I know the secret to getting business people to tell us why they need Data Governance. It is really quite simple. If I tell you – then you must promise to keep it to yourself because … If it got out, there is the potential that there will be Data Governance for everybody. And that would be a terrib … Wait a minute … That would be a great thing. Please do share this secret with everybody, especially your business people. And let me know if it has worked as well for you as it has worked for me.
The secret is to ask a simple question. The secret question:
“What can’t you do –
that you need to do –
because the data is not there –
to support your doing it?”
This article begins by looking at that question in four parts.
What Can’t Your Do –
This is the loaded part of the question. Whenever you ask a person what they cannot do, you can expect that there is potential for the floodgates to open. The technique must include asking in a professional manner so the answer will not lead to a “gripe session.” Oil the skids by telling the person receiving the question that the goal is to improve the things they can do by providing them with the data and information that will assist them in doing it.
That You Need to Do –
The second part of the question focuses on the activities that are most important to the business people. We are not only asking what they cannot do; we are asking what can’t they do that that they really need to do. Or you may even say really, really need to do. These things may include that they 1) cannot answer certain questions, 2) cannot access data that will help them to complete their job function, or 3) cannot complete activities in an efficient and effective manner. Whatever their answer … The answer will be excellent artillery to share with Senior Leadership.
Because the Data is Not There –
The third part of the question brings data into the equation. What do we mean when we state that the “data is not there?” What we do is bring all of the dimensions of data quality and data governance into the picture. The data may be unavailable, untimely, low quality, inaccessible, all over the place, or nowhere at all. The “data is not there” is one way of saying that the data does not meet their business requirements.
To Support Your Doing It
The final part of the question pulls it all together. Businesses run like an efficient and effective machine, and business users are content and have the opportunity to be innovative and creative when they have the resources they require to complete their job to the best of their ability. Getting business people to tell you what they need, especially the data and information they require, is something that has been sorely understated for the many eons that organizations have been developing and/or purchasing information systems to match their requirements.
Getting Business People to Open Up
Getting business people to open up about the things they cannot do because they don’t have the data and information that they need is critical to Data Governance program success at every level in every organization. If the business areas believe for a second that you do not understand what they need, this is the first ingredient for a disastrous recipe to improve how data is governed across the organization. This battle between what the business needs and what the information technology people provide has been at the core of the business-IT relationship since the beginning of computer systems development.
Therefore, we (the information technology-focused people) must demonstrate to the business people that we are truly interested in learning about their pain-points and helping them. The secret question I shared is a good first step towards understanding what the business needs from a data and information perspective. The secret question should replace mundane questions like “what data do you need,” “how do you want your data,” or “what do you do?”
Another Benefit of the Secret Question
Getting business people to open up about what data and information they need (but don’t have) to perform their job function has another benefit. The answer to the question becomes the ammunition most Data Governance practitioners require when they approach their Senior Leadership about the needs and the benefits of putting a formal Data Governance program in place for the organization.
Connecting the Answer to Data Governance
The answers to the secret question become the reasons Data Governance is necessary for the business; but that may not be very straight forward to people until you explain why. Making the connection between what the business cannot do because the data does not support doing it – and what Data Governance will do to make it such that the data and information does support what the business needs – is not an easy proposition.
If the business people say that they cannot answer certain questions … Find ways to connect how formal Data Governance will assure that the business people have access to the data they require to answer those questions. Formal Data Governance can assure that the data business people access is well defined, follows standards, and meets their requirements to answer their most important questions.
If the business people say that they cannot access the data that will help them to complete their job functions … Find ways to connect how formal Data Governance can assure that the “right” data gets into the “right” people’s hands at the “right” time, to enable the business to make the “right” decisions. This is a shortened version of the Data Governance Bill of “Rights” previously published in the TDAN.com publication.
If the business people say that they cannot complete activities in an efficient and effective manner … Find ways to connect how formal Data Governance can assure that people will have the data and information they require – when they require it – to make certain that decisions are made in a timely manner – and processes are documented and completed in the most cost-efficient and effective manner possible.
Variations on the Secret Question
Perhaps the secret question as stated earlier is not the perfect question for you to ask your business people. There are variations on the question that may be more suitable for your situation, or address different angles of the same question.
Variations on the question include:
“What decisions can’t you make effectively –
that you need to make effectively –
because the data is not there –
to support your doing it?”
“What data do you need to get to –
that you cannot get to –
because you either don’t know what data exists –
or you are not able to reach or understand that data?”
“What data efforts are costing us more money –
than it needs to cost us –
because data is not managed –
formally, efficiently, or effectively?”
Conclusion – The Advantage
The advantage of using the secret question to get business people to open up about why they need Data Governance, is that the reasons they give are coming from them—not from you, or me, or whoever has the idea that Data Governance is necessary – or whoever is responsible for advancing Data Governance in your organization.
The reasons for Data Governance are now coming from the business people themselves. Okay – perhaps you had to make the connection between what they said they could not do and Data Governance – but by answering the single secret question of “what can’t you do, that you need to do, because the data is not there to support your doing it?” will certainly help you to make the case for Data Governance in your organization.