Things I Think I Think about Data Governance

Things-I-thinkThere is a sports writer in Pittsburgh who occasionally publishes an article on “things he thinks he thinks” about the sports teams in Pittsburgh. I tried to look up who he was on the Net to acknowledge him here but I was unable to find him referenced.”Things I Think I Think” is a fairly common statement. At least that is what I found through my Google search. I found the sports writer’s writings to be humorous, entertaining, thought-provoking, insightful and absolutely incorrect at least part of the time.
I thought I would follow his lead and write a similar feature on Data Governance. Perhaps you can share with me some of the things you think you think about data governance or about what I wrote here.
  • The need to govern data will never go away. Once I was asked by a CFO how many stewards they were going need and how long were they going to need them. My reply, in an obviously very PC way was: How long do you want to have quality data and information?  His response was that he always wanted quality data and information. My response to his response: Then you will always need data stewards. Someone has to be formally accountable for quality among other things. That is why Data Governance is a program rather than a project. There is no end.
  • If “not having an end” is scary to you, think about it … If you can build Data Governance into what people do and they forget that it feels like an add-on, you will solve that problem.
  • There is not a single definition of the term Data Governance to be found anywhere. There is no need for a single definition. Use other people’s definitions to craft what makes sense for your organization. The definition I use is that Data Governance is the “execution and enforcement of authority over the management of data and data-related assets.” If it makes you cringe … well good!  It is supposed to. Ask me why.
  • If you attempt to sell Data Governance to your management team as a difficult, complex, time consuming or resource intensive project, that could interfere with other project activities, that is how they will perceive the activities.
  • If you sell Data Governance as something we are already doing, however we are doing it informally, inefficiently and often ineffectively, and that governance is already (to some degree) happening at the project level, that is how they will perceive the activities.
  • The selection of the approach to how we sell management can make or break the program.
  • Projects typically have plans. Project plans are a level of governance around projects. There are data components of all projects. Or at least most projects.
  • Project plans often distinguish analysis, requirements, integration, design, delivery, testing … as distinct sections of the plan. If we put the word “data” before each of these pieces, it becomes more obvious that Data Governance is (or should be) a part of our project methodology. For example “data design” or “data integration.” I call that proactive Data Governance.
  • Getting the “right” people involved at the “right” time … is what Data Governance is all about.
  • If we were going to remove two words from the Data Governance vocabulary, I would choose the words “assign” and “owner.”
  • When you “assign” somebody to be a data steward (rather than recognize or identify them), their first impression is that the assignment will be over and above their present work load and work schedule. We do not want them to think that because it will scare them.
  • When someone is designated as the “owner” of data, that implies that it is their data and they can make the decisions about that data no matter the consequences. I know many organizations refer to people as the “owner” or something. Perhaps the better word is steward or somebody that takes care of something for somebody else. That somebody else is the organization.
  • Data stewards are all around us. We just need to know what we are looking for and where to look. Trust me, they are there.
  • I do not like the use of the term “data governance process” especially when it refers to a singular process that is used to govern data. The truth is, when it comes down to it, any process that anything to do with the definition, production or usage of data can be considered a data governance process. I just don’t like it when processes are labeled as “data governance processes.”
  • When you use the term “data governance process” you are working against the non-invasive approach to Data Governance. And why would you want to do that?
  • There are data security processes, data use processes, data access processes, operational processes … that focus on the management of data. Call these processes what they are rather then helping people to blame the Data Governance program for adding steps or getting in the way. Govern the processes. Don’t unnecessarily create a ton of new processes.
  • Many of the processes I just mentioned are related to policies that exist in the organization.  In other words … the policies mean that associated the processes are not optional. So do not blame data governance for following policy.  In fact it should be exactly the opposite. Use Data Governance to assure that the policies are being followed.
  • The primary cost of Data Governance is people’s time. And people are busy and they will be the first to tell you (over and over again) that they do not have time “right now” to participate in the program activities. These people tell you that they believe that Data Governance is important and absolutely necessary for your organization. But it has to be when they have time. And I hate to break it to you but … sometimes that time never comes.
  • Therefore the best tactic is to tell them that they are already governing data; however, they are doing it informally, inefficiently and often ineffectively. Help them to identify for you (novel idea rather than the other way around) how formality will positively impact their effectiveness and efficiency. That is all they want anyway. :)
Thank you for reading through the things I think I think. Now if I was going to write about things I know I know, that would be a much shorter list.  Please let me know your thoughts about a feature like this. Are they helpful? Do you have things you think you think that I can add to my list (or start your separate list)? I am always interested in feedback from readers. Many thanks in advance.


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About Robert S. Seiner

Robert S. (Bob) Seiner is the publisher of The Data Administration Newsletter ( – and has been since it was introduced in 1997 – providing valuable content for people that work in Information & Data Management and related fields. is known for its timely and relevant articles, columns and features from thought-leaders and practitioners. Seiner and were recognized by DAMA International for significant and demonstrable contributions to Information and Data Resource Management industries. Seiner is the President and Principal of KIK Consulting & Educational Services, a data and information management consultancy that he started in 2002, providing practical and cost-effective solutions in the disciplines of data governance, data stewardship, metadata management and data strategy. Seiner is a recognized industry thought-leader, has consulted with and educated many prominent organizations nationally and globally, and is known for his unique approach to implementing data governance. His book “Non-Invasive Data Governance: The Path of Least Resistance and Greatest Success” was published in late 2014. Seiner speaks often at the industry’s leading conferences and provides a monthly webinar series titled “Real-World Data Governance” with DATAVERSITY.

  • Richord1

    This I what I think: The term Data Governance reminds me of bureaucracy, the same for the role of data steward. Why not call it data management and make it more tactical rather than bureaucratic; a set of best practices for managing data.

    What I “know” is that there is a lot of talk about data but little real understanding. Many folks think data is fact and that there is such a thing as raw data. Others profess data is a natural resource. As a result many have tried to apply practices from other domains such as using Six Sigma or lean practices and apply them to data.
    Most Data Governance dogma assumes you can govern data like governing people, enforcing a set of policies. Few organizations have the discipline to enforce policies. Most practices in organizations have become folklore and are handed down from generation to generation. Just look at software development “policies” or database management policies. How many are really enforced even in organizations with CMM certification? Best practices are those behaviors that people follow when no one is looking.

    Data management is what organizations should be practicing and those best practices should be embedded within the current organization not as a new function or bureaucracy. Data awareness, responsibility and accountability needs to be adopted as a set of values first. That’s the “hard sell”.