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Four Reasons For Removing Risk From Your Complex Data Program

In almost every data centric program, the only certainty at the start of the program is “ambiguity.”

Typically, millions of dollars are at stake. Almost in every case, the leadership teams are terribly under-prepared, with their backs to the wall and under tremendous pressure to get things right for their customers, the regulators or other stakeholders. The confusion of having to deal with complex organizational structures, numerous vendors and technologies, does not make matters any easier.

Whether a traditional insurance company wants to do it’s first big data analytics program, or a government agency wants to create person-centric care for its community, the only certainty at the beginning of a multi-million dollar, multi-year program is one thing – “ambiguity!” Not surprisingly, this theme is a constant, across geographies.

My work as data expert and advisor to senior executives and business owners, involves embarking on cloud migrations, GDPR programs, big data analytics, data governance initiatives and many more. When I start the conversation, the only common feature between all those topics are data, people and a whole lot of “ambiguity.”

Over the years, certainly for the past seven years or so, the “Definition of Done” (DoD) has been my best friend, even in the most complex of cultural and technological environments, around the world. I learnt about this when I was reading up on agile methodologies, many years ago. The state of the DoD is a good indicator of the health of any complex program.

Ken Collier’s book, Agile Analytics: Value-Driven Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing was a big help and I came across this many years ago. At that time, it provided a lot of foundational concepts which I happen practice even today. One of them was to Self-Organizing teams. As years past, I have developed my own set of “what works” and for sure, the DoD has never let me down!

Here are four reasons to use a well-articulated “Definition of Done.”

Clarity & Transparency

When a DoD, is expressed over the short, medium and the long term, the involved teams are clear about what is expected of them and there is a great deal of transparency of what is to be expected and also importantly, what not to expect. With Clarity and Transparency comes honest communications and realistic expectations. There are numerous instances when various parties are better placed to challenge each other, positively and realistically.

Confident Teams

A well-articulated DoD gives confidence to the involved teams, as the goals and objectives are realistic and well communicated. Just like the alpine hill climbing approach, teams step from one peak to the next until they finally reach the mountain peak. Needless to say a journey of confident people is always filled with fun.


With high self-confidence there is a natural environment of trust. Team members know, that their team mates care about other’s best interests. Weaker team members are supported by stronger team members, while the weaker team members, naturally support their stronger colleagues positively. Everyone wins, when trust is high.

Get things Done

When you are clear about the goal, and you are filled with confidence and trust, the one natural outcome is that, things get done! And yes, they get done – every time.

Of course, no journey is without risks but when a team of people are committed to achieving the most complex of objectives, the barriers and obstacles dramatically disappear.

It’s not by chance that things get done. But, in fact by design.

The image posted with this post is a simple template which any leader embarking on small, medium or large endeavor can re-purpose. It has worked for me in simple programs involving a couple of people, with a budget of less than hundred thousand dollars to complex programs with over hundreds of people with budgets well in excess of hundreds of millions of dollars. I am sure it will serve you well too.

The combination of data and people is a potent force in the digital age. Ensure that your Definition of Done (DoD), takes you where you want to go!