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“My CDO has a lot of resources, but I don’t get much out of them. I’m not sure what value they really provide.
If you’ve never heard whispers like these, you’re either awesome or beyond rumor.
In a past life, before I was chief data officer (CDO), I was a screenwriter (that’s a common career path, right?). As a screenwriter, I told stories to make films. As a CDO, I tell stories with data to demonstrate real business value before the gossip starts.
Incredibly, consistently delivering high business value is insufficient to prevent your organization’s value from being challenged. You need to be able to shout it confidently from mountain tops, or at the very least share it calmly on executive calls.
Effective storytelling resonates with the value proposition of the data organization in the minds of key stakeholders and senior executives so that it cannot be successfully or rationally challenged. Without stories, the murmurs carry over into doubt and could degenerate into a stampede.
Find the story in your data
A good story well told. That’s the point. A daunting task for some, but fear not, no screenwriting experience is necessary to discover a good story. If you’re a strategic CDO, your story assets are probably already on your shared drive. Of the seven key elements of a story, four map easily to the vision, strategy, roadmap, and functions you currently lead.
The corporate strategic plan provides the backdrop to the story in which all data and analytic activities must be aligned. Otherwise, you will write in the wrong gender: Halloween 17, with Mickey! (Actually, that would be fun to write; I’ll make a few calls.)
The data organization’s charter and strategic plan declares the purpose of the organization and its motivations as expressed through the strategic objectives. These are the recurring ideas that will invade your story.
The data organization’s operating plan contains the story events, including use cases, data initiatives, and deliverables, and the roadmap traces them over time.
The business value and results generated by data and analytics are the substance of your story. Management teams and the company as a whole rarely want to hear a story other than that.
The other three elements are Conflict (I believe you have met), Characters (the data community), and Point of viewin which your organization is either an opinion partner empowered to reject misaligned and low-value requests or contracted servants to them.
Tell the story of your data well
Insist on meeting regularly with key stakeholders and senior executives to share your story — don’t take no for an answer. Just as important, don’t overlook middle and line managers who you’ll ask to echo the praise upwards. In a meeting of senior executives, your insistence that your data organization is valuable to the business is far less compelling than the business executive exclaiming how valuable they are. Getting others to tell your story for you is a master craft.
Here are some tips to help you tell stories well:
Stay on message. There is only one: the business outcomes that have been or will be driven by data and analytics.
Numbers on letters. Quantify business results. Quality over quantity works for aircraft parts and award shows, but for us, a quantitative story trumps a qualitative story.
Use setups and gains. It is important. Tell them what you’re going to accomplish, tell them what you’re accomplishing, then tell them what you’ve accomplished. The three-act structure is effective for several reasons:
- The configurations create an anticipation of the results to which, once achieved, the positive reactions will be intensified.
- Regular check-ins increase stakeholder engagement, but sustained anticipation of future results cements it.
- Earnings, consistent delivery of results, earns you credibility and reliability more easily because you are seen as keeping your word (your setups).
Be excited. Enthusiasm and passion are contagious, as is their absence.
Take time. The investment pays for itself in the time avoided to justify the value propositions of the data organization, which will be doubted in the absence of history. Storytelling is the organization of data that “plays offense” existentially.
Around the Campfire: Telling the Story of Your Data
Storytelling is universal. Its purpose is to merge and propagate culture. It’s CDO’s gifted storyteller who lights the digital campfire and invites the tribe to hear stories woven from the fabric that binds them all together: data.
Shayde Christian is Head of Data and Analytics at Cloudera.
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