Web-sites like Mapquest.com can only map out directions if you tell it where you are heading; thus following a Stephen Covey effective habit of beginning with the end in mind. It makes sense to build an action plan before you try to accomplish anything. When building an action plan for a data governance program, it also makes sense to map out what you want to accomplish, what the future state will look like, and the future behavior of the organization. This future state of data governance can take the form of best practices. Data governance best practices are defined as the basis and guideline for the execution of a data governance program.
Organizations that successfully implement data governance programs begin by defining a limited series of best practices. Once the best practices are defined, a gap-risk assessment must be completed to identify the differences (gap) between the defined data governance best practices and present practices, and the risks (and potential risks) associated with the gap prior to defining an action plan for delivering the data governance program.
Define Best Practice
When defining best practices, you should use the following criteria to determine if something is best practice for your organization:
- Is the best practice practical and possible to implement this practice given your situation?
- Will the program be at-risk if the best practice is not accomplished?
You must be able to answer yes to these two questions for the practice to be considered best practice. Keep this in mind as you read the few samples of best practices below. Consider whether or not these questions would be answered yes by your organization regarding the sample best practices. Perhaps the sample best practices could be considered best practices for your organization.
Sample Best Practice
- There is a High Level of Senior Management Support and Understanding of the activities of the Data Governance Team, the roles defined in the Data Governance Operating Model, and specific examples of where Data Governance will add value.
- Select staff are committed to the definition, development, execution and sustainability of the Data Governance Program on a continual basis.
- The Data Governance Principles are applied consistently and continuously to data that is defined, produced and used for Enterprise Reporting.
- The goals, scope, expectations, measurements of success and roles and responsibilities of the Data Governance Program are well defined and communicated with Information Technology, Strategic Business Units and Shared Corporate Functions.
Think about these statements in terms of the criteria shared in the Define Best Practice section. For the first sample best practice you would ask, “Is it practical and do-able to get senior management to support and understand data governance?” For the first best practice you would also ask, “Will our data governance program be at risk if we do not have senior management’s support and understanding?” The answer to these questions should be “yes”; it is possible to educate senior management and we are at risk if we don’t have their support. These two criteria are very important in the definition of data governance best practice for your organization.
Steps to Conduct Best Practice Critical Analysis
Perform Discovery – Conduct Interviews and Meetings
It is important to review the best practices (and to see where your organization stands in comparison with the best practices) with both business and technical people within your organization. The best way to do this is through interviews and Q&A; with a fair representation of business management, people that will be identified as data stewards and IT management.Distribute the best practices to the appropriate people prior to the meetings to give them a chance to form an opinion, whether positive or negative. Remember that best practices should be worded in such a way that they are easy to understand and can be agreed upon easily.This, in itself, will provide a good starting place for your meeting and will reduce the time required for the meeting. Typically, if best practices are written so that people will answer “yes” to the questions (provided earlier in this article), you will get suggestions on how to reword the practices rather than negative feedback. The best practices should be “no-brainers” in theory. It is often helpful to include the three questions when you distribute the best practices for review before the meeting.In the meetings, ask the participants to tell you what they believe the organization (or their part of the organization) is presently doing that supports the best practices. Also ask them what they believe is impeding the ability to follow best practices and where there is room for reasonable improvement (opportunities to improve). This will feed into the next steps of the assessment.
This seems rather obvious, but it worthy of a brief mention. It is important to leverage those strengths that you find through the discovery step. The focus here is to identify and record those activities, both of stewards and processes that support the best practices, that you have defined for your organization. The recording aspect of this step is extremely important for two reasons:
- The recorded strengths can be used as a solid starting point. Where there are already people performing the role of data steward, let’s not change that. Where there are processes that support the defined best practices defined, let’s not change that either. The list of strengths can be a starting point for discussion with people that will become data stewards, and they can be used to let people know that they should not feel threatened by the future data governance behavior.
- The recorded versions or the strengths can be used to demonstrate and “sell” to senior management that there is a basis of data governance that is already in place and that the action plan (the last step) will not change things that do not have to be changed. As Lucius Cary (we all know who he is) once said, “When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”
Record Opportunities to Improve
Report the Gaps
This is another important step. Use the information collected and recorded in the previous two steps to report the gap between your present environment and the best practice environment communicated earlier. This may seem obvious, but because some companies seem to prefer the “ready, fire, aim” (sic) approach, I figured this was worth mentioning.
Make certain that you report the gaps in a positive way. Certainly make mention of the specific strengths in this report, and “sell” the idea that taking advantage of the “opportunities” mentioned in the previous step are exactly that – opportunities for the organization to become better at managing its data.
Report the Risks
Again, this is a very important step. This is where most senior managers will focus and may be the part of the assessment that is the first they want to assess: “Where are we at risk? In the areas of compliance? Security? Privacy? Identity theft? Record retention? Disaster recovery? This reporting of the risks should be directly associated to the opportunities to improve and may be the biggest “selling” item for senior management. Many organizations’ data governance programs are coordinated by the group that is responsible for mitigating and/or eliminating risk.
Knowing where you organization is at risk, or even speculating where your organization is presently at risk, can be an important contributor to the questions that are asked of the business and technical people in your organization in the discovery step. It can also be a large contributor in the effort of “selling” senior management on the key concepts of data governance and the need to formalize a data governance program.
Prepare the Recommendations and Action Plan
At this point, you have defined data governance best practices for your organization, you have identified those things that you are doing the support the best practices, you have identified the opportunities for your organization to improve, you have reported the gaps between where you are and where you are going, and you have articulated the risks associated with the gaps. The action plan should practically write itself, right?
Well, it’s not necessarily that easy. The action plan should include “do-able” steps that address the opportunities to improve. These steps should be prioritized, communicated and resourced (a topic for another day). You may want to consider tying the planned steps back to the rest of the assessment report.
The action plan should be written in such a way that it, again, articulates the positive. The action plan must be achievable given the present resource situation and activities of your organization. The action plan must be communicated to those people that are stakeholders in the governing of data in your organization (basically everybody). The action plan must be followed and the results of following the plan must be communicated as well.
Final Thoughts on Data Governance Best Practice
As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this chapter, it is smart to “begin with the end in mind”. Best practices establish that beginning and the end. They set a practical target behavior that the organization must achieve in order for the data governance program to become a sustainable success.
Three tips and techniques for establishing best practice and completing the critical analysis and assessment:
Do Not Mince Words
Organizations following the non-invasive approach to data governance purposely minimize the number of words they include in each best practice. These organizations have removed the fluff words or words that deflect the real meaning of each practice.
Several of these organizations have focused on the task at hand (for example protecting data or improving quality or improving analytics) when defining their best practices.
No Time like the Present
The development of best practice is most effective when written in the present tense. Practice is a present state benchmark for beginning your assessment and should describe the practice the organization is setting out to achieve.
Best practice written in future tense including words like “in order to”, “will” or “must” describe a future behavior implying that the best practice is not being followed at the present time.
Earlier in this article I stated that, to follow the non-invasive approach to data governance, the assessment must first articulate present leverage-able activities (strengths) that support the best practice before articulating the opportunities to improve (weaknesses).
Underline to Underscore
Best practices are often the tool used to introduce the organization to the behavioral aspects of Non-Invasive Data Governance™. In the introduction, words are introduced that are not familiar to the people of the organization. A best practice critical analysis and assessment must define these terms in simple language that both the business and technical communities understand.
Consider underlining the words in the best practices that are potentially new to the people reading the best practices and assessment. Provide a page of definitions of these underlined terms on the page directly following the best practices to clearly introduce these terms to the organization.