How do you manage data strategy in business as usual and the hype cycle? #CDOSummerSchool

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels — Five Black women discuss around a conference table

How do you deliver targeted data strategies? How do you deliver alongside business as usual? How do you manage the hype cycle to avoid the trough of disillusionment? Join me for a recap of #CDOSummerSchool #DataLiteracy.

I joined Caroline Carruthers and Peter Jackson in collaboration with Collibra for week four of Chief Data Officer Summer School — the masterclass in making change and delivering value around data.

© Gartner Hype Cycle

When you start on a change journey, you naturally enter a hype cycle. This is the lifecycle of how people experience change, from the trigger to (hopefully) the steadiness of maturity and productivity. You can’t avoid the hype cycle but you can manage it by smoothing the peak where expectations run wild and the trough where people lose hope.

Let’s walk through why that happens and what it means for your data strategies — that’s right, you’ll need more than one!

When you start making change towards better data maturity, you’re moving the organisation from data to wisdom. From collated, curated, contextualised data (or information) to thoughtful, curious use of information to think, act, know, understand, gain insight and supplement experience (wisdom).

DIKW Pyramid by Longlivetheux — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Caroline reminded us not to get hung up on these terms and use language the organisation understands. This may mean your strategy is a data strategy, a data enablement strategy, an information strategy or even an insight strategy. Speaking of strategy, you’ll need more than one. Again, don’t be too concerned about what they are called as long as they’re pitched in a language that the organisation will embrace.

Your strategies for data focus on Now > Next > Later. Or perhaps you prefer Urgent > Immediate > Target. The key to successfully delivering impact for the business is realising:

  1. You can’t stop the music: Business as usual will continue and other changes in the change programme or caused by external events must continue. Caroline used the analogy of a marathon runner — you can’t stop the race to patch them up, you can give them what they need to keeep going and a clear map.
  2. There will be conflicting asks: It’s up to you to prioritise what to deliver while reducing the potential for future blockers. This ‘legacy’ debt can’t be eliminated completely and sometimes you might need to make a decision now that isn’t ideal but make sure you’re aware.
  3. Engage, engage, engage: You must factor education and engagement into everything you do. A key part of keeping data in people’s minds and winning their hearts and pockets is delivering impact that reduces friction, improves the bottom line with measurable return on investment. Keep emphasising the value of data at every opportunity, highlighting the wins for your audience.
  4. Manage expectations: When you first start, expectations are likely very high or very low. In organisations where change has failed, burnout and disillusionment are likely high. Where the organisation is fired up from having the benefits of good data sold to them, expectations are often very high. Managing expectation is a full time job and one you’ll have to do constantly to smooth the peak of hype and prevent people getting carried away or falling into despondency.

So how do you do that and what does that have to do with your data strategies? Peter explained that you have to make sure there is a flow to delivering value to the organisation and keep the pace steady. This will gain two benefits — get people used consistent, trusted delivery patterns and give you the credibility of a portfolio of wins.

While the data strategy must underpin the business strategy, the urgent or now data strategy focuses on what you can do right away. These are things that are on fire or the patient that has a fever, you have to cool things down by tackling these tasks first. They are likely the things you will focus on in your first 100 days. Look to the conversations you had in your coffee+cake time, lean on vendors and look at what I call ‘data smells’ such as spreadsheets to find these ‘quick wins’.

The next or immediate data strategy focuses on resolving the things highlighted in the data maturity assessment. This is where you make sure the business is using data to support goals, get a handle on existing data initiatives — so the outcomes deliver your strategic view, start looking at data integration and security and ask how can we drive value and insight from the data that we have?

The later or target data strategy focuses on making sure data is an asset and the organisation knows how to use it. As you deliver the urgent and next items, more capacity will appear here for the later items, then more pressing things could come up moving you back to the immediate items. Expect to be here in your next 300 days.

However you structure your data strategies, make sure you:

  1. Socialise the strategy: The business owns the data strategy and the only way to ensure that happens is that it’s signed off by leadership and known about by everyone affected. Translate the strategy into language others can understand and embrace.
  2. Adapt the strategy: Strategy must be dynamic to cope with changes you can’t see coming. The data strategy is a ‘living document’ that you work from and adapt as needed. Don’t stick it in a drawer. You’ll know your strategy is adaptable if you can tweak it rather than do a complete rewrite.
  3. Prioritise sensibly: Don’t focus on the loudest voice or highest paid person in the room. Focus on delivering strategically, for example, using ‘vertical strikes’ where you deliver everything you need to fix one problem. Then find a close neighbour of a problem and fix that next — this way, you build a strong foundation while delivering consistently.
  4. Keep it short and sweet: The data strategy needn’t be a long document — it should be concise and inspirational. Caroline advises around 4 pages, with a focus on underpinning principles and vision. Supporting documents like the roadmap can be referred or linked to but don’t need to be in the strategy. A shorter document that speaks the language your audience can get behind is the perfect data strategy.

This was another week where there was such a rich vein of material, reflections, advice and chat that my summary is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve summarised from my notes and any mistakes or omissions are mine.

See you next week for week 5 recap: The Hoarding Principle: what is it? Strategies for data governance and management.

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