Case Study Center of Excellence Concept Strategy- Eight Tips Before You Dive Deep into the Abyss
One of the most logical business methods is to group common processes and practices under a common theme, and this is just the first mistake.
Many have asked the question, what needs to happen to build a successful Center of Excellence for Quality Assurance? Call it a CoE (Center of Excellence), call it a lab, call it a quality center. Whatever you call it, the concept can be as simple as the nose on your face, or as complicated as a Rubik’s Cube. I’m always taken back a bit when people ask my “to set up a CoE how long does it take and what’s it cost?”. Over my last six years at a prominent European investment bank, I was tasked not to build a CoE in the beginning, but it certainly ended up that way. It was a mission I had to prove that it can work, and it can return big benefits. It was just a logical choice.
A little background first. The CoE housed approximately sixty program teams, supporting approximately 500 test engineers, functioned with a tech and process core team of 6 and a annual budget of less than EUR2 million. It was a global virtual lab, meaning there were multiple centers around the world, all connected via Citrix/VM Ware tunneled environments on a totally shareable test management repository. Test automation tools and performance tools were packaged, deployed, hosted, version controlled, and distributed from multiple centers. Virtual installations were installed and managed via SMS, WebEx, and Timbuktu sessions. Boy that’s a mouthful wasn’t it.
It was a stunning achievement for the team to have this program offering so much benefit with such a small core team. Oh, did I mention that we had seven partner offshore vendors to integrate and support as well? The premise was to use logic, common sense, and a lot of sweat equity.
Common sense? Common scene coming from an investment bank is not common. Everything is made complicated, (because they feel it should be-another story for another day). Call it spiritual, call it soul searching, I did learn lot’s about Hindu religion along the way, particularly about Saraswati. I also referred back to a great book for inspiration, Good to Great. Might be a few things to look into if you’re on a similar venture.
To the Task at Hand
The European Bank CoE project took approximately one month to design, six months to implement, and another six months to tune. I estimate that we had a fully functioning enterprise CoE from concept to reality up and running in less than a year.
Each of the topics that I’ll cover are fairly straight forward and are listed in no particular order. Just like building a CoE, be prepared to be flexible, you need to review/adjust your thinking, management, monitoring, and tinkering with the plan.
1. Where’s The “buy-in” Coming From?
There are two ways to get buy-in. Either the CEO funds and dictates it….or you need a pool of Program Managers willing to create the mini-center that can eventually be sold as the model to the rest of the enterprise. There’s challenges in both models. Those who have the “top-down” environment argue that middle management won’t buy in (and they fight it). The suggestion: make them an offer they can’t refuse. I have one word for that….pressure. No seriously, the word is subsidize. Get senior management to underwrite portions of the program so that the project managers will be enticed to join. Then offer pieces of the QA process that they’d normally have to spend themselves. It’s a great carrot. A bonus is always better than a bill.
2. Global or Local
Being a global IT organization with people literally everywhere, the model needed to have a strong infrastructure (secure/scalable) . this is why the common software packing platforms are so important. There’s nothing worse than having desktop issues burning Support Desk time. Whether you’re concentrated on one floor, or in 50 buildings in 15 countries, we found that one of the most important aspects of the data movement was the network itself. Make sure it’s monitored regularly because there’s going to be a lot of finger pointing when your automated tests start failing due to the timeouts going way beyond those set on the scripts. And it’s usually a bandwidth issue.
3. Outsource or In-Source
Are you a big into outsourcing? Outsourcing was masive for this engagement. 80% external, distributed all over the world. One issue that we couldn’t control, was that we needed to integrate any/all vendors that Program Managers requested (another case study in it’s own right). Not a problem as long as they’re dealing with the same process guidelines as everyone else. So we had to build those guidelines, train them, and support them as well.
4. You Better Use Tools
Don’t even try to build a CoE without tools. There are lots of tools out there to choose from and you might have your favorites. If you have to support automation, performance, test case management, defect tracking, map to configuration management, time management, and Process Management systems, you better have a common platform of tools that integrate (that was our core competency of the CoE). No one did it better than this team did!
It was pure pleasure having a team of guys so dedicated to making this concept come to life. And to be honest, a globally virtual CoE is not an easy task. Mercury Interactive certainly was challenged on a regular basis by the team. Not to mention VM Ware and Citrix. They also got some heavy lumps during the process. Also, I can’t tell you how many free meals I had to give to the Technology and Infrastructure groups that I didn’t control. Take care of them! They’re your life blood!
Very simple point on ROI. Manage it. Dissect it. Keep on top of it. Make sure that your always know where your money is, interpret it, and get this information into measurable financial information. ROI is based on the efficiencies you’re creating. Not just the actual savings, but there are tremendous intangible cost savings that need to be recognized. Your not performing QA, you’re in the BUSINESS of QA! Never forget that this is a business and you have to run it like a business.
Take for example using one set of tools. If you have one central tools group managing, deploying, and integrating common tools across the CoE, then think about how many man-month Proof of Concepts (PoC’s) you’d prevent.
6. Be Flexible
7. Hold Everyone Accountable
8. Document as Much as you can
Enough said. The program was a tremendous challenge, but it went global, went live, built to expectations, and was a program that each of the team members could be very, very proud.
Best of luck to you if you’re venturing out to create a CoE of your own.
I couldn’t have done it without you all.
Special thanks go out to the entire team…
Muhammad Khan – SocGen
Leslie Moore- Accenture
Shaun Abrahams- European Bank
Oded Sapir – Retired
Jason Taylor – European Bank
Sandhya Patangay- RelQ
Ameur Djaffri – CSFB / Cresta
Chris Masino – HP/New York office
The entire HP Israel Development Team
The entire European bank Infrastructure Team
T3 Consortium LLC is a specialist in global Quality Assurance Center of Excellence (CoE) design and implementation. Let us prove it for your business.
T3 Consortium is a broad based LLC networked conglomerate dedicated to providing professional advisory services to clients ranging from sole proprietorships and individuals, to Fortune 500 multinational corporations. T3 Consortium relies on two key ingredients for our success: innovative technology and serious old fashioned sweat equity.