Stephen King's 5 rules for data governance practitioners

Most of us know Stephen King as a great writer and a great storyteller. His books have been translated into 33 different languages, published in over 35 different countries. There are over 350 million copies of his novels in publication, with some of his most notable books being Carrie, The Shining, The Stand, The Green Mile, The Dark Tower series, and many more. He’s the recipient of numerous awards and nominations. The list of cultural achievements and his contribution to our culture can go on and on, but I’m sure you are all wondering:

“What does this have to do with Data Governance?”

Not too long ago I read a few excerpts from King’s manual On Writing, where he offers advice to aspiring writers. To my surprise, some pieces of advice are quite relevant to data governance practitioners.  So here are Stephen King’s 5 rules for data governance practitioners:

1. You have three months

Stephen’s advice refers to giving yourself only three months to first draft a book, even a long one. This is how this advice also applies to the data governance program, in general. Everyone agrees that starting and running a data governance program can be a daunting task. There are a lot of reasons why that is, but as you can imagine, there are a lot of things to be done, a lot of politics to navigate, and a lot of data, stakeholders, and business requirements to evaluate and tackle. That being said, it is important to start showing some value of the data governance program within its first three months. Otherwise, stakeholders will start losing faith in the program and shift their focus and support elsewhere. You have at most three months to start building up credibility and show that things are moving. There are a lot of low handing fruits that you can go after, some of which being:

At least start with the first three and no matter what, don’t forget to communicate back to the business.

2. There are two secrets to success

For Stephen, it’s staying healthy and in the same relationship, but the same can be extrapolated to your data governance program. Keep the program healthy and ongoing by ensuring that

  1. You have a C level sponsor, or high enough in your organization that it can ensure overall support
  2. It is treated as a program

This last point is as important as the sponsorship. You want something ongoing, not a project with an end date. Ongoing resources and support solidifies the relationship between the business and its data. Slowly, data will be treated and managed as the asset that it is.

3. Keep it simple

I think this advice can apply to many things, from writing and communicating in general, all the way to your data governance program. Why? Because the truth is, a data governance program can be overwhelmingly complex. Our job as data governance leads and practitioners is to try and simplify it. Break it down into manageable chunks and don’t try to boil the ocean. You also don’t need to govern all your data. Really! Understand what data sets relate to the core business needs and start there. Here’s a tip: start with your reference data.

4. Dig!

Mark Singer asked Stephen in an interview how a writer can find great stories. Stephen’s reply: “Dig!”. Stephen “believed stories are found things, like fossils in the ground” and he also meant that in order to dig for a great story, you have to dig for the truth. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of analysis that needs to go into the data governance program. From finding the root cause of data issues, tracing the data lineage, to uncovering the stakeholders and data stewards you need to engage with (though in the end it is all of them) and what data should be governed first. Whatever you choose to tackle first, don’t forget to dig further and uncover the truth.

5. Recuperation time

After completing one of his stories, The King always likes to take a step back from it to really analyze his work. Though you should have a plan with those program’s deliverable and constantly work for it, don’t forget to also have a “recuperation” period after each deliverable in order to:

  • Celebrate success and people who contributed to it
  • Communicate what was done, why it was done, and what’s to come – Check out the 3 communication steps for successful data governance article
  • Get feedback on what worked, what did not, and what can be improved

What advice do you have for fellow and future data governance practitioners? If you’re interested, you can read this article from Barnes&Noble for a breakdown of King’s top 20 rules for writers or purchase the book, On Writing, and learn of all of them.

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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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