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Beyond the Data Warehouse:
"Get 'er Done" - Executing the Architecture

online columnist John Ladley     Column published in DMReview.com
July 27, 2006
  By John Ladley

Recent projects that my architectural crew and I have worked on or studied are revealing some new truths. On the good-news side of the ledger, many architecture projects are being initiated by business executives who understand the need for governance and architecture. We are seeing wholesale acceptance of the concepts of architecture. In fact, the whole "how to sell" architecture, while important to other areas of the business, is a nonissue in the executive suite. All of the flavors of architecture, including business, technology and information, are seen as an enablers, risk mitigation and a source of competitive advantage. Granted, there are organizations where the words "architecture" are forbidden, but even there we see "information strategy" projects or "data cleanup planning."

On the bad-news side, once the data framework or information architecture deliverables are completed we do not see much downstream activity to actually execute, and we have discerned some real barriers to successful utilization of the information architecture. The fingers are usually pointed in the following manner:

  1. The architects. Architects fall back into "boxes and arrows" mode and stay in the past.
  2. Information mangers. Management has difficulty adopting different management styles of more formal governance. There is hesitancy to enforce principles and standards as well as a reduced commitment of business participants. In addition, there is a reluctance to merge business projects (which have value to the business stakeholder) with the necessary infrastructure projects. As I have said many times you cannot do standalone metadata projects, they need to be merged with visible business projects.
  3. Constituents of governance. Resistance from groups that are subject to governance, such as applications development, crops up when reality sets in. The newly appointed stewards also falter when they realize that there is work to be done in relation to this information management (IM) stuff.

However, I believe that at the root of all of these superficial reasons is a common factor. Due to the newness of IM, the organization responsible for sustaining the information architecture has trouble executing.

Plans and strategies never succeed unless they are followed by execution. They remain in impressive binders. The only beneficiary is the consultant, who collects a fee and a reference. Rarely is the consultant around to actually execute the strategy. As stated in my columns other months, sustaining the enterprise information architecture (EIA) is the larger challenge compared to creating the EIA strategy or even defining the business case for EIA.

It turns out that execution is a big problem everywhere, not just in IM. A recent book on this topic offers some basic guidelines for mastering the art of execution.1 While this work offers advice at a macro level and is aimed mostly at CEOs, it is easy to reposition change management strategies into the language of execution. As an aside, I highly recommend this book for use as a reference to information managers.

Management Guidelines for Execution

The essence of successful execution is to master seven basic activities. These seven essential behaviors can be applied to overcome some of the typical issues around sustaining the EIA:

1. Know the people and the business. A CEO needs to be very close to her business and the capabilities of her team. As a leader accountable to sustaining EIA, you want to understand what the business needs to accomplish and the ability of your team to meet business objectives. This translates to the following actions:

  • Talk to the change agents and important individuals directly. Ask them point-blank about prior performance and accomplishments. This means do not send the business analysts or data architects. Information executives need to be intimately involved.
  • Talk to applications development and get their candid opinions. Make sure they understand the level of support that EIA has (hopefully you have it!)
  • Assess key individuals who will be touched by governance in the context of a threat analysis. This means a version of the old political saw of "keep your friends close and enemies closer."

2. Insist on realism. Few CEOs tolerate sugarcoating. Likewise, as projects roll out under IM governance, make sure that overly optimistic results are not habitual. For example there will be a tendency to hide issues with data governance and not report the issues and problems with semantics. However these are lessons and steps all enterprise information management (EIM) functions must go through. Therefore make sure people are comfortable talking about mistakes and challenges. In addition, make sure that all projects executed to implement IM contain real business benefits. Avoid infrastructure-only projects.

3. Set clear goals and priorities. Focus is a key to a CEO's success. The executive team and their subordinates need to know where to concentrate efforts and what progress is being made. To the EIA manager, this means "do not boil the ocean." The roadmap to implementing governance must be incremental. The planning and rigid adherence to interim targets is mandatory. Make sure business benefits are met, measured and advertised.

4. Follow through. Once the early projects get started, a common error is for the IM manager to move on to new challenges. Do not forget to hold rigorous status meetings where metrics of progress are reviewed - not status meetings where everyone says how well they are doing. When conflicts arise do not hesitate to throw warring parties into same room and send them out with a decision. Reach out to business sponsors and leaders with success and ask for advice.

5. Reward the doers. Set your incentives for rewarding progress ahead of time and make them meaningful. Of course, this means that you have metrics in place, and it also means there are negative consequences for poor results.

6. Expand people capabilities. "Go-getters" and people who "get it" will be easy to identify. Make sure they get development where needed. Conversely, you will have staff members that join IM but quickly, and obviously, struggle excessively with the abstract-to-concrete processes. They need to be directed to others areas.

7. Know yourself. If you are not strong in an area (e.g., conflict), find people who can supplement you. If you are solid in conflict resolution but weak in metrics and numbers analysis, get an assistant who loves gathering project data and analyzing surveys.


  1. Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan and Charles Burck. Executions: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. New York, NY: Crown Business Publications. 2002.

The contents of this article are Copyright 2006 by DM Review and Navigant Consulting. Any use, quotation, re-purpose, duplication or replication of the diagrams, concepts or content without permission of DM Review, Navigant, or the author is prohibited.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Enterprise Information Management.

John Ladley is a director for Navigant Consulting, a management consulting firm specializing in knowledge and information asset management and strategic business intelligence planning and delivery. Ladley is an internationally recognized speaker and, more importantly, a hands-on practitioner of information and knowledge management solutions. He can be reached at jladley@navigantconsulting.com. Comments, ideas, questions and corroborating or contradictory examples are welcomed.

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