Practical Points from the DGPO: Data Governance Lessons From the Kitchen

COL02x - feature image already at 300x300Happy New Year! We hope you have your “lucky” dish cooked just the way you like and that it brings you good fortune all year long.

If you don’t have a traditional dish of prosperity, here are five popular foods (according to the Today Show) to boost your health and wealth, and to amplify your success for the coming year.

Even if cooked a little past the New Year, I am sure they will still bring you an abundance of their believed promises.

  • Pork: For prosperity and wealth. It originates with the phrase “eating high on the hog,” referencing the better cuts of meat typically eaten by the well-to-do.
  • Lentils: An Italian tradition for wealth and prosperity. Flat legumes were believed to resemble Roman coins.
  • Soba Noodles: A Japanese dish that signifies long life, but only if you eat them without breaking or chewing them.
  • Black-Eyed Peas: A Southern American tradition representing good luck with several different stories of origin. The most commonly found explanation dates back to the Civil War Era, where those lucky enough to still have black-eyed peas or cowpeas from their livestock supplies were able to survive the winter.
  • Greens: Whether cabbage, collards, kale, or turnip greens, they all represent the same thing – good ‘ole greenbacks, AKA, folded paper money. When it comes to wealth, this culinary tradition truly embodies the old age saying “you are what you eat.”

If you are a New Year’s Eve traditionalist, when it comes to any of these dishes, what truly makes each one exceptional is the seasoning. For me, it is my collards that have a special twist. It is not just the ham hock, but the dash of sugar thrown in at a special point while they are cooking. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who joined us for Thanksmas dinner (another crazy tradition) this year. The collards were the talk of the table for quite some time. This is where the lessons from the kitchen come in – success is all in how you season it. It may sound crazy, but the analogy for data governance is too good not to share – like a good recipe.

There are several rules, or at best, understood practices, for adding herbs, spices, and other seasonings to dishes to ensure you get the flavor intended. And every spice is different. If there’s absent understanding of the rules and the nuances of seasoning, you run the risk of a gastronomic disaster rather than an epicurean delight. Interestingly, as we expand our data governance programs and add new elements, these same considerations hold true.

Consider as we add areas such as big data, ethics, cloud services, analytics, data lakes, data science, or open source (not an extensive list by any means) to our data governance programs that our methods for integrating them will vary significantly based on what we are trying to “serve up.” How it is seasoned really matters.

Lessons from the Kitchen

Know your timing. – Some spices are packed with flavor and release instantly. As they cook, the strength of flavor lessens and becomes a more integrated part of the dish. Cooked too long, these spices can lose their flavor altogether. Other spices release flavor as they cook, adding flavor that becomes stronger over time. If added too early and cooked too long, the flavor will overpower and overshadow other delightful ingredients.

As with the spices, elements added to a data governance program will add flavor in different ways.  Some things will add immediate pizazz without having to simmer with stakeholders, while others may need to be added slowly and cooked over time.

Know the effect of each spice. – Spices and seasoning not only add flavor, but sometimes they balance, complement, or reduce the effect of others. In the case of my collards, the dash of sugar reduces the bitterness of the greens themselves. Certain blends of spices (or other additions as sugar is not really a spice) complement one another and often invoke flavors unique only to their combination. These blends are often the heart of secret recipes.

In data governance, this kitchen rule not only relates to what could be added or taken out of a program to change the flavor, but it also relates to the people we include and the relationships they bring. By including roles from across multiple functions, you not only gain the value of their individual contributions, but more importantly, you gain the compounded and flavorful-enriched value unique only to their collaboration. 

Don’t let spices go stale. — Spices have a shelf life, albeit some longer than others. Left unused for too long and it won’t matter when you add them or for how long they cook. Nothing you do can bring them back to life to add flavor. In fact, if you add them in a stale state, they could actually cause more damage than good. Think of old dried parsley (herb) – no flavor and now just a bunch of unnecessary flakes in the soup. (Oh my, that takes this analogy to a whole new level. Perhaps we will just stop there with that one.)

This spice rule rings loud and clear for data governance. When it comes to the pieces and parts of governance, whether a process, a role, or a technology, left unused it will go stale. Remember to stay on top of what resources are available and regularly incorporate them. If you have something that is nearing or past its expiration date, perhaps it is time to replace it with something a bit fresher. And a word of caution here: fresher ingredients are often more potent. (Yep, you can read into that one further, too).

Season to taste. Start light. You can always add more. – Don’t go heavy-handed with the spices at the outset. While you may be following a long-held family recipe, those eating your lucky dish may change each year. Even if you have the same crowd every year, their tastes may change over time. Just remember it is not only about the spices, but how they integrate into the entire dish and ultimately what your guests would like. Do they want it to taste sweet, spicy, rich, bland, or bitter? What is it supposed to look and taste like to bring the prosperity the dish promises? As the chef, you must know the desired outcome before you can determine what and how much spice needs to be added.

This is the crux of data governance success. As the chef a business, you must know the desired outcome before you can determine what and how much spice governance needs to be added. Season to taste. Start light. You can always add more.

Here’s to a healthy, wealthy, and prosperous new year to all of you! We hope you are able to apply these data governance lessons from the kitchen and season your program a bit more this year.


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About Anne Buff

Anne Buff is a member of the SAS Best Practices group and is the VP of Communications for the DGPO. Anne can be reached at