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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Robert S. Seiner

Robert S. Seiner

Robert (Bob) S. Seiner is the President and Principal of KIK Consulting & Educational Services and the Publisher Emeritus of The Data Administration Newsletter. Seiner is a thought-leader in the fields of data governance and metadata management. KIK (which stands for “knowledge is king”) offers consulting, mentoring and educational services focused on Non-Invasive Data Governance, data stewardship, data management and metadata management solutions. Seiner is the author of the industry’s top selling book on data governance – Non-Invasive Data Governance: The Path of Least Resistance and Greatest Success (Technics Publications 2014) and the followup book - Non-Invasive Data Governance Strikes Again: Gaining Experience and Perspective (Technics 2023), and has hosted the popular monthly webinar series on data governance called Real-World Data Governance (w Dataversity) since 2012. Seiner holds the position of Adjunct Faculty and Instructor for the Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College Chief Data Officer Executive Education program.

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