how to select and secure data governance sponsor

As most of us already know, the data governance sponsor plays a critical role in the success of a data governance program. Without sponsorship, data governance often fails. But, we have to be a bit picky here and not just go for any sponsor.

Here's is one main guiding criteria in selecting a sponsor:
"Choose someone at a higher level in the organizational hierarchy structure".

Go for a C level role because you not only need financial support, but also involvement and participation from your entire organization. If you not have a C level position in your organization, because of its size or structure then go for a VP level or a senior director role. Someone that is in a position that can help champion the program, secure resources, and help the program navigate political challenges. 

So how do you select and secure a data governance sponsor?

Recommendations when selecting a sponsor

1. Business side

Have someone from a key business unit and try not to choose IT. Yes, I think IT is a key partner, no doubt, but data governance is a business function, not an IT one. Having a sponsor chosen from the business side will help drive that message across with stakeholders and get buy-in for them. The program sponsor should help clarify business priorities and goals as well as the organization’s business roadmap and strategic objectives so having someone from the business side makes more sense from this point of view as well.
There are cases where the sponsor is the CIO or the CTO, but unless you're an IT company, or a data company this is not recommended because it will then be harder for business stakeholders to take ownership and be involved. It will be seen as an IT program and when IT is the sponsor for it, it will tend to have a much higher focus on the technology component of data governance and its scope will tend to be from a system point of view.

2. Network diversity

Ensure that this individual has a good and diverse network - This usually ensures they have a more comprehensive business context, but having access to this network will also help mediate any issues, disputes, or conflicts a little bit better and it can even help with securing resources. Which brings us to the third recommendation:

3. Capacity for securing resources

The person should have the ability to secure the resources that you need. Many times the data governance office consists of only one person, but that's not ideal because you need the help of at least one business analyst and project coordinator, at least. Either as new hires or secondments from other units. But you need your sponsor to help secure these resources for you. You might also need to pay for an external maturity model assessment, educational courses such as this one, and tools. All these are resources that your sponsor should be able to help you secure.

4. Leadership

Lastly, remember that a sponsor champions the program. Therefore Look for a sponsor that is a true leader, not just by the title they hold. It's a person that people follow. Having a sponsor that is trusted and appreciated by their colleagues helps you immensely.
For all these reasons and recommendations, again it's sometimes good to have more than one sponsor and it's not uncommon to see more than one.

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How to maximize chances of getting their buy-in

It helps to foster a relationship with the potential sponsor. It definitely helps if there's someone that you know already: either because you worked on a project with them, or maybe you report to them now. If you don't have a direct relationship with this individual, try to get someone to introduce you to them and recommend you to them. It's always good to start on a positive note.

Once you have that sponsor in mind, you should have a meeting with them and present them the need for data governance. This is where all that hard work that you've done for the Business Case comes in handy.

Before presenting the business case I recommend 2 things:

1. Practice

Make sure you practice your pitch, your presentation, your delivery. know the content of the business case inside-out a as it helps create the confidence in yourself and in the project. Remember, it doesn't need to be a presentation style meeting where you are presenting the business case, it could just be an informal get-together. And is where my second recommendation comes in

2. Understand the audience

Understand the person you are pitching the business case to. Find out what is important to that person. Try and find the answers to these questions:

  • Are they a number person?
  • Do they mostly care about the financial impact?
  • Are they interested in the impact this will have on their status and image in the organization?
  • Do they care a lot about the change this will bring to their staff? Maybe how aligned the program is with the organization's goals?
  • Do they prefer stories and anecdotes?
  • Do they prefer an informal discussion over a formal meeting or presentation?

Knowing the answers to the above questions will help your delivery of the business case as you should obviously provide more attention to the areas that they are more interested in. I recommend covering everything that we did in the business case lessons, but emphasize the areas that match their focus and their drivers

Armed with all of this, you should now be able to secure at least one good sponsor. 

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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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