Lets face it data can be overwhelming and messy to deal with. Given the data driven world we live in you know there’s value to having data organized in manner for better decision making or for the occasional audit. However, when companies seek to start a data governance program the reality sets in about how complicated the task is. For some the factor that makes the development of a governance framework complex is deeper than data, things such as communications or understanding of operations. Other times the factors can be related to data in that data is not properly categorized or ownership of data. Thankfully, there are a few best practices you can employ to better your chances of having a successful data governance program in place.

Visioning and Communication

Data governance requires a mutual vision, and visions are built upon shared language and understanding. One of the key recommendations from the start is to develop a business glossary. The glossary is a collection of operational definitions as it applies to your business. These definitions are usually born from how processes in the workplace are applied and directed. With data governance it is important to define terms related to data classification, business operations, roles, and accountability.

Concurrent with the development of the business glossary is your vision for the data governance program. What is your end goal? Greater cyber security? Data quality improvements? You need to communicate what the goal and vision for the data governance program is or else it becomes just another chore not tied to helping your organization fulfill its company mission. The vision will likely be a live process that evolves as your definitions become clearer.

Once you have a clear vision and agreed upon definitions you’re ready to communicate to stakeholders about the coming development of a data governance program. When attempting to win over stakeholders it’s important to understand their needs, anxieties, and roles in order to best communicate with them and come to common ground to move forward. Communication and understanding of the data governance program’s vision and need is important because a lack of understanding can lead to a lack of proper use or implementation.

Understand Your Operating Model

It’s important to understand each process your employees have to work through in order to accomplish their job. While the quickest route to the information may be to talk to HR or your COO they may not be able to provide the most comprehensive information about the process beyond what is documented on paper. Often times on the job there is much more happening than what was captured on paper. So it’s advised to speak with department directors and if you can directly talk to employees on the job themselves to gain insights on the complete process. Additionally, it’s important to not lose sight that this is for a data governance program, so you want to capture how data flows along through the process. This mean capturing what data is transient along the process and what data stays with data owners.

Mix Bottom-up and Top-down

The age old question that applies to almost any program: should this initiative begin at a grassroots level or as an executive mandate? The answer is quite simple, both. With organizational change there will need to be an executive mandate of some kind, however you also win a few data champions in the C-suite and among employees. The involvement of people from both sides creates accountability and enthusiasm for the whole system. Engaging people from the bottom up allows business units to localize and identify their unique needs in the data governance program. This ensures that when the executive mandate does happen that each individual unit is supported in their ability to execute the mandate and fall in line with the new data governance program. This is why executive support is important as well, not all departments will understand with absolute clarity the data governance program if they’re talking to each other alone. Leadership can help ground and centralize the message and certify the program and its updates as official.

Management & IT Partnership

In order for a successful data governance program to remain a reality, management will have to partner with IT. As mentioned earlier language and definitions need to have common ground, well this needs to translate well into the tools that employees and management are using to work and communicate with one another. The technology employed should be used to achieve a few goals depending on your end vision with the data governance program. Those goals are: data quality, policy enforcement, monitoring, or accountability. The reason the technology should be discussed and coordinated with management is to ensure that whichever group of people will be in charge of monitoring and managing the success of the data governance program all have a common understanding of what reports and analysis are telling them.

These are a few tips on how you can jump start your data governance program on the right footing. Data governance at its core is held together by strong communication and understanding. Without understanding stakeholder needs, your operating model, or what data flows in your organization, you will likely be lost. Use these helpful points to get started or redevelop your governance framework.