Managing a distributed Center of Excellence


Author: Kevin Cho is a Certified Master Anaplanner and Anaplan Team Lead at Atlassian.

Managing an Anaplan implementation used by a geographically dispersed team can be challenging. There are the standard challenges of remote working — fewer direct and spontaneous interactions, isolation and lack of team bonding — alongside Center of Excellence (CoE)-specific challenges, like schedule conflicts for CoE meetings and role clarity across different geographies. All of which can all impact how a Center of Excellence functions, in turn producing a poor experience for your users.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way — even a small Center of Excellence can support a team around the globe by integrating your CoE composition and rituals with existing team structures and processes, and leveraging different tools to make the coordination efforts seamless and more efficient.

Team representation

It may seem obvious, but having strong representation within the Center of Excellence across each location ensures a balanced voice in project prioritization, risk management, and general cohesiveness of the platform.

This also extends to the support that you can provide to the everyday users of Anaplan. It is a much better experience having a support resource available in a local time zone, compared to having to wait for a support team to come online during their normal working hours. Conversely, this can vastly improve the work-life balance of your team, especially during critical planning and reporting periods, where round-the-clock support may be required.

Communication and collaboration

One of the main challenges that comes with managing a geographically dispersed CoE is effective communication and collaboration, especially with larger teams running projects in parallel. Alignment across a CoE is normally addressed through the regularly scheduled checkpoints ranging from daily stand-ups with project teams, weekly change management meetings, to quarterly steering committees. With geographically dispersed teams, this can get surprisingly difficult to schedule as time zone differences can very quickly add up!

To address this, focus instead on regular asynchronous communication (emphasis on the regular!):

  • Prioritization meetings can instead turn into living documents, where stakeholders can provide input in their own time, easily delegating and sharing information across their team members who may not be necessarily invited to a synchronous prioritization meeting.
  • Updates from daily stand-ups can be provided through posts on a common chat thread, summarizing yesterday’s achievements, blockers, and the upcoming day’s focus. Similar to a live stand-up, emphasize succinct updates — those interested in delving more into the detail can then reach out directly.
    • However, be sure to not disregard the team building benefits of a daily sync!

This can be accomplished by leveraging the right tools:

  • For live document tracking and editing, check out Confluence or Google Docs. Both are great options in providing the option for concurrent editing.
  • For chat, tools which support asynchronous collaboration are key. Slack and Microsoft Teams both offer the ability to create channels and threads, where users can localize conversations and stay engaged whilst not requiring live interaction.
    • Bots that can organize certain rituals (e.g. daily stand-ups, fortnightly kudos/thanks) are also a great way to incorporate them with less manual burden.
  • For task management, tools like Trello and Jira can help model builders and testers stay organized and on track, by providing regular status updates on tasks through the tool itself.

Save the meetings for when synchronicity matters — for example, in intensive training sessions, and design and process workshops. This is especially useful in ensuring Executive Sponsors remain engaged with the CoE. Keeping them in the loop without a heavy time commitment will help in keeping them on your side.

A success story (and continuing)

Even prior to the pandemic, the Atlassian team has been working in a distributed manner, with teams located across Australia, the Philippines and the US — this has become more ingrained in our philosophy with the official adoption of a geographically flexible workforce (TEAM Anywhere). In turn, this has shaped how our Center of Excellence has been structured, and how we engage with our stakeholders. By utilizing the tools and techniques listed above, we’ve successfully grown our Anaplan implementation and user base, whilst still maintaining a lean team.

What tips would you add regarding best practices on managing a distributed team? Leave a comment!