Do Not Let These Four 'Words' Cause Your Project to Fail

SOLUTION - Information Management, SOLUTION - Strategic Services


Fred Kunzinger, Senior Principal - Noah Consulting

Perception is a powerful thing, often to the point that a person’s perception is, in fact, their view of reality. This is especially true in the case of words. Many data management projects have run into difficulty due to people’s perception of certain words. Here are the top four usual suspects.

1. Governance
When many people hear the word “governance,” they think of an overbearing corporate initiative that will crush the creativity out of the organization. President Eisenhower warned us of the rise of a military-industrial complex when he said, "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist."

Unfortunately, “governance” has become closely associated with the implementation of a person’s own corporate military-industrial complex. This is not the intention behind governance. Think of a governance program as the establishment of a sustainability framework ─ providing clarity, defining roles and responsibilities, and establishing processes. The result is not bureaucracy, but rather, the establishment of a way of working that makes this project and the resulting work sustainable into the future.

2. Ownership
Ask around your company about who “owns” a particular data type; you will get many answers, some of which will carry with them a sense of territoriality. As a result, people end up with a bunker mentality and hoard the data they have gathered instead of sharing it for the mutual good. The sad thing is, in many cases, “ownership” is not what people were really asking about. Technically, the data belongs to the shareholders of the corporation. Much of the time, what people are truly trying to identify is who has decision rights over the data. Who is the expert for that data type? If there are questions about a particular source, format, or standard related to the data, who should make the call? This has nothing to do with who purchases, collects, manages, or uses the data. Few would deny that the chief geophysicist is an expert on seismic data and probably best suited to answering questions and defining a company’s policy around handling seismic, but few people would say the chief geophysicist “owns” all of the company’s seismic data. He or she may establish the standards for that data; the data management group may be the custodians of the data; and the asset teams may exploit the data to make business decisions. Nowhere in the last sentence did “ownership” of the data matter. What did matter was identifying a go-to person who has decision rights for the data.

3. Standards
Just as with governance, people hear the word “standards” and recoil. Oh no, they may think, here comes ‘big brother’ again, ready to inhibit our work processes. Yet, standards are there to facilitate the sharing of data and prevent “information anarchy.” The problem is that standards for standards’ sake provide no value, and an overabundance of standards leads to the perception that they are, in fact, evil. Perhaps, rather than talking about standards, we need to be talking about minimum standards. Decide upon the standards that facilitate working and integration, while not going so far that processes are rigid and impede performance. Only establish the standards that are needed.

But, when it comes to words that are misunderstood, the leader is not a single word, but rather, a two word phrase.

4. Data Management

Trying to help the enterprise and, in particular, its leadership understand what data management is, and likewise, what it is not, is a challenge that nearly everyone in our profession faces. The biggest obstacle to the success of data management initiatives is getting the Business to realize the value of data management.

Many times, data management projects are proposed based upon the very real needs of the asset teams, but when budget time comes, the project ends up being viewed as unnecessary and overhead. How do you move the attention of the decision-makers from the cost side of the equation and over to the value side? What is the return on investment? If your business staff is spending 30% of their time doing “data management” (as is commonly quoted by vendors), then 30% of their costs are actually data management costs: their salaries and benefits, the office space they occupy, their training, etc. In addition, that means they are really meeting their business objectives only 70% of the time. Like any balanced equation, this can be used to build a business case in terms that the executive leadership can understand and appreciate. Take the conversation away from a single line on a budget sheet and to the total cost of ownership. What is currently being spent from all aspects? What will the project deliver in terms of efficiency or capability? Put your argument in real numbers that your executives will understand and appreciate. And always, always, put the value in business terms that highlight the reality that every decision the Business makes is based upon the data at its disposal.

There are other misperceived words beyond those mentioned here, but these are the four usual suspects. When proposing a data management project, or when rolling a new capability out to the business units, be aware of your audience and their perceptions. Make sure you know their trigger words and avoid them. Find other ways of expressing the same message that changes the perception. Your project will stand a better chance of being embraced, and the entire enterprise will benefit.


Fred Kunzinger is a Senior Principal and Upstream Subject Matter Expert with Noah Consulting. Prior to joining Noah in the summer of 2012, Fred retired from Hess Corporation where he worked for nearly 23 years with postings in Tulsa, London and Houston with his most recent position being that of Senior Manager for Global Data Management. He has been a PPDM Board member for over five years and formerly served as the association’s Chairman of the Board.

Fred has a B.S. in geology from Notre Dame and an M.S. in geology from Old Dominion. Previous positions included time with Phillips Petroleum as well as the Defense Mapping Agency (a predecessor to the Geospatial Intelligence Agency). In 2011, Fred was a recipient of the Upstream Data Management Cornerstone Award at the 15th International Conference on Petroleum Data Integration, Data and Information Management, and has presented papers at the PPDM and PNEC Conferences as well as the Keynote at the 2011 TGS GeoForum in Houston. In his spare time, Fred enjoys golf and working with Habitat for Humanity.