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Achieving “business agility” and maintaining Agile teams takes persistence, time, and dedication. Maintaining that positive momentum and engagement throughout an organization takes care, coordination, and encouragement. How do you cultivate collective thinking and exchanging of ideas within your team, and then eventually, the entire organization? No matter how you choose to approach Agile, it’s essential that your organization has a community platform to learn, grow and share this expert knowledge.

Building internal Agile coaching capabilities in an organization is a strategic investment that can help create a powerful agile culture for all leadership levels. Not only can it be cost-effective, but it also provides consistency, better context and value to your teams. Across the industry there are companies like Salesforce, Target, ExxonMobil, and many more who have developed robust approaches to supporting internal Agile Coaches as well as supporting a community of Agilists.

Community of Practice (CoP) vs. Center of Excellence (CoE)

The development of community encourages the deeper exploration of ideas. Communities of Practice (CoP) and Centers of Excellence (CoE) are two platforms that provide people with ways to organize and build on their ideas and expert knowledge. Implementation of these systems can have direct financial results, but just as importantly, can translate to higher customer satisfaction, sustained resources, and improvements in capacity and capability of teams.

While similar, there are some major differences between CoP’s and CoE’s that you may find work with or against your organizational goals.

Communities of Practice (CoP)

Communities of Practice are groups of people with similar interests who share experiences with a common goal. They come together to talk to one another and learn from each other. In this platform, all levels of expertise are welcomed, and all experiences can provide their perspectives and learnings. There is no one person in charge or set standards. Instead, the community works together to solve a problem and adopt a common solution together. Consider it organized yet informal with opportunities for a wide range of people to participate irrespective of where they are in an organizational structure. If we consider the “Spotify” model, a CoP can be organized as a guild.

Centers of Excellence (CoE)

On the other hand, a Center of Excellence establishes a set of organized practices or standards that support and align teams. Generally, a smaller group of leaders are the ones who establish and enforce these parameters. This form of organizational learning stems from a belief that excellence can be achieved by applying the same behaviors and practices across teams – think a best practices resource. A CoE will have more distinct authority over a method of how things will operate and has influence on operations. These are also more often aligned to domains where practices require more stringent alignment and controls across an organization (e.g. in tech this can be “coding standards” or in manufacturing this can be “safety standards”).

So, which system works best? Our answer: It depends.

We know this may not be the response you were searching for, but we do believe there are pros and cons to both CoP’s and CoE’s. When it comes down to it, we believe the decision relies on two factors: culture and need for consistent control.

If your interest area is willing to be inspired by many points of view, then a community of practice is best. Like a guild, it’s an organization designed to enhance our craftsmanship in the work that we do. However, if the interest area is needed to establish parameters on how things are done across the organization or your organization is traditionally more regimented in mindset, has the organizational support and operational budget, then a center of excellence may be a better fit.

Can both coexist? Absolutely.

Imagine that an Agile CoE can help establish broad standards on how we incorporate Agile practices at different altitudes (team, program, enterprise levels) for the purpose of alignment and coordination. At the same time, an Agile CoP can be used to bring people together across domains so that they can discover, discuss, debate, and learn from practices from across the enterprise. Keeping the CoP can help bring in others who may be interested in Agile irrespective of where they generally work in the organization.

If there is a debate on whether your organization needs one over the other, we recommend exploring both for the sake of balancing the needs of operational coordination along with the needs of operational inspiration.

If you have any questions or need guidance on how to further develop your organization’s Agile practice, our team is ready to help! Hyperdrive Agile offers comprehensive Agile training and consulting services for organizations of every scale.

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When you’re ready to move beyond piecemeal resources and take your Agile skills or transformation efforts to the next level, get personalized support from the world’s leaders in agility.