Why is Data Governance so hard? I often kid at Data Governance conferences (like the Dataversity and DEBtech International winter conference coming up in December) that the sessions are often like being in group therapy – discussing our challenges and deep thoughts about topics that everyone else in our daily lives just don’t seem to understand. In all seriousness though, I am never more than half kidding.
There is value in looking at our data governance efforts through a therapeutic lens. Let’s look at some classic cognitive distortions on which cognitive behavioral therapists focus to help clients identify problems, rethink them, and develop new strategies for addressing them.
Polarized Thinking – Considered an all or nothing way of thinking; a black and white approach. In data governance, this is an easy trap to fall into. We have little room for anything in between ‘yes or no’, and ‘applies or doesn’t apply.’ Policies with “shades of grey” are often seen as areas that just complicate matters, so we default to our polarized views to keep things clear, simple, and safe.
When reframed however, understanding the contextual needs of our information users and operating within a governance model that can flex based on these needs, allows us to stop operating in an all-or-nothing mentality. Rather than working with policies that apply at opposite ends of a spectrum, we operate with policies that apply at different points along it as defined by the needs of our users.
Filtering – The tendency to view issues only from a negative point of view. Data governance is often seen as necessary to fix problems or drive compliance, neither of which have a positive spin other than perhaps “checking boxes.” Because of this, folks tend to see data governance as a negative aspect of doing business— a necessary evil.
Data governance can and should be positioned through the positive lens of enablement. Rather than communicating what users must do to comply with governance policies, consider and communicate the value of governed data environments in terms of how it improves business outcomes.
Control Fallacies – This distortion is the view that everything is a result of one’s own actions. Everything is controlled by you and every move you make matters, whether for the good or the bad. For many companies, control is seen as the epitome of data governance. The very need for data governance was to establish control for enterprise data.
This is a big one that needs to be rethought by data governance professionals. You do not control all things data, nor should you. One of the most important parts of a data governance program is the establishment of roles and responsibilities with specific accountabilities and responsibilities. Data is not the responsibility of a single person or group within a company, nor is it “everyone’s” responsibility. Documenting activities and decision-making authorities in a RACI chart (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) will delineate where the “control” lies.
Should Statements – While often disguised more than other distortions, “should statements” get us in more trouble than we realize, especially over long periods of time. The idea of a should statement is lamenting about what you should be doing but can’t or aren’t for whatever reason.
In the world of data governance, it sounds something like, “we should be able to access and integrate the data for all of these reports, but we are so siloed…” or “we should be focusing on enabling analytics, but we can’t get past our data quality issues.” “Shoulds” can also be the result of over commitment or unrealistic goals and expectations. Do not expect that you should be able to address everything through data governance, especially in a new or less mature program.
Consider what you can do – projects that you will deliver with the resources that you have. Start with small controlled projects that help build the foundation necessary to further governance efforts. If we get hung up on what we “should” be doing with our data governance program rather than what we are doing and can reasonably commit to accomplishing, we will end up disillusioned and disappointed. Should is an indicant that data governance will die on the proverbial vine.
There are many other cognitive distortions that can get in our way as data governance professionals. And to date, there are no cognitive behavioral therapists that specialize in data governance-specific emotional and mental challenges. So, absent the therapists, we must rely on our group therapy. Join us at conferences and join the DGPO – the Data Governance Professionals Organization. The DGPO wants to help make sure you and your data governance program are successful. We are here for you, here for each other.
Check out the DGPO website for additional content and resources. Not a member, yet? No problem, you can join here https://dgpo.org/membership/. One of the greatest resources in the DGPO Members Only Content area is the member-shared content. We would love to have you share your successes as a member for the members! In the meantime, we will keep sharing our practical points and best practices from the field here in TDAN. We are honored to be a part of this newsletter as it is always full of great information and valuable resources.