How I would learn data governance

As you might know, I'm putting together a lot of content and creating online courses on data governance drawn from my own practical experience as a data governance professional. Knowing what I know now, I want to share with you how I would learn data governance if I had to start over. 

Before we get into it I want to mention that the way people learn is different for everyone so your view of this might differ. I think I can still provide you with a roadmap that is independent of someone's learning style, but please share in the comments your tips and tricks for learning something new.

A lot of people fall into data governance and they learn it on the job. This is not a bad thing, but it is very time consuming, and why wouldn't you want to be in a data governance role sooner? After all, data governance jobs are highly paid with the majority of salaries around $124,500 a year (according to ZipRecruiter, as of July 19, 2021).

So if I had to start over, I would want to acquire the knowledge and skills required for me to become a data governance professional.

Acquire some data governance knowledge

Here are some sources that you should start with.

DAMA: I recommend getting the basics in place and not just about data governance, but about data management overall. Data management is the umbrella that data governance falls under. To learn more about data management I recommend getting the DAMA Data Management Book of Knowledge as it offers a great overview over each data management knowledge areas, including data governance. Don't expect to find all the answers that you're looking for, but it offers a good intro. You'll also become more aware on how data governance needs to go hand in hand with many of the other data management knowledge areas.

Now that you have a high level understanding of data management you can go more in depth to learn about data governance.

Online resources: There is a lot of content out there and sometimes that can be overwhelming. Plus some sources can offer some contradicting views of data governance or talk about one area of data governance, but making it seem that's all there is in data governance. So how can you filter these out? As a default I would recommend filtering out resources put together by vendors because they usually present data governance from the point of view of the tools and services they offer. That's not to say that all vendor resources aren't so good, there are actually some great ones available, but it's hard to identify them when you're just starting out.

Books: There are also some good books on data governance, each one of them offering something a little bit different. Of course that requires a bit of time investment.

Videos: There are also some videos like the ones from the LightsOnData YouTube channel. Checkout this data governance playlist:

Online courses: I don't mean to toot my own horn here, but the reason why I created these online courses is because I was in your shoes once and I thought to myself "what would I have wished I knew about data governance if I wanted to gain that knowledge and skills?". Such as:

One of my latest courses, Practical Data Governance: Implementation goes over the

  • Steps,
  • Best practices,
  • Practical examples, and
  • Templates 

To put together a data governance program from scratch or improving an existing one. Go check it out to see how this course is right for you.

Honestly this is a course I wished I had access to when I realized, "I need to implement a data governance program at work and I don't know how to best go about it".

DAMA chapters: I recommend looking for a DAMA club close to you. There usually is one in every major city or at least one in your country. If it's not close to you geographically you can probably join their meetups online. What's good about these groups is that you have fellow data management and data governance professionals joining these meetings and there's a lot to learn from them. They usually each present on different data management topics or bring in some industry experts to present on best practices or case studies. Plus you'll create some important relationships with your local data management and data governance professionals.

Meetups and conferences: Attending other meetups and conferences is also beneficial as you're learning from the successes and failures of other data governance practitioners. Each presentation has at least one golden nugget to take away from and with time this can add up into a nice coffer of best practices and examples.

To recap so far, I recommend reading the DAMA DMBOK, get some knowledge from some of the data governance books out there, videos, and courses. Remember that the higher price point is not always an indicator of greater value so look for those courses that offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee in the form of a refund if you're not satisfied with the content. Lastly, join meetups and conferences to learn from others about real-life examples and case studies and start creating your network.

Acquire some industry knowledge

Data governance is not an IT function, it's a business function. While it helps to have some technical knowledge, it's important to know about the industry that you're working in. It's important to know about the business. This will help you understand the business needs, the business requirements, and the business roadblocks in implementing data governance. So learn more about the operations of your organization, it's goals, its challenges and learn about the industry as a whole. Here's how you can do that:

  • Go through that onboarding manual if you've skipped it before,
  • Attend the town hall meetings,
  • Go to lunch and learns, and
  • Start talking to your colleagues and try and grasp an understanding of different business areas as much as you can.

Skills for data governance I wish I acquired sooner

Ok, so now you've accumulated some practical knowledge. Here are some of the skills I wish I would have acquired earlier on in my career.

Public speaking: There are a lot of presentations that data governance professionals need to deliver, a lot of meetings and workshops they need to lead, a lot of conversations to be had, so mastering your public speaking skills comes in handy.

Toastmaster clubs are great for that as they teach you how to speak publicly and also provide you with a platform where you can practice. I also recommend the book "TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking". But in the end you need to practice. Just like working out regularly to get in good physical shape you should practice in front of a mirror a couple times a week and jump on any opportunity you can get to deliver a presentation. 

Change management: Change management is a large contributing factor to the success of a data governance program. So learn about it. It might be that your organization has a change management model already so you can reach out to that team to give you a good intro and the toolkits that you can start using. Otherwise I recommend looking into the ADKAR Prosci model. It's not the only one out there, but it's a very well-known one.

What about at work? What can you do there? It really depends if you're working in a place where data governance exists or not.

If data governance is established in your organization, see what it would take for your to become a data steward as you'll be working more with that data governance lead and learning more about your organization's version of data governance.

If data governance is not in place, you can slowly start applying your learnings in your department just to get some practice in. So start documenting some processes, drafting some data policies, data standards, defining some business terms and so on. I wouldn't spend too much time doing this as a data governance program should be implemented enterprise wide so after some time you need to take steps towards that goal.

Tips for learning data governance

Here are three tips for you:

1. First: Set a learning schedule for yourself. I feel it's much better than leaving your learning to chance and just learning when you have some free time. Free time gets booked fast. I find that setting an hour aside each day to learn data governance would give me better results quicker than not reserving that time. 

2. Second: Set goals for yourself. Some say that goals are overrated, but I think that if we set goals and we share those goals with others makes us more accountable to keeping to a learning schedule and accomplishing our goals. For example a goal could be the get your certificate of completion from one of my courses in two weeks time. Not only you would have learned something new that you could apply at work the next day, but now you have a certificate that you can showcase around to your colleagues, employer, and even job recruiters.

3. Third: I wish I would have had a study group or at least a studying partner. I feel it makes the process easier as you can share what you've learned and even teach each other. Plus, it enforces that accountability.

Thank you for reading this article and I look forward to seeing you become a data governance professional or just learn a bit more about data governance as it's important.


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About the author 

George Firican

George Firican is the Director of Data Governance and Business Intelligence at the University of British Columbia, which is ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. His passion for data led him towards award-winning program implementations in the data governance, data quality, and business intelligence fields. Due to his desire for continuous improvement and knowledge sharing, he founded LightsOnData, a website which offers free templates, definitions, best practices, articles and other useful resources to help with data governance and data management questions and challenges. He also has over twelve years of project management and business/technical analysis experience in the higher education, fundraising, software and web development, and e-commerce industries.

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