The Greatest Challenge

by Graeme Simsion

In the last few months, I’ve taken advantage of my temporary location in New York City to visit and speak to several North American data management groups. Seminar titles, generally chosen by my hosts, have included “Working with the Business”, “Consulting Skills”, “How to Show Value”, “Being Right isn’t Enough”, and, most poignantly, “Why don’t they get it?”

Two years ago, the topics would have been more technical. But when I asked attendees at my data modeling master-classes “what is the greatest challenge you face?”, their answers were seldom technical. Consistently, they cited people and political issues as their most significant obstacles. Professionals working in enterprise architecture, data quality and data governance deliver the same message: “We know what needs to be done, and how to do it; the problem is selling the vision, establishing trust, securing ongoing support…” It  has always been thus.

As the CEO of a consultancy, I had similar experiences. When things went wrong, it was seldom because we lacked the technical smarts; almost invariably it was due these “soft” issues. Rather than blame our clients, we put in place educational programs to improve our consulting skills.  Since then, I’ve developed similar programs for professional consultants across a range of disciplines. And I’ve found  that I can provide more value to the data management profession by sharing consulting principles and techniques than by teaching the finer points of data modeling.

Hence the seminars, and hence this blog, in which I will try to do two things:

1. Reflect on these non-technical challenges and offer some suggestions for addressing them.

2. Encourage readers to do some reflecting of their own, individually or as part of a group exercise.

Here’s the first suggestion for reflection: in your own work, how critical are the people issues? And are you giving them a proportionate amount of constructive, professional attention?

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