Interview with Tiankai Feng, Head of Product Data Governance at Adidas by Nicola Askham, The Data Governance Coach, Nicola Askham Ltd, March 23, 2023

Tiankai has been working in data all his career with experience in Data Analytics, Data Science and most recently, Data Governance. He’s most passionate about the “human” part of data – collaboration, communication & creativity – and uses entertaining unconventional ways to make data more fun, for example through his music.

How long have you been working in Data Governance?

I switched from Data Analytics to Data Governance in January 2022, leading a Data Governance team dedicated to Product Data as a domain.

Some people view Data Governance as an unusual career choice, would you mind sharing how you got into this area of work?

The hiring manager that recruited me for Data Governance has explained to me that this role needs somebody who makes the area more visible and more understood by others – and I really liked that challenge.

My learning curve had not been as steep as before anyway already in my previous role, so this change was very welcome and I was excited to “switch sides”.

What characteristics do you have that make you successful at Data Governance and why?

I think I have three key characteristics that make me a different Data Governance as leaders: people focus, communication and transparency.

People focus – I don’t only pay attention to all data governance team members being motivated by working on things and enjoy, I also try to make sure cross-functional collaboration is based on intrinsic motivation, which has to be based on relationships, not just a “transactional” view of business.

Communication – I like to communicate and get really creative in my communication, which especially Data Governance could benefit a lot from. No matter if it it’s a rap song about data governance, launching an internal talk show  to upskill the wider organization or making a “data heroes” campaign to propagate data ownership and data stewardship – I keep surprising people with Data Governance content and thereby make it memorable.

Transparency – Data Governance is all about transparency, but seeing small progress in Data Governance as wins is also part of it. Combining a “making progress” mindset with high transparency means showing impact continuously, thereby changing perception of Data Governance into being a value driver, not just a cost center.

Are there any particular books or resources that you would recommend as useful support for those starting out in Data Governance?

“Disrupting Data Governance” by Laura Madsen is a great book to have impulses for a new way of doing Data Governance. It especially shows the contrast of “old world” information vs “new world” data and how Data Governance has to be adapted. It inspired my Data Governance a lot.

What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced in a Data Governance implementation?

Resistance from misunderstandings – everybody agreeing that Data Governance should be implemented and embedded in business processes, but than realizing that everybody has very different expectations towards what Data Governance should and should not do.

Spending a lot of efforts in communication and upskillings is key.

Is there a company or industry you would particularly like to help implement Data Governance for and why?

I think different industries come with different challenges that are very exciting, so I would not say I am against any specific industry. I’m a continuous learner and optimist so I hope my career will surprise me!

What single piece of advice would you give someone just starting out in Data Governance?

I would have three points of advice:

  1. You can not overcommunicate in data governance – do it from the very beginning and don’t stop
  2. Leadership sponsorship is a make or break – always keep that sponsorship relationship and ensure that your DG efforts are supported
  3. Build active advocates in your organization – external word of mouth is always more effective to drive collaboration than “you tooting your own horn”

Finally, I wondered if you could share a memorable data governance experience (either humorous or challenging)?

Recording a Data Governance themed Christmas Song with Nicola herself was an absolute highlight for me!

‘tis not the season right now, but the performance and our lyrics are still great. Have fun.

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