How to build a Data Governance Framework

Season 3 Episode 6

Welcome to Season 3 of the Law Firm Data Governance podcast. I’m CJ Anderson, founder of Iron Carrot and I’m excited to share more of what I’ve learned in my 20-plus years of working with information and data in law firms.

In this third season: “be the best data governance lead you can be”, I move beyond the ‘what’ of season one and the ‘why’ of season two by introducing some of the ‘how’ and the ‘who’.

Over the 10 episodes in this season, I’ll share what I’ve learned about using a bottom-up approach to achieve your data governance deliverables. I will be talking you through the specific skills and knowledge that can help you be a successful law firm data governance lead.

In this episode, I talk about building a data governance framework. I set out the key steps, activities, and things to think about – and then go on to explain where you, the data governance lead, fit into the framework. I also share some top tips from Iron Carrot’s successful data governance framework creation projects.


Law Firm Data Governance Podcast

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Episode Transcript

In season one episode 9, I answered the question what is a data governance framework? And my answer, in short, was that data governance is the coordination of people, processes and technology to manage and optimise the use of data as a valued asset.

Since data governance has the primary objective of affecting people’s data related behaviour, it involves a culture change and a data governance framework provides an operational context to this change by being the mechanism for controlling that is, planning, monitoring and enforcing and leading data governance activities. This approach focuses on changing the historical law firm approach of managing data in business services or legal practice silos.

Instead, it looks to manage critical data assets cross functionally for the benefit of all.

So how do you do that? Well, you develop and build a framework for supporting and educating people to work collaboratively and improve cross functional communication and transparency. This framework provides a focus and structure for data decision making and a network for you to leverage as the leader of a data governance centre of excellence.

Work towards common data goals helps the framework groups to collectively and collaboratively deliver the data vision that supports the firm’s strategic goals. When people understand why they’re doing something and the benefit they’re more likely to participate in that activity and be open to change.

This means that you need to put the firm’s people first and focus on identifying and formalising the accountabilities and responsibilities that already exist within your firm. The people in operational data roles have the knowledge you can use to help guide your vision and to set common data goals.

In earlier episodes in this season, I’ve talked about project management, change management, communications, influencing skills and the training and support for your data governance roles. Setting up a governance framework is where you put all these things together to help people understand, embrace, and participate in your new collaborative way of working with data.

Start by using your data governance, vision and objectives to create clear goals for your data governance framework. Remember that this framework is the operational mechanism that enables and supports behavioural change for data management, so members of your framework groups need to understand these changes. Think about what you want the framework to improve or to create.

You might also think about what needs to be done differently or isn’t being done at all.

Once you have identified the goal or the ‘what’, you can move on to thinking about the ‘who’ will work on achieving them. There will probably be a hierarchy to your group or groups with appropriately senior or junior people in each layer, depending on the decisions and actions needed from the group. Documenting each group’s accountabilities and responsibilities also helps you to create a profile of the ideal group member. You can test the profiles by ensuring that all of your key stakeholders fit into your framework groups.

Like most areas of law firm operations, a data governance framework is a matrix. It consists of strategic, tactical and operational groups of business services, including IT representatives.

Depending on what your framework needs to do, it may also include members from the practices. Supporting and guiding this matrix is you and your data governance centre of excellence. The steering group is the top player where senior stakeholders who can make decisions about change work on strategic data governance issues.

This group is responsible and accountable for influencing how time and money are spent and championing data governance activities throughout the firm. You usually find practise representatives in this group.

Data owners are the engine of data governance activities. Every firm will define different accountabilities and responsibilities for this group that best reflect the needs of that firm’s data, vision and objectives. And the data owners board is the tactical layer of your framework. It has accountability for specific deliverables and responsibility for the data stewards.

The last layer is the operational layer of the framework, and it is made-up of subject matter experts, or SMEs. These are responsible for supporting the data owners, since these SMEs or data stewards will have a good grasp of the practical implications of changes or improvements to the firm’s data that get trickled down from the other groups. They act as a sense check to timelines and project plans. As the data governance lead, you are a key part of the data governance Centre of Excellence. Your role in this matrix is to act as the conductor for the orchestra of Framework Group members and line manager of any supporting roles created in that centre of excellence.

While not always part of the Steering Committee, a data owner or a data steward, data experts from other data management disciplines are key to supporting the Framework Group’s activities. Roles within the framework matrix must be found for critical stakeholders like data protection officers, information security officers and enterprise architects. Their knowledge of the firm and their specialist data roles are invaluable to the success of the data governance framework and your data governance roadmap.

My preferred approach is to appoint them as advisors to one of the groups or ask them to perform a specific supporting role within the centre of excellence. Like any other framework member, their participation should be documented to avoid confusion about their role, accountabilities and responsibilities.

Finally, you need to spend an equal amount of time designing the operating model for your framework. This will be articulated both in your framework design documentation and your terms of reference documents for each framework group. Designing an operating model involves thinking about logistics, procedures and communications.

I’m not going to scare you by listing all the ways that setting up a framework can go wrong here. If you really want to dig into mistakes, I’ve written an article which you can find on the Iron Carrot website What I’d rather do is focus on a couple of top tips for the successful adoption of a data governance framework, tackling stakeholder buy in and breaking down silos.

Iron Carrot uses a phased workshop approach to help people understand the benefits of data governance and how it supports the firm’s data projects and future aspirations. Senior stakeholders are much more willing to support change and to devote their teams time to support data governance when they understand what you’re trying to achieve.

Having IT stakeholders sit in on all these workshops lets them hear and acknowledge the business SME perspective, which in turn makes them more open to rethinking their approach to data, data projects, data management and data governance to make it a more inclusive activity.

Having the SMEs from all sides get to know each other and participate in these workshops to agree on shared objectives starts the process of breaking down silos. This is usually highlighted as the number one barrier to progress. Your SMEs will get comfortable and start picking up the phone and talking with each other about their data problems rather than just logging a ticket with IT support or picking up the phone to you.

I’ve talked about how the skills called out in earlier episodes of this season are key to getting this right, and the steps to follow are simple but challenging. Use the data vision and objectives to set out what you want the framework to do, who will be involved in it, and how it will get done, and this should include the Framework Group’s interactions with the data governance Centre of Excellence and the other vital data roles that the firm already has.

There are lots of ways it can go wrong, but by following my top tips you can usually prevent a disaster.

Thank you for joining me for this law firm Data Governance Podcast episode. I hope you enjoyed it.

Please share, like, and review this episode so that more law firm leaders can learn about data governance.

Join me next time for season three, episode 7: “Data owner and data steward meetings”.

Make sure you never miss an episode by following me on LinkedIn if you’ve not already done so, and please get in touch. If you’ve got questions or topic ideas for future episodes.