2/18/2018 5:03:14 AM
Great job. Very helpful. Don't now how you can execute a major organizational transformation with out a Agile COE.

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