Data Governance Framework Walkthrough: By The People, For The People

The next stop on the tour of our data governance framework focuses on the people investments that your organization must make to build out data governance capabilities.  The right people are required to support, sponsor, steward, operationalize and ultimately deliver a positive return on your data assets.  As you can imagine, the challenge of defining the right roles and responsibilities, job descriptions, career paths, and incentive plans for the people needed to make data governance a success will not be solved in a short blog post.  So my goal here is to share my thoughts and open the discussion to identify the most relevant areas for consideration.

Standardize data governance roles and responsibilities

  • Executive sponsor.  The optimal executive sponsor will be very senior CxO-level executive(s) whose responsibilities span functional, line of business, application and geographic silos.  The earlier you can identify these sponsors the better as they drive resource allocation, staffing, funding, business prioritization and cross-functional collaboration.   The sponsor must be an active participant and evangelist, not just a name on a PowerPoint slide.  It’s also very common to form an executive steering committee to coordinate communication, prioritization, funding, conflict resolution, and decision-making across the enterprise.
  • Business and IT data stewards.  Your stewards are your business and IT subject matter experts who can most effectively translate how your data and systems influence the business processes, decisions and interactions most relevant to the organization.  Your business stewards must be IT-savvy and your IT stewards must be business-savvy.  Both must be strong communicators and facilitators across the part of the organization they represent.  Experienced business analysts with the expertise to bridge business and IT communications often make the best business stewards while data and enterprise architects can provide critical perspectives as IT stewards.  
  • Data governance driver.  The primary responsibility – and skill – of your data governance driver is to not care who wins.  The dark side of many data governance efforts is that it can be a politically-charged funfest of conflicting priorities and personalities (Awesome-sign me up!). The best way to mitigate this is to have a strong executive sponsor with a solid vision for how trusted, secure data will improve your business and an unbiased driver whose sole objective is to deliver upon that vision.  The data governance driver coordinates tasks for all data stewards, communicates all decisions made by steward to all relevant stakeholders, drives ongoing data auditing and metrics to assess program success and ROI, and is the primary point of escalation to the executive sponsor and steering committee.  A program or project management office (PMO) often accepts the role as data governance program driver.

Note: Instead of the term IT steward, some frameworks define a role of “Data Custodian,” responsible for ensuring compliance with data governance policies and standards.  The responsibilities are primarily the same as the IT steward label above, which I prefer, since the term custodian implies (to me anyway) an after-the-fact, reactive engagement while I believe business and IT stewards must work together collaboratively from day one.   But role branding is up to you – call them data czars or propeller-heads if you prefer – it’s much more important that you focus on the responsibilities, not the role titles.

Document skills and training required

From a business and IT steward skills perspective, evaluate candidates that demonstrate –  and provide training to enrich: 

  • Analytical and problem solving skills
  • Understanding of relational database structures, theories, principles and practices
  • Data processing flowcharting techniques
  • Business process workflow design
  • Understanding of capture, update, usage and other core business processes that influence the data life cycle
  • Working in a team-oriented, collaborative environment
  • Industry vertical experience
  • Communication skills, both written and verbal
  • Negotiating and facilitation skills
  • Ability to work effectively with both business and technical stakeholders

For data governance drivers, invest in many of the same skills above but also focus on:

  • Project/program management skills
  • Financial ROI modeling and business case development
  • Managing up – influencing executive management
  • Performance management, reporting, measuring and monitoring capabilities
  • Change management
  • Sales and marketing! The driver needs to build the messaging that will build excitement for data governance within the organization

Define recruiting and career paths

  • Create or update relevant job descriptions.   Leverage the list of skills above and work with HR to draft a job description for your business and IT data stewardship and data governance driver roles.  You should also determine, are these full time roles that you’re staffing, part-time responsibilities that you will assigning to existing staff, or a combination of both.  The job description is critical whether the role is full-time or part-time, because you need clarity and agreement on the skills, background and responsibilities that you’re looking to leverage. 
  • Make data governance participation a career opportunity – not a dead end!  Is a business analyst that excels as a business steward on the right track for promotion to program manager?   If you’ll be prioritizing advanced analytics and Big data initiatives, will a term as a data steward be a prerequisite for your future data scientists?  (I love this idea!)   Make sure you determine (1) what existing job titles should be targeted to fill new data governance roles, and (b) what roles can data governance participants develop into to further their personal career objectives.

Prioritize incentives and performance management

You should not expect to accomplish much if employee’s participation in your data governance efforts is a voluntary afterthought.    Many of your business and IT stewards are passionate about this topic and want nothing more than to support the delivery of trusted, secure data throughout your organization.  But a funny thing about your ideal data stewards: They’re hot commodities and already have a lot on their plates!  If their managers don’t dedicate a specific percentage of their time to data governance – and ensure their efforts are documented in employee goals and evaluated and rewarded during performance management cycles, they won’t prioritize it.  How could they?  (Stay tuned – I will be covering incentives and performance management in more detail in a future post discussing the “Change Management” facet of our data governance framework.) 

Your HR team, including experts from recruiting, training, career development and performance management, must be a critical partner in designing and implementing all of the above and your HR leadership should have a seat at whatever executive steering committee or forum you design to support your data governance strategy. (More on the executive steering committee in a future post when I discuss the “Organizational Alignment” facet of our data governance framework!)

As always, I look forward to your comments.