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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Data Quality: Getting Started

If you happen to be a "mover and shaker" or if you aspire to that role, then you'll be looking for access to one or more key decision makers of influencers closest to the top of your organization. You'll be determined to convince those people that
  1. investing in data quality is a sound business decision
  2. you are the right person to produce the ROI that they'll be looking for

If, however, you simply want to make things better as soon as possible and create new friends and allies while doing so, then you may want to take a different approach.

My recommendation is to use the tactics of the Special Forces. The "Green Berets" were formed into small teams comprising skills critical to the people they were trying to help. They then went out to those people and lived with them. Doing this allowed them to gain credibility and to learn what kinds of changes might (or might not) be acceptable.

The Green Berets helped the people with their work and, while doing so, offered improvements--small changes that produced higher productivity or more consistent results. The goal was to create allies.

"Data Quality" represents exactly the same kind of productivity and/or consistency improvement for our "indigenous" people in whatever part of the company they may serve. A DQ Team may be as small as one member and can produce results that are shocking in their scope and value as well as in their lack of cost. It isn't necessary to spend long periods of time "living" with the people. In fact, one lunch or a couple of coffee breaks will do IF you

  1. ask the right questions
  2. listen carefully to the responses
  3. offer support
  4. follow through

You'll ask about what happens when they get incomplete or incorrect forms (data is usually thought of collectively as a form) from their internal "customer". You'll ask about the extra work they have to do in such situations. Be prepared for an emotional response, this is what causes them to miss deadlines, work overtime, add staff... Also be prepared to hear that they simply pass the problems on because they aren't staffed to deal with them and don't feel accountable for fixing problems they didn't create.

Listening will uncover the sources of the most frequent or egregious DQ errors. Now you can mention that you are about to begin a project with those dirty so-and-so's, that it's likely they don't even know the hardships they're creating, and that you'll be happy to mediate a discussion amongst the parties to try to find a resolution. You may already have some ideas.

Create the meeting, making sure that ALL parties are represented (you were listening carefully, right?) and facillitate the discussion, if necessary gently guiding the discussion but never offering solutions. When the solution is "discovered", the people will own it and will implement it with minimal assistance from you. If your assistance is required, make certain that you deliver and do not hold them up.

Follow up by monitoring, coaching, facillitating and then ask if they'd like some help in publicizing their success. Because you know important people, they'll almostly certainly jump at this opportunity. You give them all the credit and they'll make sure to let everyone know that your help was both timely and critical.

This approach works and can even result in regular meetings to follow the improvement and to look for new opprtunities.

Two approaches--you choose which one has the highest probability of success for the greatest number of people in the shortest time at the lowest cost.