Interventions are a systematic process of assessment and planning, employed to remediate or prevent a problem. The process is often focused on resolving social, educational, and developmental issues by bringing together friends, family, and people that have the best interests of the addressee in mind. The intervention is often considered a last resort, or way to solve a problem, when all else has failed.
Has your organization reached the point with your data problems that you require a data intervention? You may know that your organization has a data problem. You may have even taken small steps over time, or tried things, in different parts of your organization for specific types of data, in an attempt to solve the data problems.
But you know that the undercurrent of poor data management practices is so substandard, or so pervasive, that it will take some act of the almighty (or a gathering of people that have your organization’s best interest in mind) to solve this problem. There is a solution. It’s all in the data.
Don’t wait until you have hit rock bottom.
The opportunity is now to solve the data problem. How should you get started? Start by asking your organization … Is it time for a Data Intervention?
Let’s briefly go back to the definition at the beginning of this article. If an intervention is a systematic process of assessment and planning – these are steps  you can take to perform this type of activity:
Consult with a Professional
Seeking professional help is always a large part of interventions. The professionals can come from outside the group of people involved in the intervention or inside the group if there is a person that has the knowledge necessary to draw the problem to a close.
The same can be said for organizations that either 1) have an internal person with the expertise to drive solutions or 2) need to look to the outside for professional help. This recognition that your organization has a problem and that you do not have the skills or experience to solve the problem yourself are logical first steps of an intervention.
Think about this in terms of data … because it’s all in the data. There are a lot of data and information management professionals 😉 that have experience and know-how to assist you with your data issues as you adopt data-centric technologies associated with data analytics and artificial intelligence. If this person is not inside your organization, you should look to the outside.
Form an Intervention Team
What would an Intervention Team look like when it comes to improving your organization’s data and information? Let’s start with the person or persons that will be responsible for leading the team – because without a leader, teams tend to lose their sense of direction. A typical person in the role of Data Intervention Team Leader could be the Chief Officer associated with data (CDO), information (CIO), analytics (CAO), or potentially a risk (CRO).
If that Chief person does not have the hands-on experience to lead the effort themselves – they should still be recognized as being accountable for improving the data situation, and they should select a person or person(s) that will be responsible (to them) for leading the effort.
Other Data Intervention Team members can include people responsible for data governance, data management, data architecture, and strategy. Business representatives, who are knowledgeable about the distributed data landscape and passionate about improving data value efficiency and effectiveness, should also be included on the team.
The discipline of Data Governance will be instrumental to the success of the Data Intervention Team. I define data governance as the execution and enforcement of authority over the management of data because, at the end of the day, formal processes and rules must be followed in order to improve an organization’s data situation. [For more about data governance and data situations read my last TDAN.com article.]
Find the Right Treatment Plan
Speaking of data governance, selecting the appropriate approach to data governance is one of best determining factors of delivering and sustaining great data and information for your organization. It makes sense to selecting the approach that best fits the organizational culture and the willingness to change how your organization manages their data. There are three approaches to Data Governance.
They first approach is the Command-and-Control approach where people are told they “will do this.” This approach is aggressive and has been known to put people on the defensive. People have “day jobs” other than data governance and to add to their work load immediately prompts people to ask, “where will I find time?” Think long and hard before you take a Command-and-Control approach.
The second approach is the Traditional approach where people are told they “can do this.” The Traditional approach reminds me of the movie Field of Dreams, where the famous line says, “If you build it, they will come.” People are asked to participate in Data Governance activities if and when they have the time and see the value. This approach is used by many organizations that find themselves constantly selling data governance to Senior Leadership and the people throughout the organization.
The third approach, and the one that I suggest most often, is the Non-Invasive Data Governance approach that I use when I consult, write, and speak on the subject. The Non-Invasive approach to Data Governance focuses on formalizing people’s existing relationships to data and the formalizing accountabilities that automatically come with the fact that they define, produce, and/or use data as part of their job.
People that define data must be held formally accountable for the data they define. The people that produce the data must be held accountable for the data they produce and the people that use the data must be held accountable for the data they use. There are non-threatening ways through education and training to get people to improve their relationship to the data. With this approach the expression is “you are already doing this” – which certainly has a non-invasive appeal. This is only common sense.
Decide on Consequences to Put Forward
In an intervention, people focus on the consequences of continuing to behave a specific way. They focus on how the behavior impacts people and they focus on what can be done to solve the problem. An early step in an intervention is to spell out the consequences of the bad behavior. This relates directly to the data and information problems that are common across organizations. What data problems do you have?
It makes good sense to record and put forward (share) consequences of your poor data and information. People have been known to say that they are data rich but information poor. It makes sense to record the consequences, but it also makes sense to record and share what your organization could do with their data if they had confidence in the data.
The clear message from this step is to document and report the negative consequences of continuing to behave in the manner that brought on the data intervention as well as the positive consequences that will be a result of becoming more disciplined around the way you manage your data and information.
Choose a Location and Time
This step may not seem important until you try to schedule a common time that the Data Intervention Team can convene to discuss how they will address the issues at hand. The truth is that this step may require repeated meetings, which will cause people to hesitate to make the commitment to be a part of the team.
Data Governance Best Practice usually indicates that Senior Leadership must support, sponsor, and understand the activities associated with data governance. To get leadership to support and sponsor is easier when you have documented the consequences I mentioned in the previous step.
Senior Leadership needs to understand how data governance will be set up, who will be involved, the amount of time it will take and the results of governed data. This goes way past supporting and sponsoring a Data Governance program. The Data Intervention Team must focus on doing whatever it takes to get leadership to understand how data governance operates or will operate. This requires a time and place to hold meetings to present the documented consequences to Senior Leadership.
Have a Rehearsal
This is a step defined on wikiHow for “How to Perform an Intervention.” I am not certain that a rehearsal is necessary when planning a Data Intervention within your organization but it does emphasize the point that it makes sense to be well prepared before you start your Data Intervention.
Make certain that you select people that want to become part of a solution. People that are part of the problem will be addressed once the Data Governance program has been defined and the root causes of data problems become more apparent. The problem people may not be too difficult to find. The people that are passionate about improving the data landscape at your organization may be more difficult to commandeer. Maybe not. It depends on how people feel about your present state.
Be able to spell out the consequences mentioned earlier in these steps. The Boy Scout motto was “Be Prepared” years ago when I was a young lad. So … Be Prepared … and this is the best advice I can give in preparing you for a Data Intervention. If you need to hold a rehearsal, so be it.
Hold the Data Intervention
We have come to the point where it is time to hold the Data Intervention. Whether or not you call the meeting a Data Intervention is up to you. The word “intervention” solicits mixed responses. This is especially true for those people that recognize that they have a problem and are fearful of what it will take to solve the problem. Some people will think the term is “catchy” and attend the first meeting for curiosity sake, while others may think it is not appropriate use of the word.
You may want to call it an Enterprise Data Working Team as part of a formal set of Data Governance roles and responsibilities. Or you may want to call it a Data Governance Planning Team. It is up to you. The idea of formal Data Governance does not evoke thoughts of positive actions. It should – if people are asked and tell you what they would do with the data – if they had data that they trust.
The idea of preparing for a Data Intervention, documenting, sharing the consequences of poor data, and having the appropriate people involved in solving the problem may be what you need to get started.
You may want to consider calling the idea of the Data Intervention something like – “Great Data.” The result of formal Data Governance is Great Data. That is very catchy. Interventions are scary. Especially when it has to do with your data. It’s all in the data.
[1) Adapted from “How to Perform an Intervention” on wikiHow to do anything … wikiHow.com