The CoE Playbook - Introduction
Welcome to the CoE Playbook; a new, monthly blog series aiming to share practical tips to increase analytics adoption and the associated benefits such an approach can bring.
Why am I creating the CoE Playbook?
In short, embracing the concept of a CoE changed my career and permanently changed the way I approached leading analytics across a large organisation.
Prior to 'seeing the light', I viewed data as a set of processes, automation was the holy grail and I gave little focus to democratisation of data or even the concept of visualisation, a chart’s a chart, right? Wrong. I had been living and breathing Excel for years and my team was seen as a report factory, not a place that fostered insights and facilitated learning.
It was the Tableau Community that first opened my eyes to a different approach. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of data leaders from the UK, the likes of Paul Chapman, Paul Champkin, Paul Banoub (too many Pauls right?) and Matt Francis. They, along with so many others virtually, enlightened me by sharing their thoughts and experiences on how Tableau could be a driver for change and an enabler for open conversations as opposed to closed directions. And so started my CoE journey.
Six years later I am fortunate enough to lead a CoE within an organisation that is truly data driven and one founded on innovation and intrigue.
The CoE Playbook is my way of giving back to a Community that has given me so much. I recognise a CoE wont be the right fit for everyone, but I hope that by sharing my experiences, and by encouraging discussion amongst the Tableau Community, there will be tangible examples that many of you can benefit from.
Is it not just Tableau Blueprint by another name?
No! Tableau Blueprint is a fantastic resource that explores the best ways to implement Tableau and how to maximise adoption of Tableau. I am aiming to share real life examples and experiences that describe the why, the what, and the how of a CoE. It is my desire to leverage CoE leaders across the Tableau Community, to compliment my experiences and knowledge, to give a range of advice on how to approach creating and maintaining a thriving CoE.
What is a CoE?
Good question and one in which I sought the help of the Tableau Community to answer.
My personal view is that a CoE is an approach centred around enabling people, analysts and consumers to leverage the power of data, based upon a culture of intrigue, learning and continuous innovation.
For those of you that know of the work of Kris Curtis (creator of the outstanding Data Chefs initiative at Just Eat) you will not be surprised to learn Kris immediately gravitated towards his consumers of data, those outside of the immediate bubble of Business Intelligence, suggesting ‘its about giving people 'outside of data' a chance to get closer’ whilst still acknowledging ‘data means different things to different people depending on their role, company, department, level.’ Kris also recognises there are multiple audiences within a CoE; ‘making analysts better data communicators’ and allowing 'people (consumers) to get access to data or information faster, gaining time back from having to perform manual "copy & paste, send email" type activities as well as empowering people to answer their own questions with data.’
James Goodall shared a tongue in cheek reflection on the people working in a CoE, with it being a ‘place where you manage to sneakily steal all the best talent in the organisation and utilise them to spread best practise.’ He ultimately shares a valid point that a CoE and investing in people can help identify and retain talent; giving individuals a platform from which to shine and one which others will strive to be part of.
Talent is also something focused on by Swati Dave, acknowledging a CoE ‘helps organisations to nurture and promote individuals who are talented (super users).’ It is worth emphasising such talented ‘super users’ don’t necessarily need to formally sit within the structure of a CoE. It should be the aim to the CoE to elevate and nurture such talent, regardless of their position in the organisation; a point emphasised by Mark Kernke ‘we are the team to make analysts exceptional at their job.’
I really like Paul McHale’s take on this focus of nurturing talent ‘the goal is to build a visible, approachable, supportive community where people come both to share and to learn’ and David Pires emphasises the objective of a CoE to build the ‘soft skills that enable analysts and business in general to make more informed decisions.’ Within Sarah Weber’s Community of Practice they achieve this by ‘providing resources and structures to enable people to be successful’ a point taken one step further by Eric Balash who refers to a ‘curated collection of resources created and maintained to successfully onboard new users, support and leverage intermediate and advanced users.’
This sense of sharing and peer to peer learning is also referenced by Danny Bradley with a CoE being somewhere ‘everyone brings something to the table with the aim of answering the businesses questions in a simple yet informative manner.’
The common thread running throughout? People. Education in people and empowering people to be the best and smartest they can be when it comes to data and the insights obtained from data.
When thinking of a way to summarise a CoE, I was drawn the thoughts shared by Robin Kennedy and Mark Kernke. Robin suggested a CoE is a ‘facility to promote and aid the successful use, and application, of analytics in an organisation’ whilst Mark expanded on this to suggest the effect of a CoE is to ‘reduce the time to insights, and increase the accuracy of decision making with data’. Investing in people is of course worthwhile, but it has to have a purpose and Mark’s statement grounds us in value, a return on investment that an organisation can easily recognise on a daily basis.
Now we understand the concepts that drive a CoE, let us explore the CoE acronym, what do those three letters really stand for? Traditionally they have stood for ‘Centre of Excellence’ but as more organisations have committed to a CoE approach so the terminology has evolved.
Tim Cady shared a concern that the use of the word ‘Excellence’ can be exclusive, or as he put its it can have ‘holier-than-thou’ connotations to it, especially for individuals that are new to the concept of a CoE.
Sarah Weber’s organisation has moved to referring to a 'Community of Practice'; emphasising the sharing benefits a CoE, or in this instance, CoP can achieve.
My partner in crime at JLL, Fi Gordon, often refers to CoE as being a 'Community of Enablement', removing the implication that it is limited to just a centralised group of people and transitioning thinking towards inclusivity, allowing any interested individuals within an organisation to contribute to a CoE and focusing on providing the skills and networking that enables people to succeed through data.
And lastly on terminology, Charlie Hutcheson, questions the very use of the term, challenging us by asking ‘Why do we use the term CoE at all? It sounds a bit pretentious when to my mind that’s “just” what the benchmark “should” be.’ An admirable challenge, Charlie, but I wonder if organisations striving to change, benefit from a term that means the concepts, the commitments, can be associated with a tangible structure or ‘label’?
My personal view? Using ‘Centre’ for the C can be exclusive and give the impression a CoE is only for limited people who sit within a dedicated team of an organisation. In reality analytics is often spread far and wide across an organisation and if adoption is to be maximised across a group of diverse individuals, all with differing needs and goals, then we should avoid terminology that suggests it relates to the few not the many. With this in mind I would certainly adopt the use of ‘Community’ for the C. It is inclusive. It suggests anyone can participate and it avoids any sense of hierarchy or elitism.
For the E I always used to utilise Excellence, it is described an ambition to embrace and adopt best practice, but as Rob Radburn reflected ‘Excellence isn’t a necessity in providing an environment in getting the job done’ and on reflection I think the use of the word excellence can be daunting for new or less experienced staff. Today I consider 'Enablement' as the main success factor of a CoE; empowering people, analysts and consumers, with the skills and processes that foster a culture of intrigue and willingness to learn from and act upon the insights obtained for the data available to us.
Ultimately, words are just that, words, and words are worthless unless acted upon in a way that embraces the meaning of those words and the goals they are trying to achieve. My advice is for organisations to embrace a terminology that works for them and resonates with their analysts and their users.
Resonating with your users is a concept that I explore in the next post of the CoE Playbook, creating a vision and strategy for your CoE, a post that I am delighted to announce will also feature the thoughts and experiences of one the leading CoE experts within our Community, Paul Chapman.