Practical Points from the DGPO: Take Me Out to the Data Governance Ballgame

DGPOI am ending my first year as a Little League Baseball parent. As I have sat on numerous bleachers through cool nights and hot days,

I cannot help but ponder the many parallels between America’s favorite pastime and our favorite pastime – data governance. (It is your favorite, right?)

While peanuts and cracker jacks may not be readily available and you may actually care if you get back [home] at some point, the essence of baseball can be broken down into three core areas that quite clearly depict the fundamentals of successful data governance —

— Rules, Action, and Communication.



In baseball, there are rules and then there are RULES! The general rules are the accepted basics of how to play the game of baseball, but then there are very specific rules that define the intricacies of how individual plays and situations are handled on the field. The leagues or tournaments in which teams play often define these detailed rules. Once defined for the scope of play, these rules are non-negotiable and umpires handle any discrepancies. And in data governance, there are rules and then there are RULES!

Guiding Principles – There are many different players in data governance, all with diverse priorities, ideas, and expectations. Without guiding principles, stakeholders’ actions and decisions are biased to the areas in which they directly work. Guiding principles provide a general set of rules or standards that direct decision making processes based on an understood, shared set of values. The rules are broad such that all stakeholders can conform and still act with a significant amount of autonomy. Guiding principles are often presented within a program charter to appropriately define the scope. Like baseball, guiding principles are the general rules by which all players abide to ‘play the game.’

Business rules – Also, like baseball, in data governance the rules get more explicit for defined areas such as individual business units, across user groups, or when considering particular data classifications. These rules are put in place to optimize processes, protect data assets, or limit risk and exposure. The definitions of these business rules are often very detailed and have distinct purpose. Outside of the area of specific intent, these business rules lack application and can actually create unnecessary confusion or worse, precipitate costly work-arounds. In the world of baseball, business rules are like tournament inning rules or time limits that speed up game play. And while appropriate for specific tournaments, if applied to all baseball games, these rules would dramatically alter the essence of the game, forcing many teams, coaches, and players to make decisions they would not otherwise make. In fact, these rules applied at the wrong level could be such game-changers, that they could in essence be game-enders.

Umpires (aka data stewards or data governance council) – Even with all the rules, there are always exceptions, both in baseball and in data governance. Some situations are too close to call and some, from varying points of view, become points of contention. Enter the umpires, or data stewards – individuals trusted by both teams to make objective decisions based on the known guiding principles (rules) and documented business rules (RULES!). Their authoritative decision is typically accepted by all parties as the final rule, but in scenarios where a call is appealed or a decision is too complex for a single decision maker, the umpires or data governance council convene to ensure all aspects have been considered to issue a final decision.


Baseball and data governance share interesting aspects of “play”. While they are both extremely team-oriented, individuals have the autonomy and responsibility to make decisions. While all individuals have accountability for their defined roles, they are expected to back up their teammates, play wisely both offensively and defensively, and collectively win the game.

Players at bat and on the field must closely monitor game action to inform their individual decisions – Steal a base? Bunt? Swing for the Fences? Cover second? The very moment a team member forgets that their single decision impacts the whole team is when plays fall apart. This is absolutely true in data governance. The autonomy to make data decisions is the beauty of a well-formed governance framework, but everyone must carefully consider the broader implications of every decision they make. One decision soaked in self-interest can create enormous liabilities and have serious ramifications. Yes, one play can cost you the game.

Baseball players are defensively trained to understand the decision tree of “Where’s The Play?” This means that players intimately know the obligations of their position but are also aware of gaps that may be created as their teammates all work towards making the play. They quickly jump on board to back up the positions, expending effort elsewhere to ensure that the play is made. Successful data governance teams operate in a similar fashion, recognizing that the workload for various roles will wax and wane over time. They must back each other up and make the plays.


While rules and action are essential in both governance and baseball, it is communication that brings it all together – both on the team and outside of the team. Communication is not only critical for the players during the action of the game, it is also necessary for the fans, the stakeholders.

Heads Up – Perhaps not present in a major league game where fans eagerly await the opportunity to catch foul balls in the stands, but in little league games you frequently hear the screams of, “heads up.” With foul balls flying backwards over fences into areas where uninvolved folks could get walloped if their attention wasn’t quickly grabbed, the “heads up” screams in unison usually prevent a major incident. When the unexpected data event occurs that could catch people off guard, it is important to be ready to exclaim, “heads up” and prevent worst case scenarios. Consider it lightweight mitigation.

On Field Communication – In order to execute the player decision tree on the field, there are variables that players must know at all times. How many outs? How many strikes? Where’s the play? With all the moving parts, it is possible that team members can miss a piece of the action. Consistently at every play, all players are expected to communicate these critical variables to each other so that they know they are all on the same page, prepared to execute from the same point in the shared decision tree. It should be no surprise that strong data governance programs have figured out how to consistently share critical factors to operate effectively and efficiently.

Base Coaches – Even with the most skilled players batting and running the bases, there are coaches at 1st base and 3rd base to keep an eye on the action and provide specific direction as to what the next move should be. Runners are moving at warp speed and laser-focused on getting around the bases. They don’t always have time to take in the full view of what’s happening on the field. They trust the advice of their base coaches and act accordingly – no second guessing. In data governance, don’t forget to station base coaches during your times at bat. When the action gets going, you want your players laser-focused on the goal. Put well-trusted advisors in place help them remove distractions, make quick decisions and bring in the runs.

While the data governance “game” is really never over, the team as a whole is always working together, playing by the rules (and the RULES), driving action, communicating, and demonstrating wins. Undoubtedly a team effort. Now, let’s play ball!

Anne Buff
DGPO, VP Communications

Have you been pondering Data Governance parallels or have an on-the-ground story that you would like to share? One of the greatest values in DGPO membership are our real-world case studies. We would love to have you share your story with our members! In the meantime, we will keep sharing our pondering, 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.

The DGPO is a non-profit, vendor neutral, association of business, IT and data professionals dedicated to advancing the discipline of data governance. If you would like more information on joining the DGPO, please check out the DGPO Website.

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Anne Buff

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

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