Illusion Series – Episode III: If a Tree Falls In A Forest and Nobody is Around

Does it make a sound? Is it real? Who would know? Who would care?


If this behemoth falls, do you know where the nearest saw mill is and if to make pellets or a bed frame out of it?
If this behemoth falls, do you know where the nearest saw mill is and if to make pellets or a bed frame out of it?

The more I talk to IT leadership, in this case a recently promoted IT leader who became Chief Data Officer, I am trying to understand why we still engage in this mantra of “let’s do it for the sake of doing it”. I realize it is easier to just cut down a tree instead of figuring out why you did it in the first place or what is the most productive way to use it. But c’mon on, we are all highly paid professionals compensated to give our best advice and make series of decisions and recommendations that amount to something. One would think that in this day and age buying technology to fix gaps – in this case data quality gaps – has a degree of rigor.

However, when I heard “No matter if other IT projects have no impact on the logistics, code for requirements and documentation, on standing up a data governance office or related tool selection”, I gasped. The CDO also proclaimed, “Any of these projects can be cancelled at any point but data governance is here to stay.” Granted, it should be here to stay as we all know priorities change all the time.

However, this was data governance for the sake of data governance. This was “Aktivismus”, engl. activism (not the good kind). What am I missing here? Should other projects, like customer loyalty, SOX adherence, FDA reporting, etc. not directly impact requirements for such tools and underlying approval processes? Should these requirements not be stack ranked based on bottom-line impact, organizational reach, employee and application readiness, risk, cost, length to roll-out, etc.?

Without any prejudgment, your average consultant would ask for user epics and more color beyond a list of technical requirements phrases like “integrate with other tools” and “track change requests”. There are probably 50 tools on the market, which can cover these table stakes. The power of technology comes from understanding how you use it most effectively, not from knowing that you have all the raw ingredients.

Similarly, my son’s school touts 50 new iPads every year so kids can take notes and they can proclaim that STEM has finally arrived. Every year though, nobody asks if the kids can actually type, how it is going to be used in the curriculum, if they use it for research, for taking tests, if the school has an electronic book subscription for enough users, if the protective shells actually allow for the required head set plug, etc. The answer – as one would expect –  was “no” every single time. This is a recurring head scratcher for me every year.

The only difference to the CDO is that these are your average math, English and technology lab teachers with hardly any experience in technical innovation or commensurate salaries.

So let’s see how this data governance initiative will develop over time but in both instances I fear for a mid-term loss of momentum due to the imperfect start of a very promising initiative.  They are destined to become just another tree that fell in the woods because folks just ignored that you have to figure out where the nearest saw mill is to handle the lumber, which just became available without anybody really knowing.

Have you found organizational behavior in the business world with parallels to your private life, which flies in the face of common sense? If so, please share it. After all, there is a reason why “Technology” typically comes after “People” and “Process”.

Previous episodes:

Episode I

Episode II