Experiencing significant issues prior to User Acceptance Test, a multi-national company brought Premier in to assess the data migration for complex multi-application. The project was in danger. There was no confidence in the data migration process or the data itself.  The process took too long execute, the data quality was bad, real data had yet to make it completely through the process, and something needed to be done to get it back on track. Our goal was to figure out what that something was and to see what could be implemented prior to UAT.

The assessment lasted about 3 days, but during that time we were able to host 22 hours of interviews with 23 different team members, call out project strengths, and identify the major issues that were affecting the project.  

During the initial interviews with the team, it was clear that their greatest strength was their technical knowhow.  The team was savvy and whip smart on every individual technical aspect that needed to bring the system to live.  The major issues stemmed from organization’s culture and would not be an easy fix.  

The primary problem was culturally everything was someone else's problem. Individuals were confident their own slice was working perfectly, but data was always someone else's problem. Project leadership dished off leadership and management accountabilities to others, who pointed to others, who pointed back to the first group we talked with. When discussing a problem, process, or even general status, someone else was being set up to be the fall guy.  While this level of avoidance was atypically high, there were valid reasons for the team to skirt responsibility.  The organization was constantly on the lookout to cut costs and lay people off.  During the assessment, we learned that the company had laid off a chunk of the workforce including some subject matter experts to pay for the implementation.  This justifiably fed into the team’s fearfulness and poisoned many aspects of the organization.

Branching off the "it's not my problem culture", communication between each component and disparate application of the implementation was siloed.  Data requirements required by the third hop weren’t communicated down to the data source.  The group on the 3rd hop were raising flags, but without clear coordination across teams, those flags were not being seen. In conjunction with the siloed work streams, several disparate independently operated project plans had been created.  This siloed approach prevented the different aspects of the project from coming together at the appropriate times and prevented the ability to track the critical path across the program.  If one track had an issue, spec change, or just an upcoming vacation, the program didn’t have a way to calculate the impact.

The third major issue, which is also a biproduct of culture, was that the data governance council was dissolved prior to the start of the implementation.  This fed into the “not my problem” culture. Without clear data accountabilities, everyone ran away from data, since everyone knew it would be one of the most difficult aspects of the project to get right. Without the governance rules of the road and oversight, there wasn’t a global data vision, unified standards, comprehensive policies, lineage tracking, quality metrics, etc. During the assessment, the data governance council was in the process of being restarted, but culturally it would be difficult to make the council effective due a fear of accountability.

While the client was looking for an easy button solution that could get them back on track in a matter of a couple weeks, it wasn’t going to be possible in that time frame. Before the team could uncover any remaining technical gaps, the cultural, project management, and data governance issues needed to be addressed.   I wish there was a successful turnaround story for this project, but shortly after the assessment, the organization went through another round of significant layoffs and the project was cancelled.

Please take these lessons from another company and apply to your organization.  If these issues can happen at a globally recognizable company, they can happen anywhere. Technically, this group was incredibly talented and had all the technical pieces to be successful.  It was the fearful culture, siloed management, and lack of governance that drove their issues. In many failures, it is the non-technical pieces that are the most difficult to get right.

If you have questions about data management, data migration, data governance, building data cultures, or you just love data, let’s get together.  My email is steve_novak@premierintl.com.