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“Shelley engaged the Advisory Council in some very productive ways. The project enabled Kara to increase its leadership capacity within the organization. We were able to begin some new projects that would not be possible without the assistance of the Advisory Council.”

Michael Lydon
Executive Director(former)


Centers of Excellence? What Do They Do? There are Too Few

BPTrends did a survey of their readership about Business Process Centers of Excellence (COE) at the end of 2012.

Here are some provocative results of that survey:

  • Only 57 people responded and of those only 36 said they had a Center of Excellence. As BPtrends stated in their report this is a surprisingly low response rate and a lower than expected percentage of organizations that have COE’s.   And in their bi- annual general surveys since 2005 the number of respondents who did not have a CoE has remained relatively constant between 34 and 36%.
  • The definition for Process COE they used was “a formal group within an organization that, at a minimum, serves to provide support for others doing process work. It may do more — it may coordinate all process work within the organization, monitor process performance, or undertake projects — but at a minimum, it provides support for process change efforts. A Process CoE can use any of several methodologies, such as BPM, Lean, BPMS or Six Sigma, or a combination of approaches.”

What I find interesting here is the definition is quite broad- allowing for an ongoing group named a center of excellence as well as a professional support group performing these tasks.  This breadth suggests there might be more CoE’s even if they are not called that, but that is not what the objective data showed.

  • 42%  said their CoE reported at the corporate level,; 23 % said their CoE reported to a  business unit or division and 20% reported to IT. 33 % said they had difficulty getting management support; 19% said they presented a business case and got approval and management support and 33% said they had no difficulty because  management requested the CoE.  What I find provocative about this is just that there seems to be no best practices path.
  • I expected organizations at higher process maturity levels would be more likely to have CoE’s but again that is now what the BPTrends data showed.  Approximately 30% of the respondents who had CoE’s were at process maturity levels 3-5.  But 22% at level 1 had CoE’s and 48% from level 2 had CoE’s. So the data doesn’t follow the theory.  Instead organizations are establishing CoE’s at the more beginning process maturing levels.

How does all this compare to my experience over the past 20 years doing business process improvement?

I‘ve been teaching Governance and Centers of Excellence with BPM Institute for the past 4 years, and they have had conference presentations on the topic since 2007.  Interest in the topic has been stable or grown slightly over that time, as judged by class size.  What I have found is that most attendees are in the getting started phase for CoE’s  and Governance; about 20% have some kind of CoE and of that 20% only 5% have had a CoE for more than 2 years. 

Additionally putting the topic of Governance with CoE expands the breadth of the topic.  Governance is often one aspect of a CoE’s responsibility (48.6% according to BPTrends survey). Process architecture design and management, process modeling, Process repository, and process modeling are more common responsibilities for organizations who had CoE’s at 60% or more.

In addition to my experience in teaching situations, I have worked with 3 clients who had CoE’s or wanted to establish them – one a commercial food distributor, and another a major university, and the third a leading food manufacturer. Here is the experience I had with them:

  1. The first tried to establish a CoE.  The small professional BPM (CoE) group had CEO support but not C-suite support. The C- suite steering committee wanted to focus on specific projects first.  The BPM professional staff wanted to build a methodology for the company first.  The project died a slow death.
  2. The university started with a grass routes effort and did over 50 successful process improvement projects.  They had one program manager, a curriculum committee and outside consulting support.  Many employees learned new skills, continued to use them, and the projects got the significant organization results..  Then the Chancellor brought in a major outside consulting firm who designated 3 key process projects and specific organizational changes.  The university supported that with teams and project management and began to build a 1 person CoE to support projects and implementation.  But the CoE has limited influence, although there is a strong cadre of managers and employees who support a process culture. 
  3. In the third situation, the company had several different types of CoE’s across the global organization, but just local process (BPM) support groups (acceptable under BPTrends definition as CoE’s).  One internal BPM professional, the manager of a local CoE ,was doing process improvement projects and he began to work with other local process CoE’s slowly building larger informal process (BPM) CoE organization.


I think process Center of Excellence is a ‘cool’ term but so far organizations are not implementing this concept in growing numbers.  Here’s my advice:

Get executive management support right from the beginning.  Make your case for the benefits of a process CoE to management and get their approval. Start with a small CoE (5 people or less) with specific objective goals.

Start with a quiet period just like large scale endowment campaigns start with a quite period where 70% of the money for a capital campaign is solicited and collected from the high net worth contributors.  Then when the campaign has a significant start on their ultimate money goal, the campaign is announced to the general ‘public” and more contributions from other contributors are collected. Do the same thing with the CoE.  Start with projects and build several success stories.

A CoE requires an investment of money, so having several successful projects under your belt helps.  Not only have you proved the worth of business process improvement with real results for your company, you will have some management sponsors who speak of their success and how it has provided value to the organization.  They are likely advocate for a CoE  as they know the worth of the help that internal and external BPM professions have provided their division. 

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3 comments to Centers of Excellence? What Do They Do? There are Too Few

  • Jay Sorenson


    You quote various percentages number of respondents etc. Percentages can be tricky; I have no idea if your numbers are statistically significant. What was your sample size and margin of error?

    A center of excellence sounds good in theory, easy to talk about but hard to do. Actually, I thought that’s what the various levels of management were supposed do. That doesn’t seem to have worked out to well’

    One can ask is the viewer capable of recognizing excellence, if so, does the viewer embrace it or does the viewer see it as a threat. On the flip side really intelligent well above the norm in competence may find it frustrating to work the average being.

    Moreover, really competent people are hard to find and cost money. If one can find them, a good DBA costs between $150,000 and $250,000. And then one is not sure until you see their work.

    I’m not sure what you mean by corporate governance, are you talking about Sarbanes – Oxley or something like it?


    Jay Sorenson

    • shelley

      All this data is from a survey done by BPTrends so go check out that link, and they readily admit it is a small sample size.

      Center of Excellence is a term for a BPM Professional group who performs a variety of activities to foster BPM culture and results in the organization.

      Corporate Governance is a term – when applied to BPM – that means what standards, decision-making authority, and monitoring and measuring processes.

      Here are some thoughts from BPM Institute:

      Two aspects of a Governance Framework
      >Establishing processes that define who is empowered to make certain decisions
      >Establishing mechanisms and policies to measure and control the way decisions are implemented
      What is Process Governance?
      >An extension of Corporate Governance that defines the decision-making rights associated with the definition and deployment of enterprise process improvement initiatives
      >Includes the mechanisms and policies used to measure and control the way enterprise processes are defined, deployed, maintained and monitored

  • […] I’ve suggested the increasingly popular center of excellence (CoE) model is evolving in response to this into something we are now calling the network of excellence. I have […]

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