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Data Governance Carla Russell, Senior Project Manager

My kids are 3 and 5. With all the preschool energy flowing through our house, I can’t help but notice how often the concepts I’m reinforcing with my children are the same ones arising in my data governance work. Here’s my list of the top three lessons that apply to both raising littles and developing a strong data governance program.

 1. Focus, don’t hurry

I try to remember this when we’re running late, which seems often. It’s so tempting to holler, “hurry, hurry, it’s time to go!”, inciting a sense of urgency because, well, time is of the essence. Then I remember why “hurry” isn’t the best solution. My son drops his glove while he rushes to find his backpack, and my daughter slips on it in the frenzy, and then we have tears and a bumped head, and we are running even later than before.

What we needed in that moment wasn’t to hurry, it was to focus. Take each step, one at a time, to get out the door. Don’t run, just walk. Don’t try to put your boots, backpack, and gloves on all at the same time – something will go missing. Watch your surroundings and adjust to new inputs (like a glove in the middle of the floor).

I think about this when I’m working with an organization to start the cultural shifts necessary to embrace data governance and change their operational relationship with data. It’s tempting to say, “we need to figure this out, so let’s do it. Hurry! Hurry!” We might set a course and try to rush through getting some traction and developing a plan, only to find out why “hurry” isn’t the best solution. Perhaps we find that the movers and shakers weren’t engaged enough in the planning to buy in yet to the process. Or we learn that our initial pilot wasn’t representative enough to just extend to the enterprise, and we’ll have better engagement after we approach the problem in another pilot way first. When we emphasize “focus” instead of “hurry”, we tackle the problem at the speed it requires, even if it seems like it takes longer in the moment.

2. To practice being responsible, you must have a share of the responsibility 

​I find this arising at challenging times of the day, such as getting out the door, mealtimes, and bedtime. It’s easy as the parent to take all the responsibility in these tricky times, when we’re tired, hangry, or distracted. It seems so much more convenient to just get dinner ready and dished up, the table set and milk poured before the kids enter the kitchen. I fight the urge to select outfits in the morning so my kids stop spending 15 minutes cobbling together bizarre layers of their favorite clothes.


What I need to remember is that, if I take all the responsibility for myself, my kids don’t get to practice handling their own life skills. The tricky times will be tricky when my kids are adults, too – I can’t shelter them from the challenge of transitions. Unless I want to be doing all these tasks forever (ugh!), I have to step back and allow the time, space, and education that comes from taking responsibility for themselves. After allowing for the time necessary to learn, the meal might take longer to prepare, the silverware might clatter to the floor when setting the table, the milk might spill from the jug on its way to the cup.  But a household is everyone’s responsibility; it’s my imperative to share it.

I think about this when I’m working with an organization to plan authority and accountability models that support decentralized data stewardship and domain-level data ownership. Unless the same handful of people are ready to work around the clock (ugh!), we have to build a model where they can move back to allow others to step in, step up, and take responsibility of data quality, data processes, and data issue resolution. It’s easy for the seasoned leaders to take responsibility at these tricky times, but these are exactly the moments when we want a fresh perspective to fuel creativity and innovation. They are also great avenues for learning, because the excitement of the new endeavor helps fuel the necessary effort. We are more successful when we build authority through new channels. We work with our key stakeholders support this empowerment in various ways throughout our engagement and beyond: It takes time to learn, space to practice, and education to refine good judgment into great judgment. When we emphasize a structure that distributes responsibility and formalizes accountability, we have the bandwidth to make truly impactful progress.

3. Experiences are how we learn, especially when the outcome is unexpected

If you’ve been around preschoolers before, you know how often the rules seem to be getting broken. It can feel like a soundtrack on repeat, ‘No! Don’t do that! Stop! Don’t go into the snow in your socks! Stop pouring the water all over the table!’

I find myself struggling to balance ‘advice’ with allowing life to happen, allowing for the experience rather than the lecture of, “don’t pull the Scotch tape as far as you can reach”. And I find myself challenged to make consequences relevant rather than punitive. When you pour the water all over the table, it drips over onto the chairs, making our clothes wet. It drips onto the floor in a puddle that we must wipe up.  We will now change out of wet clothes into dry ones, stop what we’re doing to get a towel. We learn from the experience much more than the words, from an outcome much more than a projection.

I think about this when we’re starting to get stuck in analysis paralysis, trying to map out the future for data governance requirements before we’ve even gotten to test-drive the structures, roles, or responsibilities. I also think about this when we’re starting to get on track with leadership buy-in and stakeholder engagement, but we still have resistance from workgroups or data stewards when it’s time to act. It can be tempting to wait until someone cautions you about all the potential pitfalls before you move forward. It is easy to expect that, if you just prepare enough, you’ll always get the right answer and never make a mistake. It’s also unrealistic. In contrast to the (very likely) outcome of pulling a foot of Scotch tape from the dispenser, there might not be a ‘right way’ to approach data governance. Because it’s not in place yet, there are many things to build before you can see what’s working. The only way for everyone to experience those steps is to start laying them out, one by one, and reacting to the reality instead of the concept.

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