10 ways data governance is like golf


Each year during springtime in the Midwest, we long-suffering residents slowly disentangle ourselves from the grips of Old Man Winter – one twisted finger at a time. Like clockwork, with spring comes hopes of golf, and dreams of that par game I was never able to put together last summer.  So (ever hopeful) I visited a golf coach, who put me through a high-tech video analysis of what my swing looked like. He also gave me a laundry list of swing thoughts, diagrams, photos and some positive advice (if only THIS time it will work!).

My immediate reaction? Yikes! Where do I begin? How can I already be frustrated? What is going to give me the best results the quickest, before I totally lose confidence?

During this same winter, I had the privilege of consulting with a large Midwestern insurance company to help them implement their first customer data governance program. My golf experience got me thinking to why our project worked so well. Why? Golf and data governance have a lot in common. Here’s why:
  1. You can't just plug it in. Whether it's golf clubs or data governance rules, it's not a set of “bright shiny objects."  You need to design and develop the organization, which means training the organization, coaching people, and finding new ways of resolving problems. Data stewardship is a relatively new concept, as is driving towards formal resolution of conflicts, and sharing information. It won't happen overnight.
  2. Make time to practice. Governance is a series of steps and techniques, each requiring vision, judgment and finesse. Each organization is different, and many different personalities and political scenarios are involved. While you can read the roadmap, executing it requires soft skills and repetition.
  3. You can’t fix everything at once. Prioritize where you can get visible results quickly, and use this to build confidence in the governance organization. You'll need this when things don't work smoothly in the future. Choose one or two things at a time to focus on doing well. The rest will follow.
  4. You only have 14 clubs in the bag. Know how to use each one. The mechanisms for data governance are finite: setting objectives, organizing committees, chairing meetings, voting, prioritizing issues, documenting decisions, implementing data quality routines, communicating the program’s activities, and escalating high-risk issues. Each time you pull one of these out of your bag, you'll use it differently to achieve a different outcome.
  5. Don't focus on hitting the ball; focus on swinging towards your target. This is not “whack-a-mole.” Data governance does not succeed by slapping down or burying potential conflicts. Governance raises the issues, understands them, addresses them and figures out the best “flight-path” that will get the ball closer to the green, where you can finally nail that putt.
  6. You will get more distance if you relax. How many times have I heard that piece of advice? Well, it’s true. Governance can make people uncomfortable. It challenges beliefs and standards; it makes people nervous and defensive. The data governance organization needs to be sensitive to this. Help your peers understand why governance is designed the way it is, and help them get comfortable with the process. Your momentum will greatly improve.
  7. Wear good shoes. It doesn't matter if you walk or ride, your feet are going to do a lot of walking, and they might get wet. Trust me. Governance involves pounding the pavement, talking to people, listening to their concerns and beating the bushes for details.
  8. Keep score. How will you know how far you've come, or how much you have improved, if you don’t know where you started? It’s critical to develop governance metrics. They don't need to be sophisticated, especially at first. But they need to resonate with your peers and the boss. Make sure you keep track of what works and what doesn’t. This is what will guide changes how you will demonstrate improvement.
  9. The coach can’t do it for you. As a consultant, we're often viewed as if we can walk into an organization and tell our clients exactly how this will work and what they need to do. Not so. Our insurance client was smart enough to know that we couldn't possibly understand all the "gotchas" in the organization without working there for over five years. So, we helped build the framework, goals and methods, while the client worked on pitching the vision for governance. My coach may play better golf than I can, but she can’t play the way I do!
  10. Enjoy the course. You paid a lot for this round. Look up every once in a while and admire the landscape. Where are you going and where have you been?  Governance is not a project or an exercise. It is a program (dare I say “a philosophy?”) rooted in the principles and objectives that your organization needs to succeed. The course is complex and challenging, but it’s also fun and ever changing. Go easy on yourself as you get yourself into troublesome spots, enlist the advice of your teams, try different techniques, trust your swing, and learn from your mistakes.

Isn't it uncanny how many similarities there are between the golf swing and the governance thing? Data governance can seem overwhelming in the planning stages. First, get comfortable with the fundamentals, and then build some core techniques. Put your teams in place and give them some coaching and ground rules. Then, scope out the terrain and evaluate what seems like a feasible start. You can't master it all at once. Build on your successes, learn from your mistakes and keep practicing.


About Author

Carol Newcomb

Carol Newcomb, SAS Information Management Consultant

Carol Newcomb has 25 years of experience in information management, particularly in the healthcare industry. She specializes in the design and implementation of data governance programs. Carol has worked with the Department of Education to design a long range data strategy and has designed data stewardship and broad organizational training materials to ensure ongoing program success. Prior to SAS, she held positions at The Joint Commission, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Henry Ford Health System, and UHC. She is the author of the SAS E-book “When Bad Data Happens to Good Companies” and has written numerous blogs and white papers, including “Implementing Data Governance in Complex Healthcare Organizations.”

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