Here’s a pre-coffee morning thought and following on from recent posts about enterprise social here on Successful Workplace: with social creating a wave through the business process space, removing silos and increasing collaboration in the enterprise, does this mean that specialised and centralised functions like a Center of Excellence should no longer exist ?
Two sides of the coin
In previous interviews on BPM Redux, Vinay Mummigati formally of Virtusa said “A BPM center of excellence (COE) is an absolute must for organizations planning to adopt BPM across the enterprise. As companies adopt BPM in more than a single department they often start seeing challenges in terms of standardization, scalability, performance and governance.“
And yet there was a completely different perspective taken by Max J Pucher of ISIS Papyrus who stated “…if there is one thing that Social [sic] could knock down, it is the Process Center of Excellence and the related bureaucracy overhead!“
As a supporter of what the social concepts can achieve from an internal organisational structure perspective I have to side with Max’s view. There are increasing levels of collaboration and communication at stake that involve a lot more people than previously would have been invited to participate, so therefore why create a centralised function full of specific roles and ‘experts’ when what we’re trying to prove with enterprise social is the exact opposite ? The two ideals are actually opposed to each other when you think on it this way.
So what do we do next
There is an argument that depending on the BPM maturity level of an organisation that creating a CoE would still be valid but then it’s lifespan would still be finite once the enterprise social paradigm has been embraced and creating another silo shouldn’t really be a goal. What perhaps we need to think on is how social concepts can create a more fluid entity consisting of many participants rather than purely those with a process background. Innovation and creativity involves more than just singular skills.
Gabe Newell, President of Valve Software gave an interesting insight into their development process for their hit game Half-Life released in 1999 (!), where they formed ‘cabals‘ instead of structuring their teams in traditional ways. In hindsight, Valve and how they worked were far more progressive than any of us could imagine back then and we’re only now beginning to scratch the surface.
The first few months of the Cabal process were somewhat nerve wracking for those outside the process. It wasn’t clear that egos could be suppressed enough to get anything done, or that a vision of the game filtered through a large number of people would be anything other than bland. As it turned out, the opposite was true; the people involved were tired of working in isolation and were energized by the collaborative process, and the resulting designs had a consistent level of polish and depth that hadn’t been seen before.
Internally, once the success of the Cabal process was obvious, mini-Cabals were formed to come up with answers to a variety of design problems. These mini-Cabals would typically include people most effected by the decision, as well as try to include people completely outside the problem being addressed in order to keep a fresh perspective on things. We also kept membership in the initial Cabal somewhat flexible and we quickly started to rotate people through the process every month or so, always including a few people from the last time, and always making sure we had a cross section of the company. This helped to prevent burn out, and ensured that everyone involved in the process had experience using the results of Cabal decisions.
“The simple answer is that hierarchy is good for repeatability and measurability, whereas self-organizing networks are better at invention,” Gabe said, “There are a lot of side effects and consequences. The lack of titles (roles) is primarily an internal signaling tool.”
“The alternate answer is that organizations that think they are hierarchical actually don’t gain advantage by it (they actually have hidden networks), and that the hierarchical appearance is the result of rent-seeking.”
So is the notion of building silos like a (BPM) Center of Excellence short lived as we move towards breaking down the internal enterprise barriers with hyper communication and collaboration ?
As this seems to be a good year for making predictions, I’ll stick my neck out and say, Yes…..
This post is an update from an original that appeared in BPM Redux in 2010.