They say the secret to a good marriage is communication. The marriage of IT and business is no exception.
Centers of excellence work best when there is good communication and a healthy relationship between technology and business teams. One of the functions of a center of excellence (CoE) is to structure teams and processes in a way that balances input from, and benefits to, both business and IT teams. Unfortunately, that frequently isn’t the case. Instead of healthy marriages, I often see difficult, broken, and even antagonistic relationships between these groups. The good news is that, in unbalanced situations, there are two relatively easy, minimally time-consuming ways to help teams better understand each other and work together in more effective and mutually beneficial ways.
Demystify the technology
One of the more common challenges I see is that IT teams often don’t speak in terms that business teams fully understand. IT teams are very comfortable with the ins and outs of the applications that they support but sometimes forget that business folks aren’t necessarily as immersed in, or comfortable with, the technology. This leads to situations where business teams may feel that the technology is a bit of a black hole. They may not understand the full capabilities of the applications nor the ‘out of the box’ features that they could easily leverage. When this happens, the business can easily miss out on additional ROI because they simply don't know to ask for what they don't know is possible.
Consider the example of reuse. Among the most important functions of a Pega CoE, for example, is to govern reuse strategy. Creating and maintaining a reuse catalogue – with features like log in, customer search, agent search, credit review, integrations, and other common functions – helps IT teams by saving time and effort developing functionality that is already production ready. From a business perspective, having development teams re-use assets means that end users have a more consistent user experience. From the IT perspective, development teams have more capacity to develop new functionality. The result is increased value and decreased development time.
An ineffective reuse strategy can significantly decrease potential ROI in two respects. On the one hand, application quality suffers because teams are building from scratch rather than building upon something that is already developed and optimized. On the other hand, capacity is diminished as development teams work on functionality that already exists. Ultimately, it is the CoE’s responsibility to ensure that the teams collaborate throughout the software lifecycle – from project intake, to architectural reviews, through end user feedback – making sure that reusable assets are incorporated into emerging releases wherever possible. But how? The answer is education.
Here are two high impact practices that CoEs can adopt to help bridge the communication gap:
1. Product Demo’s and Lunch & Learns
Many CoEs co-host monthly Lunch & Learns along with project stakeholders to demonstrate specifics of the Pega platform and showcase existing applications. This is a great way for potential Pega project sponsors and teams to understand Pega’s capabilities, talk directly to users and teams about their struggles and successes, and learn about existing reusable or out of the box capabilities. Once business teams see reuse in action, they are more likely to use a feature as-is for their first release (aka a Minimum Lovable Product, or MLP), deliver business value more quickly, and agree to seek user feedback before planning later iterations.
2. Quarterly Application Reviews
Having the CoE host quarterly application reviews of new solutions, newly released reusable components, and major development efforts that benefit multiple teams allows business groups to see what others are doing with the same technology. This makes the CoE reuse strategy even more important – as groups are able to understand what functionality has already been created by and made available for reuse, they can begin to incorporate that functionality into their applications as well. The result is increased ROI out of the CoE because the value of current projects extends to include the value produced by future ones, and development velocity on current projects is increased thanks to the ability to easily reuse components that have already been built.
While IT teams may feel that taking the time to educate business teams on the technology – including new or reusable features – is time consuming or detracts from their delivery capacity, the short-term investment of time will increase application quality and development velocity in the long term.
Be transparent about the delivery process
We recommend that every CoE define and socialize a delivery process map like the example below.
While this seems simple, I have only ever seen a handful of CoEs make this kind of delivery process map a priority. And of CoEs that do maintain a delivery process map, only a few actually do it well. It is imperative that all project participants know what the flow of work looks like – from idea to implementation – and are clear about roles and responsibilities at each point in the process. Once people understand how a process works and their specific role in that process, it becomes so much easier to ‘stay in one’s swim lane’ and trust that others do the same.
Once you have outlined the process and each party’s responsibilities, it is just as important to make sure that information is available to all project participants: Knowledge Hubs, SharePoint sites, and the like are common knowledge management tools. Creating stellar definitions of roles and responsibilities is a waste of time if no one knows the information exists or can’t easily access and consume it.
Let’s return to our reuse example. The CoE can help business and IT partners align on a vision of what reuse means for the company and help them understand their roles in bringing the reuse strategy to life. Explicitly including a reuse assessment as part of the project intake process is a best practice, for two reasons:
First, it requires information about reusable assets be posted in the knowledge management repository and for product owners and business teams to become familiar with its contents so they do not ask teams to build functionality that already exists. If the CoE or another project team has already built a customer search feature, or a credit review feature for example, the project team should know that it exists, and how to use it.
Second, baking reuse into the delivery model ensures that business and IT teams collaborate on future functionality as early as possible, and commit to re-use existing functionality in part if not in whole. Having a clear delivery process map, a set of roles and responsibilities supported by the CoE, and a knowledge management repository lays the foundation for effective communication.
Think about your center of excellence as a marriage counselor for the enterprise. Even if the relationship between business and IT is strained, the relationship is not broken. As Francis Carden has observed, tensions between business and IT are not anyone’s fault. They are merely a result of the fact that business and IT frequently have different concerns. The answer is empathy, and the way to empathy is education and clear communication
A center of excellence that focuses on giving people the tools, knowledge, and authority to do their job and do it well by incorporating the above will foster open, collaborative relationships between its business and IT partners. Where communication is open and expectations are clear, teams will work more effectively, miss fewer opportunities, solve problems better, and deliver solutions faster. In other words, if the mission of a CoE is to maximize its ROI, then the only path to success is through education, communication, and empathy.
- Struggling to set up a center of excellence? Try a design thinking approach!