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COE alignment

March 7, 2010

In a previous post, we looked at some of the reasons why I see COEs fail in my practice. Two of those reasons had to do with the alignment between the COE and the larger organizational context:

  • Failure to align with the aims and goals of the larger organization
  • Failure to adapt to changing conditions in the larger organization or marketplace

In this post, we’ll take a look at one approach to establishing and maintaining alignment both within the COE as well as between a COE and the larger organization and the marketplace.

The figure below presents a visual representation of the approach.

There are three key players in the approach: the COE, the organization it’s a part of, and the marketplace. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

  • Larger Organization – the key alignment points with the organization the COE is a part of can be distilled to three: vision/mission, strategy, and tactics. These three elements are the backbone of how an organization structures the work it chooses to do. Its tactics are the plan for executing the strategy it’s adopted, which has been adopted in order to actualize its mission or vision.
  • Marketplace – there are some key big bucket alignment points, which can be grouped into two kinds: things we should do to be successful and things we must do to operate within the bounds of the law.
  • COE – although the foundational activities of COEs will vary based on a variety of factors (kind of COE, specifics of the larger organization, and so on), this list is a good representation of all the kinds of activities a COE could be responsible for. Typically, the activities at the top of the hierarchy are common to all COEs (vision/mission, policies), but as you move down the list, activities drop out depending on organizational specifics.

The basic premise of the approach is that the COE can ensure alignment with the larger organizational context by crafting its vision/mission statement in light of the vision or mission of the organization as well as the core elements of enterprise strategy and tactics. In addition, the COE must look outward to the marketplace context beyond the organization to ensure that it’s on the right side of the law and also ahead of trends in technology, consumer behavior, and the competition.

The strength of the approach comes on the one hand from the reduction of external alignment points: out of all the foundational activities of a COE, only the vision/mission and policies are directly aligned with either the larger organizational context or the marketplace—the remaining  activities are aligned internally to both of these.

On the other hand, the approach provides clear internal alignment points because it’s so rigidly hierarchical. Once the vision/mission is crafted and the policies are written in accordance with it (and applicable laws and regulations), the alignment of the rest of the COE activities follow from there one after the other: following procedures ensures adherence to policy; the engagement model is bounded by the procedures established; the solution packages are structured for optimal delivery using the engagement model; and support is provided in keeping with the capabilities delivered in the solution packages.

The final word

If alignment were only this easy to establish and maintain! The approach presented here is by no means a silver bullet that makes alignment a sure thing. But it is an effective way to structure your COE efforts, one that increases your chances of successfully aligning the COE externally (with the larger business context and marketplace) and internally (with the larger aims and goals of the organization). I’d love to hear what folks think, especially if you have your own war stories of trying to create/maintain alignment for a COE (or other cross-functional team) or thoughts on alternative ways to work towards that alignment.

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