What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

I recently got back from my summer vacation, a 16-day, 300-mile sailing trip with my wife and two boys.  We co-organized the trip for 15 boats, all members of the Blue Water Sailing Club.  We went from the Boston area, through the Cape Cod Canal, down Buzzards Bay to Rhode Island Sound, spending four days on Block Island, and stopping off at great places like Padanaram, Cuttyhunk and Newport along the way.

Continuing a tradition we started in 2008 with an article called “Lessons on MDM from My Summer Vacation“, I’ll try to sum up some things I learned along the way, and apply them to master data management and data governance where I can.

1. Be Prepared for Storms

On one passage from Red Brook Harbor to Cuttyhunk, we were hit with a nasty thunderstorm that wasn’t forecast to go through until much later in the day.  Winds were clocked at 50 knots (58 miles per hour). We prepared by dousing our sails, getting our foul weather gear on, battening down the hatches, and getting the boys in safe positions down below.  But when the storm hit, the rain on my face felt like needles, visibility dropped to zero, our dinghy flipped over on its towing bridle, and I had to concentrate on avoiding a buoy in the area.

The application to MDM is that, given how political these projects can be, there will be storms.  So be prepared for them.  Have a good crew (project team), work hard at instilling loyalty between the team members, and maintain a united front.  In our case, the storm, though intense, passed quickly, and we were able to get our dinghy right side up and resume our course for Padanaram with no injuries or damage.

2. Don’t Try to Control Too Much

Co-organizing a sailing trip with 15 boats can be a bit like herding cats.  Sailors are very independent by nature at best, and even though we had regular check-ins by radio, some people would skip them completely, and others would forget (including me). Traveling with two young children increased the chaos factor.  We’ve learned to go with it a bit – it’s like riding a wave.  You can’t plan every minute of every day – sometimes you’ve got to be spontaneous, put the plan aside and just see what happens.

In the MDM and data governance world, the business community as a whole, even though they may not be on your project team directly, is going to be directly affected.  They’ll want to have a say in how things are done, and they’ll have good ideas for you.  Don’t shut them down.  Learn to listen, actually consider what they’ve got to say, and be inclusive.  Have town hall meetings where the broader business community gets a chance to tell you about their concerns, where you communicate the project’s progress and milestones, and where you can reach out to them and pull them in to upcoming phases.

3. Accept the Kindness of Others

Previously, we had a 32 foot boat, but at the beginning of June, we took delivery of a 38 foot boat, which we were still getting the hang of. A couple of club members on the cruise took the time to help us get to know the systems on our new boat, and it was great to have experienced friends walking us through what was, to me, new territory. Whether it was the selector switch between water tanks, the fresh water pressure pump, the anchor wash down pump, or various other things, our friends took the time to mentor us on the ins and outs of our new boat. And on the last day of the cruise, our friend Fred remembered that our son Brendan wanted a ride in his skiff, so he came alongside as we were leaving the harbor, picked him up, and gave him the ride of a lifetime.

The application to MDM and data governance is that you should be open to mentoring within and outside the enterprise.  People like sharing their experience and wisdom with others, once you’ve established a strong relationship. If you reach out and develop a network of contacts inside and outside the company, then when the stuff hits the fan, you’ll be able to call on them for help.  And even when you don’t need help, you’ll find a ready group of mentors who’ll take you under their wing, to teach you the finer points of leadership skills, project management tips and tricks, communications and marketing excellence, business process redesign and organizational change management basics — all the things you’ll need to succeed in your MDM and data governance initiative.

4. Stay on Schedule

There were several times during our sailing trip when we were tempted to stay an extra day or leave a day early from one place or another.  We talked it over as a group and decided to stay on schedule.  Many of us had made mooring reservations at marinas with strict cancellation policies, and we would have ended up paying for those moorings even though we didn’t use them.  Not a big deal in and of itself, but we asked ourselves, what’s the worst that could happen if we stuck with the original schedule?  It turned out that it wasn’t that different from what would happen if we went with a changed schedule.

In the MDM and data governance world, as in any technology implementation, there are going to be unforeseen obstacles.  Try to build some cushion into your project plan, so the smallest little delay doesn’t impact your critical path and delay the overall project.  When you get to the point that to stay on schedule means sacrificing functionality or increasing costs (the famous “triple constraint“), the discussions start getting pretty heated. There will be many times when your project will feel like you’re herding cats too, but remember how important it is to stay on schedule. You can’t finish on time if you get behind shortly after you start.

5. Look for Those Special Moments You’ll Always Remember

There were quite a few special moments on this vacation. Shortly after we arrived in Cuttyhunk, both of my boys put on their bathing suits and dove off the boat into the harbor.  They swam fearlessly from Blue Water boat to Blue Water boat, saying hello to their friends, until we had a bunch of kids in the water doing the same thing, including one little girl that had never done that before (and who made her dad very proud).  That night, after going to the beach, we had a lobster bake that I organized for 33 people on the lawn overlooking the harbor.  I will remember the conviviality and friendship of that dinner for a long time.  And there were small moments too: body surfing with my youngest son in Westport, getting airborne in the dinghy, slogging through the passage to Block Island against 25 knot winds, foul currents and 4-6 foot seas (even the hard times can be good memories after you get through them).

For MDM and data governance practitioners, there are many rewards: the satisfaction of bringing in a challenging project on time and on budget, forging relationships with team members that will last a lifetime, learning new things and expanding professional horizons, being recognized by the company as a valuable player capable of big things, mastering MDM and data governance at a time when having those technologies on one’s resume certainly doesn’t hurt one’s career prospects, and so on.  For a good look at what is involved in being a “data champion”, and the rewards involved, read “So You Want to be a Data Champion?” by my friend, Tom Carlock.

To sum it up, if you’re prepared for the inevitable storms that will come your way and don’t try to control things too much, and are open to the kindness of others while remembering the importance of staying on schedule, you’ll certainly be blessed, as I have been, with a wealth of those special moments you’ll always remember. Master data management and data governance can be challenging, but they can be very rewarding as well, both for the organizations which take on the initiatives and for the individuals who make up those teams.

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