Have you built your DQ trust today?

May 10, 2010 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: English 

For German readers: Es gibt eine deutsche Version dieses Blogeintrags.

In the last time, there have been quite a few posts on using “shame” as a tool for improving data quality. Here are just three from the top of my head:

Picture by Okinawa Soba, taken from flickr with a cc license

I’ve added some comments to these posts that I think that they are missing something. I wasn’t quite able to put my finger to it, not sure how to grab the “missing thing”, not really able to give it a name. In order to move the discussion forward, I’ve decided to go with “DQ trust” and try to explain my thinking a bit more. Let me know in the comments what you think!

The problem I see with the “public humiliation” aspect of what Rob and Jim are describing: It will only work in a certain environment – when the “riot act” gets what I would call a “wink wink, nudge nudge” aspect.  The “culprit” understands why the reaction is coming, but the whole thing is so much over the top that it can’t really be taken seriously. This results in taking the sting out of the “public humiliation” aspect and the riot act achieves its purpose.

In order for this to work, there has to be one of two things: Either you have to be a really good comedian (and I’m certainly not) so that you can spring this on a person you’ve hardly ever dealt with before. If your act backfires, you’ll also have to deal with that person’s boss, and I have found humor to decline when moving up the corporate ladder. Pretty risky to rely on that.

That leaves the second option: Your riot act has to have a background to it, and you must have built a reputation as a fervent defender of data quality in your organization – you must have built a trust in your data quality judgment. This way, a person or his boss can understand that your reaction is aimed at improving data quality, and not at public humiliating data quality villains.

Too often I find that people do not take enough time to build this data quality trust. As they say it takes a long time to build trust, but only a moment to destroy it forever. Here are some ideas of what to do to build the trust:

  • reserve judgment on someone’s actions for as long as possible – try to find out why people do things a certain way before telling them they are idiots
  • admit that you don’t know everything and try to learn constantly by interacting with different people from different departments to get a 360° view on the issues
  • help people to solve their problems – then they will be much more willing to help you when you need their support
  • make sure to explain data quality in terms the person understands – a business user doesn’t care too much about referential integrity unless you can explain how it affects his daily work
  • don’t be too academic in your data quality requirements – it doesn’t make sense to require perfect data quality for data that is never used

Even with this, whenever a new data quality issue comes and I’m shaking my head why anyone would come up with this harebrained scheme, I ask myself whether I’ve built enough trust to shame the person about it or not. Almost always, I come out on the side of caution and try to be firm on the issue, but avoid assigning personal blame. In the short term, this may not be quite as satisfying as “venting”, but has a much better chance of long-term success.