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When it comes to Data Quality Delivery, the Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff (Part 2 of 6)

March 30, 2012

In my first post I introduced the concepts of hard skills and soft skills in the context of data quality delivery, and I identified 5 soft skills that I think are highly critical to data quality delivery success, and which are typically underestimated; stakeholder management and communications, financial management, project management, commercial applications and operations. In this blog, I will discuss effective stakeholder management and communications as a key enabler of successful data quality delivery.

As data quality professionals, we are continually competing with others in the enterprise for mind share and wallet share. One of the quickest and easiest way to distinguish your data quality efforts from other IT and business initiatives is by clearly communicating with your key stakeholders. Why? Because very few are doing it, or doing it well. But it shouldn’t be treated as a one-time event. You need to make a commitment to stakeholder management as a regular practice and make it part of everything you do.

As a discipline, stakeholder management can be extremely nuanced and there are very sophisticated techniques and approaches. But as a primer, here are the high points. First, who are your stakeholders? The simple answer is “any person or group who benefits from or is impacted by your efforts”. Are there more elaborate definitions? Sure, but this will get you started. Now that we’ve defined a stakeholder, how do we manage and communicate to them? Here’s a high level process to guide you; 1) Identify key stakeholders, 2) Determine their roles, 3) Assess their perception of data quality or your data quality effort (e.g. advocate, agnostic or adversary), 4) Define what you want from them and where they are (e.g. influence, engagement and support) and 5) Figure out what you need to do to get them there. Once you’ve identified and assessed your stakeholders, assign team members to manage certain stakeholders, prepare the necessary communications materials and measure and refine repeatedly.

Here are a few practical tips to get you on your way to better stakeholder management:

  1. Make it a priority and stick with it.
  2. For some, it’s not intuitive or comfortable to regularly engage key stakeholders, particularly those a few levels above you in the organization. Challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone, it will eventually become second nature.
  3. Regularly ask your key stakeholders for feedback. It’s not necessary to have formal surveys, though they are nice. A simple “how am I doing” works just fine.
  4. Become externally focused and adopt a different mindset. Think like your customers.
  5. Always be selling. Celebrate your successes and share them with customers and prospective customers. Nothing sells data quality like data quality success.
  6. Use graphs and charts as aids to communicate visually. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Once you make a conscience decision to anticipate and manage stakeholder needs, it will start to become intuitive and your skills will develop through trial and experience. More importantly, as stakeholder expectations are met and exceeded, demand for your services will increase. That’s the best measure of success.

In the upcoming 3rd part of this series I will discuss the next “soft skill” – demonstrated project management fundamentals. Stay tuned.

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