When Centres of Excellence Matter

Historically I've been opposed to Centres of Excellence (COEs) because I believe after a standard is created, people grow to meet the expectation, not exceed it. Assuming the standard itself is any good at all, then there exists the challenge of measuring against the standard fairly, objectively and completely. Because people are complex, so too become our standards definitions, methods of measure and penalty and reward systems. How pretty this picture is at the end, if there is an end, is dependent upon the maturity of the standards definers, auditors, reporters and so forth. Ironically, the people who compose our organization are often the subject of experiment. My experience has been that COEs are often used for domestic and international certification attainment, audit and re-certification purposes more than actually moving people to endless greatness. A sort of mass production approach, if you will. Of course, until three years ago, my experience was grounded in 1st-world US and UK based technology companies who already had a standard performance expectation, method of measure, modification and evolution. I now see two different contexts. Because I see two contexts it then stands to reason there could be more and the conversation 'to COE or not to COE' becomes of course more complicated. Another point scored for the complexity of human existence.

Consider countries, companies, products, projects and teams who have no existing baseline of acceptability? What about cultures where it is time for the standard of excellence to evolve from non-existence, local, regional or domestic into internationally accepted paradigms? What about countries newly formed, newly war-torn and recovering, newly split or abused by historically poor leadership? Countries in transition. What about the same for multi-national corporations (MNCs)? Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)? In each case, regardless the apparent contrast in organizational or entity type, they all have the same fundamental building blocks called people.

In a situation where there exists no standard, there must come to be one if there is to be any form of predictable, repeatable results from efforts. In a situation where the existing standard is no longer acceptable, it must be evolved in order to improve environment, effort and result quality. In a situation where results are unpredictable or unacceptable, it again must be evolved to realize efficiencies and growth/revenue gains. In these types of situations it makes good, practical sense to construct a COE which enables an organization or entity toward a focused direction and goal or set of goals.

COEs by definition create a baseline of acceptable behaviour, output and result. If you, your organization, government entity or government itself are in a place where a baseline of acceptability needs to evolve from where you are to where you need to go, a COE is an industry tried and proven method of evolving. After you have the COE in place and are able to measure planned versus actual results against standard, you may then be ready to move to a more expert level of operation enabling self-evolving teams, projects, programs and organizations or entities.

Standards enable prosperity through predictability. And in many cases, 'how' said standards are implemented and evolved is a better conversation for entity health than questioning 'if' they should be implemented at all. We need only review the fruit of labour to discover whether we should or should not. Keep in mind that a COE is only a vehicle for standards management and relevant only when chosen. The more important conversation is the standard itself. Without standard, humanity and society themselves are not even capable of purposefully evolving towards a common goal.

Imagine a country (or other entity) without standards.

Imagine a country (or other entity) with expansive, industry-agnostic, industry-specific and self-evolving standards fostering predictable, forecasted prosperity.


Of course not choosing a standards based situation is choosing the inverse. The next question may then be, is this on purpose or accidental?