You’ve done your research. You know what data governance is – that all-important set of rules and guidelines for how your data is collected, stored, used and secured. You recognize that your organization needs a data governance program.
How do you start one?
It feels like a huge undertaking, and it is. But like every great endeavor in history, from climbing Mount Everest to putting a person on the moon, it starts with a single step.
Among the best practices of data governance is recognizing that working toward a data governance program is cultural change. This kind of change can be HARD. People get comfortable in their routines and asking them to change can feel daunting. Think “Who Moved My Cheese?” Change is inevitable, but it can feel frightening, and there will likely be people who actively resist or who need to be reminded often and nudged in the right direction.
Because this is cultural change, it is important to manage the change by using recognized methods. One of the most important parts of change management is to understand why the change is necessary and to communicate this sense of urgency. Have this understanding firmly in mind before initiating conversations to get the ball rolling.
Whenever possible, start small. While it might be possible to have an over-arching strategy that reaches all the data systems in an organization, most strategies are going to be tailored to each system. It is best to start with one system, and then radiate your efforts outward to the systems and departments it touches.
That being said, it may also be beneficial to start with the system that has the greatest visible impact or the most volatile content. Focusing on the point of greatest visibility can allow employees to see positive change quickly and make them more likely to jump onboard future efforts. Volatile content, in this context, is content that could get the organization in trouble if it is not well contained or secured. For instance, if your organization works with customer credit card data and one system in the organization is not PCI compliant, it might be the first system to work on.
Once you’ve determined which system to start with and you can accurately communicate why data governance is important for that system, it is time to figure out who you need on your team and get them on board.
Because data governance is a moving target, your team might be somewhat fluid. However, it is important for this sort of initiative to have cheerleaders – preferably at the executive level, but some at all levels – and those who can actually buckle down and get the work done. These people are those who you want backing you up both with their influence/power to get things done and their enthusiasm for the project. Their support will go a long way toward getting other people to follow along.
Some people you’ll want to discuss your initiative with:
Once you’ve got your team in place, the next step is to figure out where you are. This is the time to evaluate what is working and what is not, what data you have and what data is missing. At the same time you are doing this, it is likely you will start to formulate a vision and a plan for where you want to be.
As this evaluation is occurring, it is likely certain pain points will start to become apparent. Employees will note frustrations about missing data, problems with workflow, confusion around regulations, and other sorts of obvious problems.
At the same time, certain goals or possibilities are likely to present themselves either as solutions to the problems studied or as entirely new ways to explore the data. For example, if there are multiple departments currently managing the data, but all using different guidelines, merging the guidelines might be a solution. Or an employee might note that the visitor management system could be used to follow up with job candidates, prospective vendors or clients, if only it was integrated with the CRM.
All these pain points and possibilities should start to suggest the vision for where you want to be. Vision statements can be tricky, but the biggest thing to remember is they are about the future. They are directional documents – not exactly a road map, but a compass pointing toward the destination. The vision is likely to include things like:
The vision should be a natural outgrowth of the conversations that occur in the evaluation stage. Sometimes the vision is relatively small and requires only a few steps. Sometimes, it will become apparent you need something revolutionary – a brand new collection system with heaps more data – that will require a lot of work and a lot of change.
The vision points the way, but the planning is really where the magic happens. Visions are often big and bold and beautiful, but once you have one, it is time to define the goals and objectives. If your vision is of a database that doesn’t have any errors (or is 95% accurate) and can be used by four different departments, your goals and objectives define how you get there.
There are several key components to any change initiatives.
This doesn’t have to -- and should not -- occur in one long, overwhelming meeting. Like the goals, breaking down communications into smaller, manageable chunks can be beneficial. However, make sure people don’t feel like you are purposely withholding important information. Rumors tend to fly when information is lacking. If such rumors reach your ears, address them as soon as possible.
Once you have your plan in place, it is time to execute. Perhaps some sort of formal launch party or event is necessary to really get the ball rolling, though it is likely some of the first steps will be much smaller and less flashy.
It is important to re-evaluate how things are going and if the direction is still moving toward the intended vision. Be open to feedback and to adjustment if new developments arise. Check in frequently with stakeholders to see how the situation is changing and if previously unforeseen roadblocks are now rearing their ugly heads.
On the positive side, as goals and objectives are achieved, celebrate the wins whether big or small. Having some way to mark progress will keep people motivated.
At some point, a particular data governance project might “end” as one data system is improved, but data governance is never completely over. For starters, while working with data from one system it is likely you’ll encounter places where the data reaches out to another data system, or vice versa. Your next initiative might center around the governance of this system.
Also, part of any successful strategy will be putting ongoing systems in place to continually watch over, clean up and pay attention to what is happening with the data. Like business itself, data governance has to adjust to ever-changing regulations and business needs. It needs to get embedded in the culture of your organization.
Starting a data governance program is just like starting any other change initiative in business. Following best practices both for data governance and for leading change will go a long way to achieving the type of lasting change you hope to see. As a recap:
And when it is all in place, give yourself a pat on the back. Change is hard, and initiating it takes courage and skill. In the end, after all the bumps and frustration, you’ll likely have an organization that runs more smoothly and has better data to stand on.