Data Governance Star Wars: Balancing Bureaucracy and Agility

I was recently discussing data governance best practices with Rob Karel, the well respected analyst at Forrester Research, and our conversation migrated to one of data governance’s biggest challenges — how to balance bureaucracy and business agility.

So Rob and I thought it would be fun to tackle this dilemma in a Star Wars themed debate across our individual blog platforms with Rob taking the position for Bureaucracy as the Empire and me taking the opposing position for Agility as the Rebellion.

(Yes, the cliché is true, conversations between self-proclaimed data geeks tend to result in Star Wars or Star Trek parallels.)

Disclaimer: Remember that this is a true debate format where Rob and I are intentionally arguing polar opposite positions with full knowledge that the reality is data governance success requires effectively balancing bureaucracy and agility.

Please take the time to read both of our blog posts, then we encourage your comments — and your votes (see the poll below).

Data Governance Star Wars

If you are having trouble viewing this video, you can watch it on Vimeo by clicking on this link: Data Governance Star Wars

The Force is Too Strong with This One

“Don’t give in to Bureaucracy—that is the path to the Dark Side of Data Governance.”

Data governance requires the coordination of a complex combination of a myriad of factors, including executive sponsorship, funding, decision rights, arbitration of conflicting priorities, policy definition, policy implementation, data quality remediation, data stewardship, business process optimization, technology enablement, and, perhaps most notably, policy enforcement.

When confronted by this phantom menace of complexity, many organizations believe that the only path to success must be command and control—institute a rigid bureaucracy to dictate policies, demand compliance, and dole out punishments.  This approach to data governance often makes policy compliance feel like imperial rule, and policy enforcement feel like martial law.

But beware.  Bureaucracy, command, control—the Dark Side of Data Governance are they.  Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume your organization it will.

No Time to Discuss this as a Committee

“There is a great disturbance in the Data, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out for Governance but were suddenly silenced.  I fear something terrible has happened.  I fear another organization has started by creating a Data Governance Committee.”

Yes, it’s true—at some point, an official Data Governance Committee (or Council, or Board, or Galactic Senate) will be necessary.

However, one of the surest ways to guarantee the failure of a new data governance program is to start by creating a committee.  This is often done with the best of intentions, bringing together key stakeholders from all around the organization, representatives of each business unit and business function, as well as data and technology stakeholders.  But when you start by discussing data governance as a committee, you often never get data governance out of the committee (i.e., all talk, mostly arguing, no action).

Successful data governance programs often start with a small band of rebels (aka change agents) struggling to restore quality to some business-critical data, or struggling to resolve inefficiencies in a key business process.  Once news of their successful pilot project spreads, more change agents will rally to the cause—because that’s what data governance truly requires, not a committee, but a cause to believe in and fight for—especially after the Empire of Bureaucracy strikes back and tries to put down the rebellion.

Collaboration is the Data Governance Force

“Collaboration is what gives a data governance program its power.  Its energy binds us together.  Cooperative beings are we.  You must feel the Collaboration all around you, among the people, the data, the business process, the technology, everywhere.”

Many rightfully lament the misleading term “data governance” because it appears to put the emphasis on “governing data.”

Data governance actually governs the interactions among business processes, data, technology and, most important—people.  It is the organization’s people, empowered by high quality data and enabled by technology, who optimize business processes for superior corporate performance.  Data governance reveals how truly interconnected and interdependent the organization is, showing how everything that happens within the enterprise happens as a result of the interactions occurring among its people.

Data governance provides the framework for the communication and collaboration of business, data, and technical stakeholders, and establishes an enterprise-wide understanding of the roles and responsibilities involved, and the accountability required to support the organization’s business activities, and materialize the value of the enterprise’s data as positive business impacts.

Enforcing data governance policies with command and control is the quick and easy path—to failure.  Principles, not policies, are what truly give a data governance program its power.  Communication and collaboration are the two most powerful principles.

“May the Collaboration be with your Data Governance program.  Always.”

Always in Motion is the Future

“Be mindful of the future, but not at the expense of the moment.  Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs.”

Perhaps the strongest case against bureaucracy in data governance is the business agility that is necessary for an organization to survive and thrive in today’s highly competitive and rapidly evolving marketplace.  The organization must follow what works for as long as it works, but without being afraid to adjust as necessary when circumstances inevitably change.

Change is the only galactic constant, which is why data governance policies can never be cast in stone (or frozen in carbonite).

Will a well-implemented data governance strategy continue to be successful?  Difficult to see.  Always in motion is the future.  And this is why, when it comes to deliberately designing a data governance program for agility: “Do or do not.  There is no try.”

Click here to read Rob “Darth” Karel’s blog post entry in this data governance debate

Please feel free to also post a comment below and explain your vote or simply share your opinions and experiences.

Listen to Data Governance Star Wars on OCDQ Radio — In Part 1, Rob Karel and I discuss our blog mock debate, which is followed by a brief Star Wars themed intermission, and then in Part 2, Gwen Thomas joins us to provide her excellent insights.

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