It’s probably the most common question I get when I visit companies struggling to get data governance off the ground: “How do I get the business to care about data governance?” The answer is simple. You can’t. Don’t even try. What do people care about? They care about the work that is already piled up in front of them. They care about the goals and objectives used to measure their success.

One of the first things I do when working with clients on this topic is to review the material they’ve been using to “sell” data governance within their organization. It almost always goes something like this:

  • Slide 1 – “This is the definition of data governance…”
  • Slide 2 – “Data governance is really great and is really important…”
  • Slide 3 – “All the smart companies are doing data governance…”
  • Slide 4 – “Here are the pieces and parts of data governance according to some expert…”
  • Slide 5 – “Here’s some possible business value we could obtain if we implement data governance…”
  • Slide 6 – “We think you should assign data stewards from your areas to this effort…”
  • Slide 7 – “Here’s how we propose to get started…”
  • Etc.

If you were an executive with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of projects lined up, and you were responsible for the success of those projects, would the preceding presentation get your attention? Probably not.

Here’s a way to structure a data governance pitch that works much better:

  • Slide 1 – “Here are the major in-flight and planned business initiatives at this company…”
  • Slide 2 – “Here are the kinds of data and analytics these initiatives will need…”
  • Slide 3 – “Here are some of the data issues that might hobble the success of these business initiatives if we don’t do something about them…”
  • Slide 4 – “Oh, look! It seems that a lot of these initiatives need the same or very similar data!”
  • Slide 5 – “We’d like to ensure that the data is ready for these initiatives, at just the right time and in just the right condition…”
  • Slide 6 – “This thing called ‘data governance’ will be a big part of ensuring the readiness of that data… let me explain…”
  • Slide 7 – “Here’s how we propose to get started…”

Do you see the difference? It may seem subtle, but the difference in results is dramatic. The first approach sells “data governance”. Even though it mentions potential business value on slide 5, it’s the wrong kind of value. It’s new value that will compete with, rather than support, already-planned business initiatives. That is, it’s just more work to do.

The second approach simply offers to help major, funded initiatives in a specific way. For example, perhaps one business initiative is to implement an inventory replenishment application. The “pitch” would explain how business and IT need to work together to deal with known inventory inaccuracies that would hinder the project if not addressed. And, by explaining how other projects will have similar hurdles with the same data or other data, you can make a case for establishing a more permanent assignment from the business (a data steward) for each data domain that will need attention, but not before there’s actual, important work to do.

Then, you can talk about what a data governance structure looks like and all the ins and outs of how it will function, but only to the extent that it supports the business initiatives by making sure the data is ready and is deployed coherently.

This approach works because everyone cares about the business initiatives, but no one cares about data governance, and neither should you.

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