Best Practices for Exercising Data Governance

Have you ever planned to wake up early in the morning to work out, but instead chose to lie in bed and catch some more sleep? This can happen even after you have committed—mentally, at least—to a new workout regimen.

That’s because the hard part isn’t resolving to do something new; it’s adjusting your daily habits and generating enough momentum to carry the changes forward. That requires discipline and drive.

The same challenges apply to data governance initiatives. If you have ever been part of a data governance program that hesitated, backfired or stopped completely in its tracks, you know what I’m talking about. Companies are accruing ever-increasing amounts of data and want to be able to transform all that information into insights the same way you want to get in shape. The first step is data governance, but getting your organization to buy-in to a new program conceptually is the easy part. Taking action and sticking to it can be much more challenging.

Indeed, many organizations believe that simply implementing technology—like a Master Data Management system—will improve the health of their data. But if you simply buy workout equipment, do you get healthier? Tools will help streamline your organizational processes and complement information governance and information management, but building and maintaining a culture that treats data as an asset to your organization is the key to ongoing success.

Below are some key factors to build good habits and generate momentum once your data governance program is underway:

1. Impart a sense of urgency for the program.

For every organization with a plan to manage its data assets, there needs to be a sense of urgency to keep the plan in place. The reasons are unique from organization to organization, but they might be driven by compliance, customer satisfaction, sales, revenues, or M&A. Regardless of the reason, it needs to resonate with senior leadership and ideally be tied to the company’s strategic goals in order to be most effective.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

The cornerstone to a successful data governance program is a well-organized (cross-departmental) communication plan. A solid plan helps remove the silos and maintain cross departmental support for the initiative. Seek your champions throughout the organization and meet with key stakeholders regularly to document their pain points. It is important to get people engaged early to keep the excitement going.

3. Operationalize change within the organization.

Your delivery will need to be agile in nature because the plan you put in place will naturally evolve. The goal is to learn what works within your organization early on to ensure you deliver value quickly and the process is sustainable moving forward. Complete tasks iteratively and agree upon a small set of high-value data attributes to aid in validating your data governance process. In addition, manage your data elements to ensure their best quality.

4. Make the plan as RACI as possible.

Actively listen to your supporters and put together a plan that encompasses a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted & Informed) model so that everyone on the team knows their role across the process. This plan will keep your team focused and guide your initiatives moving forward. You’ll raise your odds of success by forming a strong governance organizational structure with roles and responsibilities in place (for data ownership, stewardship and data champions), along with approvals that complement your existing change management process.

5. Measure, Communicate, Repeat.

Keep in mind that “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” You’ll need to face the facts and communicate your findings. It’s wise to document and implement KPIs (Key Performance Indictors) so that you can measure the progress of your initiative over time. Linking the KPIs to revenue or sales loss, for example, can be a strong indicator to help drive change. As you learn more about your data, it’s important to communicate what’s meaningful to your stakeholders and continue to move forward.

Similar to continuing on a workout regimen, data governance demands a discipline that takes time and patience to fine tune. This requires changing years of undisciplined behaviors regarding data within your organization, and the change will not happen overnight. Changing these behaviors is an ongoing process that needs to resonate throughout an organization’s culture in order for success to occur.

In addition, it’s important to keep things fresh. When working out, you need to rotate though different core muscle groups and vary the routine to keep things interesting and progressive.  It’s the same with data governance initiatives. Don’t let people get bored with the same repetitive activities day in and day out. Try conducting data discovery sessions where team members present findings from an internal or external dataset that would be interesting to other team members. You can also share successes and learnings from past data related projects to drive discussion.  Another suggestion is to discuss future cross-departmental data projects (or “wish list” items) that can lead into great data roadmap discussions.  The objective is to keep everyone engaged and finding value in meetings so that the team continues to show up and make progress.

Remember that data governance is a journey that requires commitment and hard work. As with exercise, just working out for a month is a great start, but it’s with continued dedication that you really start to notice the change. If you want to take your organization to the next level, you need to develop the discipline toward information management that your organization requires for long-term sustainable success. For those with little experience in implementing or maintaining a data governance plan, experienced consultants can be of great value


Doug Kachelmuss is a Data / Solutions Architect with Strive Consulting whose passion lies in enabling organizations to utilize technology, processes, and data to support strategic business goals. He has over 11 years of data warehousing experience spanning application development, analytics, architecture, ETL, BI, data visualization, NoSQL, data governance, and master data management. Doug also received an MBA from Lake Forest to help complement his strong technical background. Outside of work Doug is very busy supporting his 3 young children in their various activities and wife whom is a professional blogger. When Doug has spare time (typically in the late evenings) he enjoys working on old arcade machines and playing ice hockey.  To learn more about Doug check out his LinkedIn here.