When it comes to Data Quality Delivery, the Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff (Part 1 of 6)

March 7, 2012

I regularly receive questions regarding the types of skills data quality analysts should have in order to be effective. In my experience, regardless of scope, high performing data quality analysts need to possess a well-rounded, balanced skill set – one that marries technical “know how” and aptitude with a solid business understanding and acumen. But, far too often, it seems that undue importance is placed on what I call the data quality “hard skills”, which include; a firm grasp of database concepts, hands on data analysis experience using standard analytical tool sets, expertise with commercial data quality technologies, knowledge of data management best practices and an understanding of the software development life cycle.

Don’t get me wrong, these “hard skills” are an important and necessary ingredient to the successful achievement of data quality delivery goals. However, I believe there is disproportionate emphasis placed on these hard skills, while data quality “soft skills” remain unaddressed or are given considerably less weight. The “soft skills” I am referring to are; effective stakeholder management and communications, an understanding of corporate financial concepts, demonstrated project management fundamentals, knowledge of commercial enterprise applications and experience in an operations capacity. In my opinion, the soft stuff is the hard stuff, and these soft skills are harder to acquire and take considerably longer to develop than hard skills. I further believe that these soft skills are the real enabler of a successful data quality effort, without which, the achievement of data quality goals and the advancement of data quality as a means of optimizing business performance are severely compromised.

So how should one go about staffing a data quality team? It used to be that finding people in the enterprise with well-rounded functional and technical skill sets was rare. While these well-rounded resources are still not commonplace, the continued pressures put on the business analyst community due to the out sourcing and off shoring of core technical capabilities has forced business analysts to become more technically self-sufficient. As a result, business analysts are developing much better data analysis skills and database aptitudes. Additionally, over the past several years commercial application providers have done a great job of demystifying their technology and tailoring their solution’s interface, usability and experience to the business analyst community. Consequently, I have found it easier and have had more success taking business analyst resources with solid soft skills and layering on hard skills to make a highly effective data quality analyst.

Over the next 5 postings, I will explore these data quality soft skills in more detail, discuss their importance as key enablers of successful data quality delivery and share some thoughts on how to attract resources with these skills. Stay tuned.


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