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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Feng Shui and Data Governance

I don't know if feng shui is classified as a science, a craft, an art or if it is part of a spiritual discipline, but whatever it is those in the midst of setting up data governance may benefit form some of its principles.

Wikipedia ( provides a nice discussion of the history and principles of feng shui. If we think of data and information as the qi (ch'i) or life force of a business, we can see parallels. We want to encourage the life force to flow through our "dwelling" (the business). We want to hold the good qi and and allow the bad qi to pass through without being retained.

Feng shui begins by studying the physical geography of the dwelling. If the structure is not yet built, the site or sites are examined so that it may be built to take advantage of the natural path of qi. If the structure is already built, everything about its natural geography is taken into account before any suggestions concerning arrangement of furnishings are made.

Holding an understanding of feng shui in one's mind while architecting a governance solution might lead to
  • spending more time understanding what currently is before seeking to change it
  • including all necessary elements (5 in feng shui) in the design such as process, meta data, master data (conformed dimensions), data quality, metrics, intelligence, ??
  • acting small but always within a larger vision
  • recognition of yin and yang (actor and receiver) and the need to consider both within all of the elements

We need our business qi, data and information, to flow freely into the business, through every part of the business, and out of the business. We need to discourage bad qi by showing it for what it is and directing it back where it came from. We need to create harmony within and between business units and functions for the well-being of the business as a whole.

I realize that some readers have already dismissed this with a snort and a sneer. I'm not saying anything about the effectiveness of feng shui. What I am saying is that the goals of feng shui should be the goals of data governance and that it is possible to discover some clues as to good approaches by studying something that has been around for more than 5000 years.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Governance and Control

There seems to be some confusion in data governance circles concerning the application of governance--how to make it work. I sat through a tutorial at a recent conference in which the expert emphasized the need for authority as the key (or a key) to successful governance.

It was never clear to me what the scope of this authority was to be or how it was to be used. I finally asked the question, "Authority for what?" You may have heard that responsibility without authority is the recipe for stress and burnout. I thought to pursue this line of thinking as a way to discover what was meant by data governance. If I know the nature of the authority, I should be able to deduce the nature of the responsibility. The question never received an answer. What I got was blank looks.

I felt a strong need to get to the bottom of this since the word "enforce" or "enforcement" was also used several times. I was becoming extremely uncomfortable.

Friends, if people do not accept governance and cooperate with it, then the governance model needs to change. We do not need enforcers. We need arbiters, mediators and facilitators. More than anything else we need teachers. I've heard it said that we all do the best we know how and when we know better, we'll do better.

Controls and attempts to control do not work in governance. They only create bottlenecks and delays that encourage people to find other ways. In our local civil government, we call it red tape and bureaucracy. For example, building permits are required for many home improvements. The reasons for this requirement are excellent. The permit and the resulting inspections (audits) protect the current and future homeowner by insuring that the project is safe. In spite of the obvious benefits, many do-it-yourself homeowners avoid the permit process because the process is obscure, the standards must be discovered, it can be inconvenient, it adds to the cost and is known to produce delays. Furthermore, the only way for the scofflaw to be caught is through an inspection and the authority has no reason to inspect other than the permit. Note that contractors licensed by the authority are much more likely to comply.

Contrast this to the governance of traffic on roadways. Standards are clearly displayed, drivers must pass a licensing test demonstrating both physical capacity and knowledge. Law Enforcement (To Serve and Protect) is primarily tasked with monitoring compliance (which their mere presence guarantees). Compliance metrics are gathered via various kinds of technology and governance changes (to speed limits, traffic signals, etc.) are made based on these audits. What if we had a committee at each intersection with the sole authority to direct traffic?

As you can see, governance requires an initial framework (competence, licensure), a coherent set of standards (coherent in the sense of both understandable and integrated), and monitoring/audit capabilities. Anything else is extra and may even get in the way.

The result of good governance is a community that enjoys consistency, predictability and safety and is mostly free from nasty surprises. The authority that is present is passive and present only to deal with issues that don't fit within the governance structure. If authority is needed everywhere, there is no governance anywhere.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Guerrilla Governance

In the March 14, 2009 post "Guerrillas and Governance" I introduced the notion that, because of long-time inattention to the needs of the people/workers on the frontier (organizational boundaries), systems of governance will have been developed there and may have been in use for a long time.

In most cases, this governance will be relatively crude and inadequate. In the modern context, it might be something as simple as "We don't accept those after 2 PM so that we give ourselves time to get them done before 5:00."

What we, as guerrilla leaders should perceive is in two parts:
  1. This group is dealing with a problem and has a "process" in place for doing so.
  2. There is a problem. It is recurring. It has a cost.

If we feel the need to introduce a new level of governance that eliminates the problem rather than dealing with it on a repeating basis, we must take into account both of these parts.

There is a ready-made community here and they have banded together for mutual protection. We dare not dismiss that fact or we will create opposition that will resist us to the bitter end. Until we take the time to make them feel (not just understand) that we really want to help them with their problem--not ours--they will resist all of our efforts.

The dialogue goes something like this:

you: It looks as though you are experiencing problems with [form, file, request...].

they: You wouldn't believe the kinds of /@#*(^ we get. And it's most of the time.

you: So what do you have to do when you get one like that?

they: When that happens, we have to [lists multiple process steps needed to remediate]. That's why we have to have a cut-off at 2:00.

you: So, if I understand this right, you are getting unusable or unacceptable input from [another boundary function]?

they: That's right. They just don't seem to care how much we have to work.

you: What happens when you complain to them?

they: They just say that it's their job to generate [forms, files, requests] and it's our job to process them.

you: I think there's a good chance that we could guarantee that you wouldn't have to do any of those process steps you told me about or, if you did, it would be rare. Would that make your lives easier?

they: Absolutely. How would you do that?

you: First, we should put together a meeting. I've already talked with them and, believe it or not, they are dealing with similar problems and similar frustrations. I think the solution to your problem is the same as the solution to theirs. To make sure we need to meet because there are still a couple of things I need to get clarified. Will you help?

they: Tell me when and where. I can't meet on Tuesdays at all.

And so it begins. You will use their pain to elicit their cooperation. Their cooperation creates a new community. Community action guarantees compliance. A newly empowered community is a breeding ground for improvement of many kinds.

This is guerrilla governance. The only requirement to get started is a goal. You will need to be able to articulate the goal over and over again in many different dialects. In many cases, you will only want to expose the part of your goal that your audience is able to comprehend. Never try hide the fact that there is more. You'll simply answer all questions openly and honestly and never insist that anyone needs to understand your perspective. "We'll improve our understanding as we go." is a good way to postpone dealing with difficult questions until more education has occurred.

Always remember, you can't do this without them. Their commitment is vital. Talk freely to management about progress and remember that management has pain as well. You're a leader.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


It occurs to me that many people probably don't understand what coaching is or how they might benefit. Since I am advertising myself as a data management coach, the first task in marketing myself may be to do some education on what should be expected from a coach and differentiate coaching from consulting.

If your only exposure to coaching is youth activities or watching your favorite team on TV you may have an idea that coaches call the shots, that they direct, and are to be obeyed. Nothing could (or should) be further from the truth. My job as your coach is to understand what your capabilities are (as well as those of your "team") and to use that knowledge to help you find ways of attacking your goals that are likely to lead to success.

You might also have developed the idea that coaches are cheerleaders and that one of their main jobs is motivation through exhortation. Again, not true. While I will be quick to affirm strengths and celebrate success, I will not create unrealistic expectations. A coach's goal is to help you to understand the most effective ways at your disposal for addressing the problems and challenges that will confront you.

A youth soccer example will illustrate. If you are fast and by nature aggressive, you can succeed as a defensive player by attacking the ball and taking it away from your opponent before they have a chance to score. If you are not the fastest player on the field and are a bit passive or hesitant, you can still produce a good result for your team by merely staying between the ball and the goal and delaying your opponent until help arrives or forcing the play out to the edge of the field.

In data management, similar principles can be applied. An aggressive, direct approach may succeed for some while a more calculated and collaborative approach may work better for others. In any case, you will want your coach to be able to help you find the successful path which calls for experience as well as expertise on his part. One of the least appreciated values a coach provides lies not in what you do but in what you DON'T do. Your coach wants you to be successful and will help you avoid situations in which you can't or are unlikely to succeed.

You have knowledge, talent--all the raw materials for success or you wouldn't be where you are. Sometimes what you don't have is time or some specialized expertise and in that case you will want a consultant who can come in and get 'er done. But sometimes this is counterproductive because you won't be able to keep calling the consultant back each time you need a change or repair. If you have some time, a coach may be a better alternative since he will leave you with success strategies and tactics that you can continue to apply.

You want your coach to be at your shoulder, ready to answer your questions but also to be asking you questions continuously to help organize your thought processes. In that sense a coach is more than a teacher and more than a mentor. A teacher will not be responsible for the application of the subject matter. A mentor may be standing by at the end of a phone line. The coach will be there with you.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Note to Sec. Sebelius

Secretary Sebelius,

I appreciate very much your stated position (according to Healthcare IT News) that technology adoption is in healthcare is not enough, that interoperability of technology is also necessary for healthcare reform. I wonder how much you know about interoperability of healthcare information systems. I wonder only because there is nothing in your published biographical information that leads me to believe that you have any background-in-depth in a technology discipline.

I don't mean for this to sound like criticism--it isn't--I think your position is a correct one and your advisers have done a good job. I wonder if you are aware, though, that there has been talk of interoperability for several years within the healthcare marketplace and there have even been claims of the achievement of interoperability. There has even been a "certification standard" published purporting to validate system interoperability.

All of this isn't worth the effort it took me to type the words. The reason for this "much ado about nothing" is simply that there is no incentive within the marketplace for the level of cooperation it would take. Technology of all kinds is the cash cow of healthcare and no one involved has any reason at all to kill that cow or even to bring it into the barn.

In the early 1980's, the Department of Defense had a very similar problem. Each branch (Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard) had its own procurement structure and its own pet contractors. There were no standards and all that was necessary for a contractor to be successful was to maintain some level of credibility with the procurement officer(s) involved. The result was that (for example) Army units in the field couldn't talk to units of other services because their communications equipment was incompatible. Logistics was a nightmare because of the variety of spare parts that had to be maintained and computer systems incorporated the "dialect" of the purchasing service and could not exchange information with the systems of the other services. This is the surface of the problem. The technological diversity went much deeper as well to the point where it was a major procurement effort to get two systems to cummunicate.

NASA was developing plans for an international space station and realized that they were going to have to fundamentally change the way that systems were specified, developed, and implemented if there was ever to be any hope of success.

The Defense Dept. took control of the situation through an initiative called Software Technology for Adaptable, Reliable Systems (STARS). DoD mandated that processes and methods (and their documentation byproducts) as well as tools and other technology used in the creation of systems be standardized for the purposes of reducing costs and delivering a level of interoperability.

Healthcare operations and all of their vendors--virtually everyone outside the walls of the DoD and the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie-Mellon University remain blissfully unaware of any of this history, all the while enjoying its fruits.

I want you to know that I believe interoperablity can be obtained, but not without the institution of new paradigms and some major upheavals in the technology vendor community. I have dedicated 13 years of my life to laying some foundations where I can and I fervently hope that you have the commitment and the political will to see this through. Without that, government efforts are likely only to increase costs.

Monday, June 1, 2009


I have been doing a few presentations of late on the subject of "Guerrilla Governance" which is about the application of guerrilla principles to the quest for good [corporate and data] governance.

The central theme is commitment founded on a vision and how to use that to create community, communication and credibility. Through it all, the message is that complaining, wishing and waiting has not produced results, is not producing result and will never produce results.

I learned that I already have what I need and now I'm working to get that message out. The raw material, the resource used to power the change we need is in plentiful supply. It's the pain, frustration, and lack of fulfillment encountered in everyday work life. Even if I do not feel it, others all around me express these feelings every day.

The norm of work life is approval-seeking. The rare business has created a system of standard processes and metrics that frees its employees from the need to seek approval. These are the CMMI Level 5 companies and the Malcolm Baldridge Award winners. The vast majority invest a handful of people with authority by virtue of a title and force everyone else to seek their approval in order to change anything.

If you get this, it's up to you to change it. Alignment is the grail sought by management. It is thought that alignment will produce the "well-oiled machine." The problem is that the "folk wisdom" of the executive suite and the board room seems to be that the basis of alignment--vision--is something best kept close. Rather, alignment springs from a common vision. A shared vision is the shortest path to alignment.

If the leader of the company isn't actively sharing their vision with each and every employee of the company, then it isn't happening. Reliance on staff meetings to promulgate the vision is very much like the old party game of telephone. Who knows what the person at the other end is really hearing? There are other visions out there--I have one myself. Whoever you are, whatever your job, I urge you to hold yourself accountable to the grandest vision within you until it is replaced by one even more grand. Be responsible for the change you need, but remember that the change IS you.