Friday, November 11, 2011

Implementing Data Governance: Think Like A Vogon

Recently I received a note from a prior colleague. He was in the midst of trying to implement data governance at an organization but was getting severe pushback, basically he saw he was headed for project failure. I had a couple of pieces of advice for him which I'll share here as I'm certain he's not the only person struggling to get data governance off the ground.

Establishing data governance at an organization is not easy, it will take time and chances are that the first approach you try may not work. In my opinion if you're working on something with a name along the lines of "Data Governance Project" then you've got a problem. For me, establishing data governance isn't a project. It's not something that can be up and running in a few short weeks or months, but rather I think of it as an initiative - something to be worked on over time, building toward an objective with the flexibility to change tack or even retreat, regroup and try again depending upon the appetite of the organization and the receptiveness of the executive and key stakeholders.

Which brings me to my first piece of advice: Think Like A Vogon. If you weren't lucky enough to be a teenager in the 1970s and 1980s then you may not know what a Vogon is so a little back story may be in order. The Vogons appeared in Douglas Adams' book / radio play / TV series The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy. Their battle cry was "resistance is useless!". If you're going to embark on a data governance initiative then you need to adopt this as your mantra. You need to keep telling yourself not to give up, you will strike resistance, but you can't stop at the first hurdle (or the second or third for that matter) . Keep telling yourself that resistance is useless because you will establish data governance in the end!

The Vogons used their battle cry as the answer to any dissenting argument or position. Their common approach was to simply keep shouting "RESISTANCE IS USELESS!" at whomever didn't agree with them.

This brings me to my second piece of advice: Think Like a Vogon, Don't Act Like a Vogon. Use the mantra as a means to keep you going when you face pushback or you struggle to get buy in for your ideas, not as something to beat people over the head with. If your only trick is the compliance line, e.g. telling / forcing people to comply with data governance rules because they are the rules then chances are you've missed the value pitch for data governance and you're going about it for all of the wrong reasons anyway. Stop telling people they have to comply and start telling them what's in it for them if they do come along for the ride. Show what past problems might have been avoided had some data governance been in place or find how some small form of data governance will drive some demonstrable short term savings and go and implement that small piece. Sell the value!

The Vogons were not just a race of bureaucrats, they also wrote poetry . Unfortunately this poetry was commonly thought to be the third worst in the universe. Essentially their poetry was  nonsense verse and decidedly unpleasant to be subjected to.

Which brings me to my third piece of advice: Make Your Artifacts More Appealing Than Vogon Poetry. If you have a ponderous Charter, a rambling Terms of Reference or information that the Data Stewards will find it hard to make sense of, then invest some time in making it more useful. Make your communications with your stakeholders clear and consistent, make your value pitch concise and tangible and construct the material for your stewards so that it's functional and easy to use.  My final piece of advice is to make the data governance initiative visible. Let people know about it and what it can do for them. Spend some time and effort raising the profile. If you can get others excited by its potential then you may get support, and even pull, for data governance from within the business. Don't be afraid to let others know about your data governance initiative. Believe me, it's not something to be hidden away in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard."

I'll leave you to your Vogon Googling. I'm off to find a Dentrassi to make me a nice cup of tea!

1 comment:

  1. Brain the size of a planet and what have they got you doing?

    Seriously, great advice! The "nil desparandum" aspect is critical I think.

    BTW I hope you don't end up with something that's "almost, but not exactly unlik Tea"!