Thomas Kuhn, Steven J. Gould and Why Data Governance is the New Pink

By Gregory Lampshire

I was sharing an “October” beer with John Bair (our CTO) last night and I was struck by a few thoughts in our conversation.

Back in college, I always enjoyed reading books by Thomas Kuhn. In 1962, Kuhn authored the book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The book described how “paradigm shifts” occur in the scientific world. The core thought was that new ideas do not always immediately take root and become the new norm. For example, once Einstein proposed relativity, while it was certainly very exciting, it took many confirmations and an extended amount of time for the theory to be accepted. There has to be issues in the existing paradigm to cause people to question the current theories. It takes time to adopt the new, improved theory. A paradigm shift is rarely immediate.

At the same time, I remembered Steven J. Gould’s punctuated equilibrium (in evolutionary biology) theory that came out in 1970s. In contrast to the idea that evolution was gradual, punctuated equilibrium said that sometimes large, infrequent events shift the slow-moving, evolutionary path. So, the key message is that things may be moving along, something big happens, and suddenly you are in a whole new world.

Well, perhaps data governance is like that. Perhaps data governance is really an underutilized organizational process. When I talk to clients about data governance, the conversation invariably turns to the different aspects of data such as data is missing! Data is dirty! Only the business knows the really business rules! There are data errors!

That’s certainly all good and fun topics to talk about and those conversations can consume the entire day. However, there is another aspect of data governance we think is important. Its about program management.

We think of data governance as composed of two tracks: the “data” part of the data governance program and the program management part of the data governance program. The program management part is often the most overlooked. Yes, there is a data governance steering committee and yes there is a “leader” of the overall daily effort who reports to that committee.  But the program management aspect of the data governance program is really a management process not unlike other governance programs such as IT portfolio management or “strategic projects” governance. For example, IT governance often helps with priorities, decisioning, budgeting, resolving resource issues, helps communicate to other parts of the organization and bundles scope to form projects/programs.

In the data governance space, we think people often forget this important aspect.  A few areas of issues we have observed include:

  • Funding: The data governance program should act as a forum for obtaining funding either directly through itself or through other funding mechanisms such as integrating into other projects or proposing in other governance forums.
  • Bundling: Data governance should maintain a list of issues and smartly bundle those into projects to be funded and executed. Either direct data governance funding or other business/IT funding could be used.
  • Resourcing: For example, perhaps more training is needed for stewards. What resource can help with that task? Do we need to hire a consultant? Do we need to have metrics in place to track attendance and participation? Does HR need to get involved?
  • Communicating: The senior people on the committee need to use their organizational influence to help keep the data governance agenda front and center in other parts of the organization.
  • Statusing: Perhaps the data governance program needs rejuvenation, how do you get it back on track? The daily governance lead should be identifying program issues that remain unsolved and escalate them for guidance. There should be “program” type status each month in addition to just talking about data.

We think there are issues today that cannot be easily addressed by the traditional style data governance implementation. Changes are needed. The issues we see and listed above are starting to push the boundaries of the current model. Perhaps it’s time for a paradigm shift.

Data governance can be used as a way to manage funding for data-related programs. It can be used to do more than just discuss daily data issues. Its time for data governance to evolve. Instead of always lingering on just the data. Its time for a landslide to happen and make data governance a real management force.

If a data governance program is only focused on data, it is probably too local to act as a problem solving capability. Lets change it. Let’s take the traditional data governance program and make it something more relevant. Let’s ensure that the program aspects of data governance can help fund, help bundle and help communicate to the organization.

So what we have is an old thing, like data governance, playing a new role, becoming more relevant to the business and seeding innovation. We have seen issues in the current “theory” that need to be handled–so lets change the current theory of data governance and ensure that the new model also emphasizes program management. With the paradigm shift in play, lets start a landslide to kill off the old data governance programs and disrupt the equilibrium.

Ajilitee can help you do that.

Data governance is the new pink.

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