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Struggling to set up a center of excellence? Try a design thinking approach!

Donna Tellam, 7 minute read

Establishing a center of excellence (COE) is essential for any organization embarking on a journey to automate business processes using the Pega Platform. A good COE provides the leadership needed to establish and govern best practices for architecture, user experience, code re-use, training resources, project roadmaps, testing, and other standards. A well-run COE guides complex projects from inception to successful completion, and even facilitates continuous improvement of those processes over time.

One of the most common challenges for any enterprise is establishing a center of excellence when one does not yet exist.  It’s hard to know where to start, and every organization is different, having unique requirements and resource constraints. There are many key components of a COE, which makes it easy to become overwhelmed or even paralyzed by the thought of trying to pull everything together at once. So why not use a design thinking approach to get started?

Identify your COE leadership team

The first step to jump start your COE is to identify a COE manager, and subsequently a group of leaders for each of the key areas.  The COE manager will be accountable for establishing the COE, and select a COE leadership team that includes representation from both business and technology. This ensures that solutions are fit for purpose and address the needs of your end users while ensuring your solutions are technically feasible and properly conform to technical standards. 

Zero in on the challenges

Once your team is established, it’s time to agree on the biggest challenges you face as an organization. This can’t be done in a vacuum. Don’t assume that your leadership team knows all of the challenges being faced by the organization, because that is never the case.  You need to speak to the people who are out there doing the work.

As a team, compile a list of people that includes at least two representatives from every aspect of your COE scope. This can be a long list (typically it will end up being anywhere from 25-30 people), but you need to hear many perspectives on the biggest challenges faced by your organization so you know what to tackle, and what to tackle first. The COE manager and a business analyst should interview each representative, encouraging them to speak freely and without repercussions.  You can keep it to 30-45 minutes per interview, but be sure to capture honest thoughts on what works well today, and what doesn’t.

Once everyone has been interviewed, compile all of the comments into one document, grouping the issues into categories.  In the end you will notice that some categories have far more comments under them than the others.  These are the issues that should be addressed first. 

Define the 'Minimum Lovable Product'

The COE leadership should use five to six of the top challenge categories to define what we at Pega call the ‘Minimum Lovable Product’ (MLP) COE, which should include the bare minimum you need to begin bringing value to your project teams.  Use those categories to define the goals of the MLP COE.

Categories we commonly see when conducting our COE vision workshops include:

  • Training & Enablement
  • Delivery Model
  • Code Reuse
  • User Experience Standards
  • Overarching Architecture

Goals are different for every organization depending on the experience and maturity of project teams.

Identify the tasks to achieve each goal

For every goal you set, create a list of tasks that must be completed to consider your goal complete.  This can be done quickly by conducting a workshop with the COE leadership team to brainstorm what needs to be done.  You can use a digital workspace like Mural, or in person you can place a large paper sheet on the wall for each of your goals. Ask each participant to add a small sticky note for each task they think must be completed to achieve each goal. Allow about 30 minutes for each goal. Once the sticky notes are in place, you can discuss each of the goals as a team and determine the final list of tasks for each goal.

Make it happen

Now that you know the goals and tasks required to create your MLP COE, it’s time to make it happen!  Create a COE goals dashboard so you can track your progress. Assign each of the tasks to an appropriate team member and give them a deadline. Establish a weekly COE leadership team cadence call, using the dashboard to guide the agenda.  You can be as aggressive as you want with the deadlines to make sure you have your COE established quickly.

Don't stop there!

Once you have finished this process you have your ‘Minimum Lovable Product’ COE.  But it is as described: MINIMUM. It’s important to continue to build and improve until you have established a mature COE. Every four to six months you should repeat your COE workshop activities, using your original outcomes to establish a COE Roadmap, and interviewing project team members to gather feedback on the MVP COE, and any new challenges that have arisen.

Keep advancing and you will find that you have a mature COE before you know it.


Do you have a Center of Excellence? Are you in the process of setting one up? What advice do you have for someone setting up a Center of Excellence for the first time? Share your thoughts on Collaboration Center HERE.


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About the Author

As a Digital Transformation Partner, Donna Tellam helps clients find innovative ways to leverage Pega products for business transformation using Design thinking techniques.  She has over 25 years’ experience in enterprise software with expertise in product management, user experience, and business process optimization.

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