Taking a Data Governance Programme to Maturity

Taking a Data Governance Programme to Maturity

In this mini-series, I’ve looked at the business benefits of employing a data governance framework; and how to get startedwith some quick wins in the first six months. I’m going to close the series by explaining how to embed a data governance programme in your business, so that it becomes a core activity, with the budget and resources to match.

Data governance is made up of many things. It needs a strategic document that describes the policies, practices and responsibilities. It needs software and systems, fundamentally the data catalogue or dictionary we looked at in article two.

But these are only parts of the jigsaw. In and of themselves, they do not make data governance the pervasive force it needs to be. For that, you need a cultural reset that permeates your entire organisation. The effectiveness of a data governance champion (even a team) is limited if everybody isn’t also playing their part. That’s why data governance should be positioned as a cultural pillar of your business, right up there with integrity, customer centricity, passion or other popular brand values.

So what does a data governance culture mean exactly? It means that everyone understands the value of data within its context—where it came from; the level of confidence that can be applied to it; who is accountable when a piece of ‘bad’ data is identified, and how that is escalated. A data governance culture also means that these commitments are levied at data at every step of its lifecycle.

That can be challenging. Most organisations have positioned data as someone else’s job. “It’s important to get right, but it’s not my job to do that,” so say most mindsets. You may have achieved a reluctant accountability amongst your employees for data governance, but this too falls short of what’s needed. Data governance must be elevated beyond a superficial box-ticking exercise; it should be ingrained into everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Employees must see data governance as a daily obligation, similarly to how employee welfare has reached beyond HR to become an all-person play. These days, we all understand our duty to create a fair and safe working environment, and report inappropriate behaviours. We are not targeted to do so. Salaries and bonuses aren’t linked to it. It has just become second nature. That is what a data governance culture must strive for.

Here are three steps to build this data governance culture.

1) Communicate the good

Humans are naturally conservative folk. We struggle to adopt new behaviours, unless there is a good reason to do so. So step one should be about communicating the personal benefits of a data governance programme; the ‘what’s in it for me?’ test.

Revisit the first article in this series, where we looked at framing data governance in terms of enabling good. Share examples (from within your business preferably) of wins built on the back of data insights, and what this meant to those involved. A new customer or a % uplift in sales is great for the company, but too abstract to be personally motivating. But the award or promotion for the salesperson that used the data to clinch the win is tangible.

And beware false inducements. Incentives linked specifically to data governance measures (i.e most incidents reported, most training hours undertaken) can be too transactional. They train people to focus on an activity, not the big picture. Take the incentive away, and you may find your culture hasn’t changed at all.

2) Create engagement opportunities

It’s logical to launch your data governance programme with some fanfare. But remember that this is not a project. There is no end date to data governance. So once the initial buzz has died down, ensure there are plenty of opportunities to keep people interested and motivated in ‘their’ data. Classes and courses are a start, but can be too generic. Give learning context by anchoring it to what is actually happening in your business. Take actual reported incidents—how did the problem arise, what was the outcome of the remediation, and what was learned? As well as creating staff engagement, these discussions also serve as helpful feedback loops to continual optimise the data governance framework.

Think creatively about the environment. Don’t expect employees to lean-in if it’s inconvenient for them to do so. Lunchtime sessions (food supplied!) can be a good setting. A voice from outside the company can inject extra interest. An always open drop-in centre (in-person or online) gives pangs of sudden curiosity somewhere to go.

3) Track your path to maturity

How do you know if your data governance programme is successful? Go back to our framing; how data governance should be about enabling good. What evidence can you collect that that is happening?

Start with the operational. How easy is it for your employees to find the data they need? How long are they spending using data analytics software? What decisions have they made with data (or had their minds changed by it)? What business outcomes can you attribute to these insights? How many incidents have been reported? How many potential breaches have been identified and patched? Qualitative data is as important as quantitative, to provide more context and as a tool for deepening employee engagement.

Internal auditing should be augmented with external validation to eradicate any unconscious bias and to provide a benchmark with other organisations.


I hope this mini-series has been a helpful introduction to persuade you to start your data governance journey. Above all, I hope it challenges any preconceptions you might have that data governance is something to be feared. With comparatively little resources and the right attitude, data governance can become a significant competitive advantage, delivering a more knowledgeable, more efficient and more profitable business.

Rittman Mead helps organisations create and deliver effective data governance programmes. We work with businesses at the start of their journey, through to those that need a fresh eye on their existing programme. To get in touch contact [email protected]