How Board Games Answer: "What's Data Governance?"

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Are you trying to explain data governance to your family and friends? Think chess, checkers and monopoly.

One of my favorite teachers in grade school assigned the class a project to create a board game.  The task was simple in purpose but proved to be more challenging than how it appeared on the surface.  The challenge was not creating a unique or fun concept for a game, but rather to determine the rules for how the game should be played.  That aspect forced us to think about the outcomes we had envisioned within the game’s concept, and that the policies and structure would support (and not detract) from the game’s outcomes and overall fun factor.

Fast forward a few decades later, I’m routinely asked by friends and family (as I’m sure you are) what I do for a living.  Since the terms “Information Management strategy” and “Data Governance” don’t exactly provide quick anchor points for the majority of the common public, I’m constantly looking for ways to explain my job in a way that my friends and family can relate.  This is where the fun little grade school project of creating a board game comes back into the story.

Free White Paper: Getting Started to Data Governance


Data governance is like writing the rules to a board game.  The board game in this case is the business, which includes pieces on the board (organizational roles), game situations (initiatives), moves (processes) and an ideal objective to win (a set of business goals or outcomes).  Without the rules, it’s impossible to have any context for the game’s purpose, what to do with specific pieces of information, the role of each piece as the game progresses, what are the permitted set of moves, and how they all come together to reach the game’s objective.  Data Governance is the same way, as we use business rules, data standards, operating models, and processes to provide a structure around how the business wins with information.

While we’re using this analogy, it’s important to take a moment to clarify a common misconception about effective data governance.  Data governance is not about over-engineering rules and policies for every plausible business outcome.  If you buy a game of chess, it comes with a four page pamphlet explaining the foundational rules and structure of the game.  If you were to try and write out a game of chess based on every possible move you would fill an airplane hangar with stacks of papers.  Information Governance should provide the data management structure for the business to lean against based on context, but it needs to be simple and liberating enough to allow the business to grow within those boundaries.  The goal is to build the pamphlet – not write out all of possible steps of the games. 

So next time your buddy asks, “What's Data Governance?”  Think Checkers, Chess, or Monopoly.  And in practice, remember to stick with the pamphlet – not an encyclopedia.

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