Over the course of my career in operational excellence I’ve partnered with a number of companies that have applied a “centers of excellence” (COE) model in support of their continuous improvement program.

I’ve observed COEs that were very well resourced with multiple dedicated full-time functional or subject matter experts and others that were cobbled together through a combination of plant and leveraged resources tasked with doing the work of the COE in addition to their day-to-day jobs.

I’ve also seen a variety of COE constructs, from functional to practices/tools-based to those that mirror the production process and everything in-between.

Long story made short, when it comes to COEs, there does not appear to be a standard model, and although I have personal preferences, the reality is that different models can be effective.

That being said, even though the model tends to be variable across companies, the work of the COE tends to be quite similar, including (but not limited to):

  • Defining a common set of best practices and work standards
  • Assessing (or helping others to assess) the maturity profile of the plants against these best practices and work standards
  • Providing direct (i.e., in-person) and/or indirect (e.g., instructional content, tools & templates, etc.) guidance and support to assist plants in implementing these best practices work standards

It’s hard to argue that the work described above isn’t important. It seems clear to me that if the organization is serious about driving a consistent approach to plant operations management, then it needs to establish and document a common set of practices and standards.

Furthermore, if the organization does not define a governance process for these practices and standards or provide support in implementing them, then why should it expect that they will be followed?

So the critical issue for me when it comes to COEs isn’t whether the work they’re doing is important to the business. Instead, the critical issue is how to ensure that their effort isn’t wasted, and unfortunately, all too often that is the case.

Lots of well-intentioned, hard-working people spend a ton of hours compiling best practices, developing content and performing assessments only to see a distinct lack of real impact at the unit of implementation, the plant.

This phenomenon needs to change…the remainder of the article provides two recommendations for how to best leverage the COE model in support of business results.