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Preparing the organization for performance data quality management

A change in the traditional approach to data ownership, governance and quality is necessary.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

Instituting a performance-oriented enterprise data quality program will have impacts that will reverberate across the organization. The notion that information is an organizational asset that must be shared and exploited across the enterprise implies a change in the traditional laissez-faire approach to data ownership, governance, and quality. Because there are underlying “people issues” that need to be addressed in order to achieve the competitive benefits improved information quality will bring, it is worthwhile to consider what those issues are and ways that they can be addressed.

This month, I’d like to focus on the challenge of performance and performance-based management. Many organizations settle into a standard operational routine – there are business jobs that need to be completed, operational tasks that are enumerated that must be done to complete each job, and these tasks are doled out to different staff members based on their experience, their roles, and their availability. Often, planning only considers the tasks that are necessary and the resources to be allocated for each task, resulting in Gantt charts and project spreadsheets, ultimately leading to weekly status report meetings where the agenda focuses on:

  • Reporting on whether each individual is providing the expected deliverables within the specified deadlines;

  • Discussing what has transpired since the previous meeting that has prevented staff members from meeting their deadlines;

  • Reprioritizing the tasks that are now overdue;

  • Conspiring to determine how partially finished tasks can be reported as “completed” to upper management; and

  • Adjusting the plan to accommodate missed deadlines to prevent other deadlines from being missed.

We have seen this model in place at almost every organization we have consulted, with two curious results: the first is that things don’t always seem to get done when originally planned (maybe not so curious), and the second is that the inclination of the staff tends away from the business objectives and towards perpetuation of the project plan. In some instances, the business objective is actually overtaken by the schedule, with schedule events becoming the sole operational driver. For example, the schedule says that the design document needs to be completed by April 1st. However, the design document is only half written by April 1st, and certainly has not been subjected to the peer review necessary for group sign-off. There is a conflict with the schedule, so what do the participants do?

It is at this point that the participants bail out of their responsibility. Often, the uncompleted sections of the design document are annotated to indicate that the sections are pending, a request is made to “temporarily” accept the document as is so that the deadline from the original schedule appears to be met. Of course, the deadline is not really met, the document is left to languish in its half-completed state, and everyone else moves along to the next task that is about to become overdue. This becomes a pattern of behavior that is repeated over and over again, and it is no wonder that some projects seem to go on forever, seemingly hitting all of the project plan deadlines, but without the firm measure of success that might have been in the original set of internal client expectations.

What drives this is the inappropriate linkage of incentives to the documented achievement of schedule events. In more common terms, people are being “paid” (either through bonuses, responsibility, titles or promotions – and, with contractors, their actual payments) to hit the dates on the plan, even if the required program oversight is not being performed. Because everyone involved is partially complicit to this operational model, this kind of behavior can continue for a long time and is often condoned (or even encouraged) up the management chain. What has actually happened is that the concept of “performance” has been inadvertently transferred from the expected end products of the business activities to the schedules of the business activities. In the process, this trains the entire organization to focus on conformance to deadlines, not to the high quality of the products to be delivered.

Very often, the internal clients themselves do not realize that the expectations are not being met. Because the reporting typically addresses whether the deadlines have been met, the internal client presumes that what has transpired does meet the original specifications, and there is little need for concern. The problem will be exposed to the internal client late in the game, when it is likely to be too late for any significant changes, and any potential for success is reliant on the mediocre product.
This behavior pattern is part and parcel of the organizational root cause of poor information quality, since it is especially easy to ignore or gloss over production issues that create flawed data. Because of this, the governance of information will be particularly lax.

The default behavior is to manipulate expectations to the low level of performance and to provide incentives for figuring out the best way to do that. The challenge is to understand how this happens, why it happens, and ways to adjust the organizational perception of performance and then institute changes in the organization to monitor (and provide incentives for) performance instead of schedules. We’ll explore this challenge in a future article.

David Loshin

David is the President of Knowledge Integrity, Inc., a consulting and development company focusing on customized information management solutions including information quality solutions consulting, information quality training and business rules solutions. Loshin is the author of The Practitioner's Guide to Data Quality Improvement, Master Data Management, Enterprise Knowledge Management:The Data Quality Approach and Business Intelligence: The Savvy Manager's Guide. He is a frequent speaker on maximizing the value of information.

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