Data Governance: The People Make It Real

I was talking with a potential client the other day about their master data management program and how they’ve structured their data governance initiative.  This company really seems to have gotten it right.  They’ve put together a data governance framework that makes sense, and they’ve made some good technology choices along the way as well.

But the analogy that came to mind was that of the United States in its early days, after the Constitution was framed up but before any of the representatives had been elected.

The data governance framework (the Constitution) has been put together, but the people haven’t been hired yet. And in data governance, as in most other areas of business, it’s the people who make it really happen. A great business process is just a piece of paper or a drawing on a white board without the right person to make it happen.

What do you look for in an employee filling a data governance role?  Depending on how senior the position, I’d look for a certain amount of political savvy, a drive to get things done, an ability to focus and be detail oriented, a combination of business and technical experience, and of course, the usual “strong written and verbal communication skills”.

Seriously, the more senior data governance people are taking on a pretty tough task. While I don’t believe that “data governance is career suicide“, I do believe that you’re asking a lot of someone:

  • come into a new company (or change roles within their current company)
  • start up a new organization with the company that has a somewhat vague mission (“data governance? what’s that?”)
  • take on the task of forming the data governance group while overcoming the skeptics of its mission
  • hiring people to round out the data governance group, lest you risk becoming a “team of one”
  • sometimes, the new data governance leader is coming into a crisis situation and has to hit the ground running

So one way to support a new data governance program leader is to bring in a SWAT team around them temporarily, to support them while they build out their permanent team, and to have that SWAT team help with the definition of the job roles and responsibilities, explaining the mission to the rest of the organization, creating the communication strategy, and all of the other tasks associated with getting data governance up and running.

That’s a lot kinder than just handing a newly hired data governance leader a blank sheet of paper and saying “good luck!”

And until you’ve got the bodies in the seats, data governance probably isn’t fully real at your organization yet.

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3 Comments on “Data Governance: The People Make It Real”

  1. Kevin Cabral 07/16/2010 at 8:28 am #

    I thoroughly agree with the need to start with people but ensure they have the knowledge of current state, tools and broad-based executive support to succeed without having to dig all of these up in their crucial “first 100 days”.

    We recently completed a 4-month project at a client that has helped lay this groundwork. For an idea of what it entails, I’ll describe it a bit more. The key point to takeaway is that it’s an intensive project that requires way more than a single executive new to an organization can muster on their own :

    – Context: prior to the project, our client had heard of MDM but thought of it largely as a technology system they needed to buy rather than governance supported by talented people who *use* technology for business purposes.

    – Discovery Phase: first 2 months, our team of 4 consultants did an extensive discovery that surfaced the baseline knowledge of current state, architecture and priorities that any data management exec would need. This took 60+ interviews across the company, profiling and mapping existing architectures and meeting bi-weekly with about 7 key executives to keep them in the loop.

    My sense is that if you put a new data management exec in an environment where this type of diagnostic hasn’t been done, more than likely they will get dragged into fire-fighting and data development work.

    – Knowledge Sharing: After this diagnostic, we pivoted towards extensive knowledge sharing and collaboration to build a vision. We conducted an intensive set of seminars over 3 weeks with a few key “vanguard” executives who had an intuitive understanding of the need for data management but less knowledge on how to specifically do it.

    These sessions transferred a lot of knowledge and changed the mentality from MDM being something that starts with a technology system or a super-detailed plan to it being a process which requires leadership from a good executive who can be armed with the right information from day one. They also surfaced ways to adapt generic frameworks like DAMA-DBOK to the organizational context of the client.

    – Roadmap Development and Documentation: The next 2 months were spent building the whole “stack” of documents necessary to solidify executive support, get the budgets/internal projects going and ultimately arm the data management function with a set of priorities broadly supported by executives and some 1500 pp. of docs to refer to in executing them.

    The end result is that the client is going to build a data management function and it will start with hiring the right people and giving them this baseline knowledge to succeed. This “start with people first” approach can often be quite obvious to executives who themselves realize the critical role of leadership and responsibility in defining a plan. But it takes some doing to get to that point.

    If anybody reading this blog wants to apply for this Data Management Executive role at the client, please get in touch with me 🙂

    Kevin

  2. Dan Power 07/21/2010 at 11:23 pm #

    Great comment, Kevin – very insightful, thanks for sharing your “real world” experiences!

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