So You Want to be a Data Champion?

I read hundreds of articles, books and blogs on data governance and master data management (MDM). All of them are good, some provide great detail on how to do this or how to do that, some provide good insight into what to expect from others who are involved with data governance and MDM, but few of them talk about what you need to do to be prepared to be your organization’s data champion.

Just because you read a book, article or blog that gives you step-by-step instruction on what needs to be done to tackle a specific area of governance or MDM does not mean that you are mentally ready or prepared to execute. Before you take any actions, you must decide on and be very comfortable with the idea that you want to be the next “data champion” of your organization. It is imperative that you stop, take a step back and ask yourself these questions: “Am I fully prepared? Am I mentally ready?”

It is very similar to the question Ryan Seacrest asks folks on the popular TV show American Idol. “So you think you can be the next American Idol?” Are you ready to face an audience? Are you ready to face the Randy, Paula and Simon (who could easily represent a business user)? Heck… can you even sing?!?! Most people go on that show with the greatest sense of hope, passion, confidence and readiness I have ever seen. But only a handful of them can actually sing! But singing is not what is important to be a data champion. It’s the other attributes that get you ready for the roll. Don’t worry, even if you’re still unsure at this point if you’re ready, by the end of this article, we will have you prepped to face and dominate the data world even if you can’t sing!

So what is a data champion anyway? My definition of a data champion is someone who would liaise with the business, IT and third-party providers. They are passionate about and promote the concepts of data governance and data management. They are responsible for driving the vision of a program, developing and implementing solid guidelines, procedures and processes, ensuring data quality improvement through data stewardship, mitigating non-cooperation and data issues that impact the business, helping with technical issues and aligning IT to the business goals that deliver business value by developing realistic timescales for obtaining data.

The data champion role is a dedicated, full-time business role. It requires someone who has both IT and business knowledge – someone who can work well with others and build relationships as needed.

Okay, now you have the definition of a data champion. But before I dive right in and tell you what you need to do to get yourself ready, you need to make sure the following things in your organization are in place before you commit to the data champion role. You will need the following:

Senior-Level Sponsorship – If you do not have a business person, the key word being business, who has the delegated authority of the CEO of the company to execute this effort, run away as far and as fast as you can. The program is doomed from the start. Data governance and MDM programs, not projects, are not IT-driven initiatives! They are business-driven initiatives created to enable business value! Whew… there I said it, and I feel better. Don’t get me wrong… I have nothing against IT or CIOs. I even believe that a CIO can partner as a sponsor alongside a business person, but the CIO cannot be the sponsor by himself.

CIO Buy In – You need the buy in from the CIO because a significant portion of this effort will require IT services and resources. The CIO should be interested in being involved as there are short- and long-term benefits to his organization if the data management program is done right.

The Support of Your Boss – Obviously it’s important for anyone to have a boss. But it is more important that your boss believes in you and will support you as the data champion. Your boss must understand the vision of the program and firmly believe that the program your organization is building can be successful and will deliver significant short- and long-term business value. It is equally important that you believe and trust that your boss has your back and will go to the ends of the earth to defend you when darkness falls upon your world.

A few more things about your boss. He or she must be an active member of the program. Once you have a committee set up, your boss should be a member. You must meet regularly with your boss and ensure he or she is 100% on the same page with you as it relates to tasks, progress, concerns or issues. There should also never be any surprises. Be upfront and communicate real issues or concerns ASAP.

Now that you understand the definition of a data champion and the need to have a foundation of support, let’s finally talk about you and what you need to do to prepare yourself to be a data champion.

In order to succeed as a data champion of a data governance or MDM program you need the following:

  • To be educated on the subject

  • To be inspired
  • To be able to create a consistent vision and sell it to yourself
  • To be able to sell the vision to others
  • To be able to develop and maintain relationships
  • To be able to listen, ask for input and deal with objections
  • To be able to involve others – you cannot do this yourself
  • To be optimistic, hopeful and patient!

To be educated on the subject
This topic is probably the easiest of them all. Simply pick up a few books on data governance, data quality, and master data management and start reading. I highly recommend reading The Corporate Information Factory, Master Data Management and Customer Data Integration for a Global Enterprise, Enterprise Knowledge Management: The Data Quality Approach. I also recommend reading a few motivational and business communication books as these types of books tend to mentally prepare you for anything in life. Check out the author Carmine Gallo, who has a few books that cover these areas.

In addition to the books, read blogs, articles and attend as many seminars and conferences as you can. At the conferences, it is important to attend as many case studies as you can. Case studies give you a picture of real world challenges, successes and failures. They will help you to craft the vision of your organization’s program.

Finally network, network and network more. Make as many new friends as possible, and share your thoughts and ideas with others. There are no bad ideas. I have met some of the most energetic and knowledgeable people during my speaking sessions at conferences. 

To be inspired

Light a fire in your heart before sparking one in theirs – Carmine Gallo, Author

So you wake up every morning, you look at yourself in the mirror and say what? Do you say anything at all? Every morning, and I mean every morning, I look at myself in the mirror and I say, “Today I will have a sense of hope, confidence and optimism. There are no obstacles – only challenges. It’s what I live for.” BAM!!! I am inspired. It only takes a few minutes each day to get me fired up for an 8-12 hour day.

Now you may be laughing, or even thinking I am crazy at the thought of pumping myself up in the morning but it works. You’re going to have bad days as a data champion. Trust me on this, and some will be worse than others. All you need to do is believe that you can reinvent yourself everyday. Forget about yesterday and re-focus your efforts and energy on today. Start your day by being inspired and then go out and inspire others.

To be able to create a consistent vision and sell it to yourself
Great! So now you’re inspired and you’re ready to kick some butt. But wait… do you have a vision? In 1980 there was a movie called The Blues Brothers. In it, there was a classic scene where Jake and Elwood Blues were in a church attending a rocking gospel sermon by the Reverend Cleophus James (AKA the godfather of soul, James Brown) and the Reverend said, “Do you see the light? Can you see the light?” Well as the story goes, Jake and Elwood saw the light. They found their vision, they believed, and they went on to become the greatest rhythm and blues band ever! Ignore the fact that they went to jail at the end of the movie. You’re missing the point. They had vision. 

One of the success traits of a good data champion is that they have vision, they understand it and they can sell it. You do not have to create the vision yourself. I highly recommend you work with others within your organization to develop a vision of how you’re going to successfully implement a data governance or MDM program. Once the vision is created, you then need to build on it and extend it to keep the vision going. Your vision needs to be simple, so that anyone can understand it. For my vision, I took the word vision and created 6 simple words.

Valuable
Information
Servicing
Individual &
Organizational
Need

That’s it! It is as simple as that. Think about it. My vision is to deliver valuable information that is serving individual and organizational need. This is simple, yet powerful, and both business and IT people can understand it. More importantly, I believe in it!

Another way of looking at what this statement really says is, “It’s not about you or what you accomplish; it’s about what you can do for others.” A key everyday role of a data champion is to find ways to deliver business value to people or to the organization. I never talk about IT or IT tools when talking to people about my VISION. I talk about how the vision delivers business value to others so they can do their jobs better. A business user can care less what ETL or data quality tool you’re using. They care about one thing and one thing only.  Where is the business value?

Regardless if you use my definition of VISION or not, you must have a VISION of your own and you must believe in this 1000% everyday.
 
To be able to sell the vision to others
Okay so now you’re inspired and you have your vision and you’re a believer. Now we must sell it to others. First of all you need to craft your elevator speech. An elevator speech is an overview of an idea for a product, service or project. The name, Elevator Speech, reflects the fact that an elevator pitch can be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride (say, thirty seconds or 100-150 words). You will need a 30-second, 3-minute, 15-minute and a 30-minute speech. You need to ensure each speech has a consistent message and reflects your vision. The more effective the speech, the more receptive people are and probably will want to know more.

You can give these speeches in the elevator, walking down the hall, on golf courses and at lunch (try not to speak more than 3 minutes at lunch as this is usually a time when others do not want to talk about work). Another great way to sell the vision is to try to get invited to as many internal meetings as possible. Meetings provide you with the opportunity to deliver your 15- or 30-minute speech and get some feedback from real users. If you’re having trouble getting into larger meetings with larger audiences, work with your internal communications or marketing groups as they are usually involved in organizing a lot of meetings.

When delivering your 15- or 30-minute speech, you should take time to customize a small portion of your speech to show how your vision can have a direct impact on your audience. Paint a picture for them by telling a story using real world examples. Let’s say you’re presenting to a sales team. Your opening vision statement is the same; however. you can show how the program could deliver a 360-degree view of the customer with parent-child relationships. This data can assist sales in filtering prospect lists, creating effective marketing campaigns and helping them to meet their cross sell, up sell and greater share of wallet goals. This is powerful and will captivate your audience making it easy for them to remember you key points. Please. be very careful not to set any expectations. You’re just giving them examples of the possibilities.

To be able to develop and maintain relationships
A data champion’s greatest challenge is developing and maintaining relationships. Depending on the size of your organization and how many data sources you may be tasked to work with, each source of data belongs to a division or a unit that is owned and managed by someone other than you. And, at some point, you will have to work with that person.

Start by first identifying the right people, their divisions or business units, their supervisors, their data sources, etc., and make a list.  Review the list with your sponsor(s), CIO and boss and determine a strategy on who to go after first, who will make first contact and who will schedule the meeting.

In most cases, you will require help from your sponsor(s), the CIO or your boss to open up some doors for you. This is normal and, at the same time, can be beneficial and educational for you.

  1. Senior executives seem to understand each other on a totally different level and usually can get on each other’s calendar pretty easily. They keep it simple and meet for 15 minutes. They discuss the vision of the program and explain, in romper room terms, the business value that the program will deliver to the organization and to their division. Most executives understand there is a greater good to help the company achieve corporate goals even if it means that it may ruffle some feathers in the trenches below.

  2. You just got a firsthand view at how senior executives communicate. Take notes, listen and learn. It is truly an art form.
  3. You just got introduced to a senior level executive, and he now knows you are the “data champion” and what you tasked to do. This will come in handy when you need to meet with a person that works within this senior executive’s org chart. As part of your 30-second elevator speech, you can include the following, “We met with Mr. So and So and he is on board with this.”

When you are tasked with developing relationships by yourself simply remember the following:

  • Meet face to face if possible.

  • Use the right elevator speech at the right time.
  • Be as non-invasive as possible.
  • Remember that the people with whom you are trying to build relationships have jobs too!
  • Try to meet at a time when it is convenient for them, not you.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask to meet outside of the work place. Invite them to lunch and pay for it or play golf. Whatever works for you.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then if you fail, seek advice from your boss.

It is equally important to maintain the relationships you have. Here are a few tips:

  • Appreciate and value the relationships you make.

  • Don’t take them for granted.
  • Discuss any issues that may arise. If you have unresolved issues, deal with them and don’t hope they will just go away without confronting them. Unresolved issues may eventually ruin the relationship.
  • Respect people and don’t be rude.
  • Return phone calls, e-mails, and text messages.
  • Control your behavior. Don’t lose your cool!

It is not easy to create and maintain relationships. There are several good books on how to do this well, but I hope I have given you enough information for now to help you to determine the best approach to start creating relationships within your organization.

To be able to listen, ask for input and deal with objections
It’s your first real meeting with one of your new or existing relationships. You gave your 30- or 3-minute speech, you explained how this program could help them and he has not kicked you out of his office. Good – actually very good! So what’s next! Listen and learn.

At this point, the person sitting across from you has a million thoughts running through his or her head. He will start to talk and tell you what he thinks. Listen and learn. I read an article once that stated, “I never learned anything from listening to myself talk!” It is so true. Your relationship can only grow if you listen and learn from the person you are talking with. Understand what he is saying, feel his emotion, watch his reactions and write down key points you’re hearing. If he asks a question, answer open and honestly and make sure you fully understand the question before you answer.

If for some reason the person you’re talking with rejects the idea of your VISION and objects to allowing any information he may have to leave his world, simply smile and say, “Thank you so much for your time. I understand how valuable it is. I really appreciate all of the information you have shared with me today.” This happens from time to time, and the worst thing you can do is fight it. Leaving on a good note is critical to circling around and having another chance at making this relationship happen. Document your meeting and meet with your boss to determine the next steps. That is all that you can do for now.

To be able to involve others – you cannot do this yourself
I cover this in all my sessions when I speak. Being a data champion of a data governance and MDM program is a huge undertaking. There is no way you can do it all by yourself!

You need to be realistic about how much you can or cannot do. The road map for data governance alone can consist of over 100+ areas that need to be achieved in order to have a fully complete and mature program in place. Trust me – no one is going to let you “boil the ocean” on data governance anyway, that is unless you want to fail. Besides that is not the vision! Remember the vision is to deliver valuable information that is serving individual and organizational need.

So let’s get a list of items that are needed to deliver the vision, prioritize them in order of biggest value with minimal impact and bring the right folks on board required to help you get the job done. It is critically important that you surround yourself with positive people who believe in the VISION. The rate of progress you make will be based on how much positive energy you get from your sponsor(s), committees, colleagues, peers and partners. Everyone needs to believe in the VISION!

Think of yourself as the contractor in charge of building a house. You need to get an architect, a builder, a plumber, an electrician, etc. in order to build a house. As the contractor, you’re in charge of making sure everyone understands the plan and vision drawn up by the architect. You make sure you bring the right people on board at the right time. You need to keep things moving forward toward completion and ensure that things are done within the budget. You monitor quality and deal with problems as they are found, and you resolve unexpected issues by making decisions yourself or consulting with others where needed. To get this done, you need to be hands off but there are going to be times when you need to be hands on. You will know when to do one or the other.

So who needs to be involved in your data governance or MDM program? Sometimes it’s consultants, sometimes it’s leveraging in-house resources, sometimes it’s business people. You need to leverage your relationships and determine who the right team is right now to get the current job on the table done to deliver the promised business value. There are only a few folks that I would consider being on each task: a project manager, a business analyst, an IT manager, a data architect, data stewards and a data modeler. Not too much more. Too many chefs in the kitchen will not guarantee a quality meal!

You will also require some external help from consulting firms. In my presentations that I do, I say there are pros and cons to using small and large consulting firms. The larger consulting firms are good for quick “big bang” projects that need to get done ASAP to deliver quick wins for your program. The smaller consulting firms are real good at spending quality time in the trenches with you and allowing you to learn on the job while building out parts of your program. Also, don’t be afraid to use both. There is nothing that says once you select one company that you cannot switch to another. I used both, and both of them worked very well for our needs.

Finally for those of you who are full time employees or consultants, if your organization brings on a consulting firm to knock out a part of your program, please do not take it personally. This has nothing to do with your ability to do your job.  It has everything to do with delivering VISION. Remember it is not about you. It is about how to help deliver business value that services others in the shortest time frame possible. So the question is “How can you help?”

To be optimistic, hopeful and patient!
Oh my, we are at the end. A sigh of relief – whew!

Remember when I told you to wake up and be inspired? I meant it; however, when you are at work things change. Regardless of the changes that may occur, a data champion will be required to reinforce an optimistic outlook every minute of every day as long as involved in the program.

You need to think optimistically. You need to talk to yourself in an optimistic way to build your positive energy and your confidence. Speaking optimistically will give others the confidence to follow the VISION.

Yes, you will run into negative people with negative comments, and yes you may come across a group of people who are a constant road block, and yes you may end up having to work with someone who sees gloom in everything.

Be patient with those who do not believe. Do not let their negativity rain on your VISION. Life is too short, and there is plenty to do. As long you’re inspired, optimistic, confident, have hope and can be patient, you will be a very successful data champion; and those who follow you will also share in the same success.

So you want to be a data champion? Hopefully I have enlightened you to some of the requirements it takes to prepare to be a good data champion. It will probably be one of the most challenging roles you may ever take on, but trust me when I tell you that the rewards and experiences are well worth the risks. I wish you luck and success and please feel free to send me comments on this article.

Share

submit to reddit
Top