Dear Laura: Help! The Business Dislikes Our Data Warehouse

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Click to learn more about author Laura Madsen.

Welcome to the Dear Laura blog series! As I’ve been working to challenge the status quo on Data Governance – I get a lot of questions about how it will “really” work. I’ll be sharing these questions and answers via this DATAVERSITY® series. Last year I wrote the book “Disrupting Data Governance” because I firmly believe that poor Data Governance programs are getting in the way of data programs being as successful as possible.

Read the most recent blog posts in this series here and here.

“Dear Laura,

I’m wondering if you would be willing to stray ever so slightly from Data Governance to answer a general question about my data program. It does impact Data Governance and has repeatedly come up as a topic in my Data Governance sessions, but I don’t think it is specific to our Data Governance program. First some context.  

A few years ago, after some issues with a previous version of our data warehouse, we made the hard choice to build a new one. We essentially had to rethink everything and were concerned about the time these projects take, so we didn’t do a great job at communicating. Now the DW is up and running, but I keep hearing that the business side (specifically, our operations group) doesn’t “trust” the data. We have put a lot of things in place to better communicate and address some of these issues, but the “trust” issue keeps coming back. When I ask specifically what they expect, they won’t answer other than to be critical about how we built the DW, that they were not consulted enough. I’ve heard more than once the criticism about “building it and they will come.”  

I’m perplexed and frankly at my wit’s end. They asked for a new DW because the other one wasn’t working. We worked really hard to build the new thing on their request, and now they don’t like this one any better than the old one, despite this new DW having all the data and programmatic aspects we were missing before (prioritization, governance, and quality). What gives?

Perplexed in Poughkeepsie”

Hi, Perplexed in Poughkeepsie,

I grew up in a little farmhouse surrounded by corn. This was before the movie “Field of Dreams” came out – actually, it was closer to “Children of the Corn.” Both movies have haunted me for years.  

No doubt you are in a tricky spot. Trust is a fragile thing and once lost exceedingly difficult to reconstruct. I’ve used different definitions of trust over the years. Words don’t often capture the action, and this is where I have an issue with the dictionary definition of trust (Oxford Dictionary Google search on July 28, 2021): “Firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Simon Sinek says trust is a transference of value, but one would argue that building a new data warehouse has value that has been transferred but no trust.  

Brené Brown talks about trust in terms of actions, and her definition is based on the work by Charles Feltman, who broke down trust into four components: Sincerity, Reliability, Competence, and Care. None of these definitions works for me though. I have also built data warehouses with so much sincerity, reliability, competence, and care that they felt more like an extension of me than a work product. I too was summarily dismissed by an analyst who muttered those words, “You can’t expect to build it and they will come.” 

So, what does give? 

As a consultant, I have the humble opportunity to work with amazing leaders and organizations doing great stuff with data. Even the best organizations stumble on trust, so the first thing I want you to know is that you are not alone.  

When I speak to those organizations about issues of trust, particularly with a data warehouse build, it comes down to three things:

  1. Clarity, which I define as transparency + visibility. Transparency is about what you are willing and able to share about the build. Visibility is how you are creating awareness around the work.  
  2. Collaboration, which is at the heart of our “Field of Dreams” conundrum. A lack of collaboration means a lack of ownership.  
  3. Communication, which if I’m being honest, is more important than the other two combined and often the thing that doesn’t get done.  

What can you do if you have already completed the project and are now dealing with the ramifications of the lost trust? The same thing you would do if you were starting over: Offer clarity, collaboration, and communication.

The answer to this problem could be a book, but let me offer this. No good data warehouse is ever done. Oddly enough, making sure your operations department understands that allows you to build some goodwill. Next, you have to figure out what clarity looks like for this phase of the work. Don’t conflate clarity with communication. Clarity is the “what” and “how” of your work efforts; communication is a channel to get information to your organization. Figure out your what and how, and it makes the method of sharing the information easier. It is not easy though.  Particularly for those of us that would rather fiddle around in data schemas all day. Rely on those people around you that excel at communication, and if you don’t have one, find one. Quickly. They are worth their weight in gold.  

Collaboration should be by far the easiest of the three. Ask your operations team what they need or what is missing. Don’t argue with them! I’ve been in those sessions where we ask the business what they want and then the data team spends the next hour trying to convince them it already exists. Do. Not. Ever. Do. That. If they ask for something that already exists, then you obviously missed the mark somewhere. Work together, get to know how they work and what’s missing.  Even if you “know” it, let them show you. You have two ears and one mouth. Use them appropriately. And, in that rare case where you actually did build it exactly as they wanted it, then when you rebuild it in short order, they will think you are brilliant and … they will start to see your sincerity (because you listened), reliability (because you asked questions and paid attention), competence (because you delivered), and care (because you took the time).  

The next part is probably the hardest. You build (or rebuild as necessary) and communicate a lot.  Communicate more than you ever thought possible. Use anything at your disposal to share with whoever will listen that you are collaborating with your operations team, that you provided the clarity and communication that builds the trust that’s missing.  

Do you have a question about Data Governance you’d like me to answer? Email me at Laura at viagurus dot com.

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