Dear Laura: How Can I Build Traction for Data Governance in a Start-Up?

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Read 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. In 2019, 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 leading the Data Governance effort at a health care start-up. We’re three years old and have grown quickly through acquisition and funding. As a result, the culture is very focused on quick bites, small initiatives, and in my TLDR corporate environment, my Data Governance efforts look too large, ill-defined, and nebulous. In my defense, I have spent hours talking, sharing, and building content that no one seems to read. The work is the work – I can’t spoon-feed everything. Someone has to take some responsibility. I’m frustrated and overwhelmed. They just keep telling me to “do Data Governance” as if they have no accountability. What can I do?

Flummoxed in Philly”

Hi, Flummoxed,

I can’t say I’m surprised.  Lots of organizations struggle through what you’re talking about but don’t have the added nuance of a start-up mentality. I love a good start-up – the excitement and focus on the mission (growth) can be intoxicating, but just like anything too much can be a bad thing.  

First, I have to ask, even if you have “talked” for hours, have you actually asked someone to take “accountability”?  If you did (or think you did), were you clear and specific? Example:

“Can you help me with Data Governance?” or …

“We are working on defining patient, you have experience in the patient data, can you participate for the next four weeks for a total of 10 hours to help us finalize this?”

The difference is clear, but so often we find ourselves being less than clear, particularly in a fast-paced environment where less is more. I have also found that data people like details (no shocker) and in the absence of being able to provide people with details, we often go to extreme over-simplification. “Oh, OK, so you don’t want to understand the role of data lineage, regression, metadata, and the data catalog. That’s OK. The short answer is we have to track the data.” Somewhere between the minutia and the view from space is the sweet spot. It’s different for everyone and it is your job to find it.  

Data Governance leadership isn’t really about data. It’s about the people that use the data. When you have an organization where everything is new, and growth is paramount, your approach to Data Governance has to move forward while you prepare for the rocketship (assuming your start-up does well). What does that mean? Start by going back over all those “talks” and content that you built. Did you ever ask anyone in clear, specific language how they can support Data Governance? If not, go back and give that a try. In terms of that rocketship, set up regular meetings with your information security leader and the compliance leader. It is the most important relationship you can have as you prepare your organization for growth. Embedded in the work that they do are several action items that Data Governance should take responsibility for.  

Finally, check out “The Think Book of Trust” by Charles Feltman. It’s an excellent primer for creating trusting relationships, which is exactly what Data Governance (or really any data function) should do. 

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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