A question I’m often asked is ‘what skills do we need to be successful in our Data Governance (DG) Team?’ It’s a good question but it may not be the right one.  The more pertinent question is ‘what skills does my organisation need to move to a data culture?’.

Let’s try and answer both of those. Firstly, by dispelling two myths. The first is that deep technical data skills are mandatory for the DG team. The second is that some staff get a pass because ‘they don’t do data’

The Data Governance team is a composite of many skills. You won’t find them all in one person. The community of Owners, Stewards and DG group are a virtual team. So It’s important to partner with those inside and outside of that community.

A change of culture is enabled by shared ideas and goals. For DG to be sustained after we’ve agreed those goals, it must be embedded into an organisation’s operating model. That’s as much about facilitation, advocacy and support as it is about specific data skills.

The DM-BOK2 (Find out more here: https://dama.org) considers these skills to be:

  • Business process – understand requirements and determine impact on the data asset
  • Data modelling and data architecture – building a roadmap and target architecture
  • Technical skills – database/warehouse design, build and management
  • Data Analysis – understand issues and structural problems within the data
  • Analytic skills – interpret data, create insights, join with other data sources
  • Language skills – create trusted glossaries and lexicons
  • Strategic thinking – what does the organisation need data to do.

Clearly many of these skills sit outside of the data community identified above. I’ve always linked successful DG with ‘making more friends’. This is not a throwaway remark. A data culture must identify, reward and value these skills wherever they are found.

At the centre of these skills is your Head of DG. Here I’d always favour soft over hard skills. It’s a facilitation role without a direct line management mandate. Communication, negotiation and – frankly – cheerful bloody mindedness are the attributes to prioritise.

While a virtual team may capture all the skills you think you need, the missing piece is everyone else. We’re making unreasonable assumptions about people’s data skills. We don’t write them into job descriptions, nor do we formally train them to be successful in that role. Outside of the data community (and sometimes inside) you learn about how your organisation manages data by copying the person sat next to you.

Clearly, we need to explain, train, mentor and monitor the skills of everyone in the organisation.  Optionality around being a data driven organisation is yesterdays’ news. This is becoming less a differentiator, and more of a foundation for success and sustainability.

You cannot create those skills with worthy speeches from a lectern. You have to set the baseline for what the organisation needs, then actively manage your people to ensure they have the data skills to get there. This is not a one off training effort or a project. It’s a change to data culture led by your data community but implemented by every member of staff.

The prize is well understood but often considered out of reach; lower cost of operation, trusted data to make evidence-based decisions, higher staff motivation, lower risk of compliance and regulatory breach, etc, etc.

There are other less obvious benefits; one is that this culture creates data advocates across the organisation. These individuals mentor their colleagues and solve local data issues so nudge the dial towards better practice. These are the people you want your new employees to sit next to.

So, the question ‘what skills do I need for my DG team?’ can be answered easily but it doesn’t answer the wider question of ‘What is DG for?’ It’s not to make data ‘better’, it’s not a talking shop for those who ‘like’ data nor is it a black hole for data quality issues.

It’s the catalyst to trigger the shift to a data culture. It’s incredibly important to understand the skills that team needs and take the time to create a shared vision for data. But, without considering how that fits with the wider organisation, it will fail in its primary mission- to manage and improve the data asset throughout its lifecycle.

My touchstone for change is ‘Strive for excellence, not perfection’. This is especially true with a transition to a visible data culture. I cannot stress enough this is a people led change and excellence is not the preserve of the few who ‘get data’.

I’ve run out of space to discuss the other hidden problem. Which is that hardly anyone wants to admit they are ‘bad at data’. That’s a fixable problem. Those saying ‘I don’t do data’ really is not. More on that next time.