A Better Center of Excellence

Group listenting to someone in front - a model for better centers of excellence

Many organizations attempt to manage knowledge by creating Centers of Excellence (CoE). A CoE is supposed to develop skills and best practices (or leading practices), codify the knowledge around those skills and practices, and blast that knowledge out to the rest of the organization. In our experience, CoEs seldom work. They do not deliver on the expected outcomes and are eventually abandoned.  

Dojos can deliver on the intent of centers of excellence. Let's look at CoEs, how they typically struggle, and how dojos address these issues.

Spreading Knowledge

The idea behind CoEs is that once we have a core group of people with 'the knowledge', they can simply 'go forth and deliver the knowledge.' As Dion referenced in our recent webinar, knowledge is very difficult to codify and externalize.

Instead of trying to package up knowledge and hand it off to teams, Dojos amplify knowledge creation through frequent application of new skills with teams. This application of new skills is not only done in the context of their daily work, making it stickier, but also in a safe environment with coaching support. Instead of trying to codify knowledge and pass it from person to person, dojos create learning experiences where participants have the opportunity to create knowledge for themselves.

Separating Centers of Excellence by Skill

Many CoEs fall into the trap of creating separate centers for each skill or practice area. Perhaps one for testing, another for micro services, another for cloud native architecture. While this does seem to make sense - get the best people with the most knowledge around a practice area together - it neglects how the different practices work together cohesively and how you tie the practice areas together.

Dojos solve this problem by not focusing on skills or practices in isolation but rather in the context of the end-to-end product development lifecycle. Dojos take into account how the various skills and practices influence each other. Coaches work with full-stack teams to provide broader perspectives and deeper knowledge creation across different skill sets.

Creating Internal Best Practices

The core tenet behind CoEs is to find and promote best practices. This is problematic in and of itself since we know best practices work only for the simplest, most obvious problem domains. In addition, this is usually attempted through recruiting a small set of people that have been successful in their roles and bringing them all occasionally together to try and create patterns.  The onus is on the small group, a centralizing control. For those readers familiar with "The Starfish and the Spider", this is definitely a spider model.

The dojo, in contrast, is a starfish model. Instead of centralizing knowledge, we are trying to help teams grow their skills and then give back and share with others, removing the central ownership of ideas.


Dojos are the best way to achieve the intended outcomes of CoEs.  Want to learn more?  Reach out to us and let's chat - hello@dojoandco.com