Blog post

Centers of Acceleration

By Hank Barnes | May 18, 2021 | 5 Comments


There are a lot of ideas and trends that are on a collision course with accepted best practices.  When that happens, the best practice is either validated, rejected, or refined.    Right now, I think they may be happening with concept of Centers of Excellence.

As I read about CoEs, it sounds like goodness (when done right of course),   bringing together expertise in an area to drive standardization and progress that can be leveraged across the organization.   I’ve seen words that implies that CoEs should push their work across the organization (e.g.  a CoE for digital commerce might establish standards and tools and then work across the business to help them successful adopt those standards and tools).

But here is where the potential problem lies.

Most of the thinking I’ve seen around CoEs seems to be built around a more centralized and controlled model of behavior.  But we don’t see that today.  Between the general growth of business buying and the explosion of fusion teams, buying efforts often don’t start from a controlled foundation.

I wonder if folks who get involved in these buying efforts know there are CoEs and know that they could help them.     For a layman, a CoE may sound exclusionary—experts only here–and be viewed with trepidation by others.

But, at the same time, we know from our buying research and the fusion teams research that these distributed buying efforts often have struggles.    Delays, rework, unhappiness, and more crop up again and again and again.   Many of the problems stem from a seeming lack of digital judgment–missing knowledge and expertise in key areas, often with non-functional requirements (security, compliance, supportability, etc.).    That sounds like what a CoE could help with.

What if we repositioned CoEs as Centers of Acceleration.   These would be resource teams whose mission is to help others accelerate smart decisions.    The mindset would be ‘we are here to help others, working with them to make what they want to do work, within the guardrails of corporate constraints.’     Centers of Acceleration would be perceived as the place you go to go faster (and smarter) vs. the place where experts congregate.

Photo by zhang kaiyv from Pexels

Many CoEs may already be CoAs, but making sure the mindset shift happens is critical.

What say you?   Delusional ideas of someone who doesn’t get CoEs, or an idea worth exploring and refining?c

Leave a Comment


  • Mary-Marshall Gallant says:

    Great post, Hank!

  • This is a very interesting topic; particularly from a large enterprise CEO’s perspective. They may wonder why their digital transformation project procurement cycle concluded with no vendor being selected. Potentially, deferring indefinitely.

    I’m thinking that while the typical corporate CoE leader has good intentions when they select internal team members to participate in the process, but finding the best-fit subject matter expertise can be very challenging.

    Gartner’s own research has highlighted this phenomenon — the quest for appropriately skilled and experienced internal talent uncovers sub-optimal candidates. The assumed ‘talent pool’, upon reflection, actually seems more like a ‘talent puddle’.

    Makes me wonder, given your description Hank, perhaps there’s a need for an independent external professional service team that essentially performs the CoA function on behalf of their client. IT-Acceleration-as-a-Service — with pre-qualified talent that’s capable of delivering actionable expertise on-demand.

    • Hank Barnes says:

      And interesting idea….I have seen a few vendors make “acceleration services” a core part of their offer (including not taking a ‘software’ deal without the services). very important that they also make part of their story about teaching and supporting agile learning as “doing the work for them.

  • David Chandler says:

    Turning CoE potential energy into kinetic ROI while replacing the overused (often ill-fitted) CoE moniker makes for a good value proposition.

    The CoA should differentiate clearly to avoid perception of just another repackage. While CoE fundamentals remain true (roles, integration, etc.), fusion/faster/smarter add a fresh take that better describes prospect asperations. I’ve been applying this dynamism (though referring to it as a catalytic approach to CoE)…but I like your term much better.

    The perception of congregated experts hovering over watercoolers (akin to lions at the watering hole) is enough to make any prospect run. Barnacles on timelines…bad! CoA is more inviting and in-line business asperations.