Zig-Zag-Diagonal Data Governance

This is a screen capture of the results of last month’s unscientific poll about the best way to approach data governance, which requires executive sponsorship and a data governance board for the top-down-driven activities of funding, policy making and enforcement, decision rights, and arbitration of conflicting business priorities as well as organizational politics—but also requires data stewards and other grass roots advocates for the bottom-up-driven activities of policy implementation, data remediation, and process optimization, all led by the example of peer-level change agents adopting the organization’s new best practices for data quality management, business process management, and technology management.

Hybrid Approach (starting Top-Down) won by a slim margin, but overall the need for a hybrid approach to data governance was the prevailing consensus opinion, with the only real debate being whether to start data governance top-down or bottom-up.


Commendable Comments

Rob Drysdale commented: “Too many companies get paralyzed thinking about how to do this and implement it. (Along with the overwhelmed feeling that it is too much time/effort/money to fix it.)  But I think your poll needs another option to vote on, specifically: ‘Whatever works for the company/culture/organization’ since not all solutions will work for every organization.  In some where it is highly structured, rigid and controlled, there wouldn’t be the freedom at the grass-roots level to start something like this and it might be frowned upon by upper-level management.  In other organizations that foster grass-roots things then it could work.  However, no matter which way you can get it started and working, you need to have buy-in and commitment at all levels to keep it going and make it effective.”

Paul Fulton commented: “I definitely agree that it needs to be a combination of both.  Data Governance at a senior level making key decisions to provide air cover and Data Management at the grass-roots level actually making things happen.”

Jill Wanless commented: “Our organization has taken the Hybrid Approach (starting Bottom-Up) and it works well for two reasons: (1) the worker bee rock stars are all aligned and ready to hit the ground running, and (2) the ‘Top’ can sit back and let the ‘aligned’ worker bees get on with it.  Of course, this approach is sometimes (painfully) slow, but with the ground-level rock stars already aligned, there is less resistance implementing the policies, and the Top’s heavy hand is needed much less frequently, but I voted for Hybrid Approach (starting Top-Down) because I have less than stellar patience for the long and scenic route.”


Zig-Zag-Diagonal Data Governance

I definitely agree with Rob’s well-articulated points that corporate culture is the most significant variable with data governance since it determines whether starting top-down or bottom-up is the best approach for a particular organization—and no matter which way you get started, you eventually need buy-in and commitment at all levels to keep it going and make it effective.

I voted for Hybrid Approach (starting Bottom-Up) since I have seen more data governance programs get successfully started because of the key factor of grass-roots alignment minimizing resistance to policy implementation, as Jill’s comment described.

And, of course, I agree with Paul’s remark that eventually data governance will require a combination of both top-down and bottom-up aspects.  At certain times during the evolution of a data governance program, top-down aspects will be emphasized, and at other times, bottom-up aspects will be emphasized.  However, it is unlikely that any long-term success can be sustained by relying exclusively on either a top-down-only or a bottom-up-only approach to data governance.

Let’s stop debating top-down versus bottom-up data governance—and start embracing Zig-Zag-Diagonal Data Governance.


Data Governance “Next Practices”

Phil Simon and I co-host and co-produce the wildly popular podcast Knights of the Data Roundtable, a bi-weekly data management podcast sponsored by the good folks at DataFlux, a SAS Company.

On Episode 5, our special guest, best-practice expert, and all-around industry thought leader Jill Dyché discussed her excellent framework for data governance “next practices” called The 5 + 2 Model.


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