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Data & Intelligence

Governance vs Management – Are They Different? Does It Matter?

Man-at-computer

Since you clicked here, I am assuming you have at least a passing interest in the practice of Governance as undertaken by business organizations. Obviously, since I am posting this, I also am interested in Governance, but, through my experience with a variety of organizations, it seems to me that Governance means different things to different people. There may not be huge differences, but often there is enough to cause confusion and challenges in actually instituting a Governance practice within the enterprise.

So, I thought I would offer my perspective on what Governance is and how it fits in. Hopefully, you’ll find this helpful if it’s something in which you become involved in the future or you’re already involved and just looking for more information. I welcome any and all feedback as to your thoughts on all my posts, so please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

For me, one of the first “bones of contention” or potential confusions, is the difference between Governance and Management. I see these terms often get interchanged, or, if the concepts are separated, differences of opinion on whether you can have one without the other or what dependencies they may have on each other. I like to always start with a definition pulled from a reliable source, so let’s start there. Here is what two different dictionaries have to say (note that I only grabbed the definitions most pertinent to this discussion):

“Governance”
from Dictionary.com:
government; exercise of authority; control.
a method or system of government or management.

from Merriam-Webster.com:
the way that a city, company, etc., is controlled by the people who run it
So, that pesky word “management” shows up, so I can see some confusion there. Let’s see how the same sources define “Management”:

“Management”
from Dictionary.com:
the act or manner of managing; handling, direction, or control.

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from Merriam-Webster.com:
the act or skill of making decisions about a business, department, sports team, etc.

But, let’s dig a little deeper and go back to these sources and look at the root of each word to see if that helps, that is, “govern” and “manage”. Again:

“Govern”
from Dictionary.com
to rule over by right of authority: to govern a nation.
to exercise a directing or restraining influence over; guide: the motives governing a decision.
to hold in check; control: to govern one’s temper.

from Merriam-Webster.com:
to officially control and lead (a group of people)
to make decisions about laws, taxes, social programs, etc., for (a country, state, etc.)
to control the way (something) is done
to control or guide the actions of (someone or something)

“Manage”
from Dictionary.com
to bring about or succeed in accomplishing, sometimes despite difficulty or hardship: She managed to see the governor. How does she manage it on such a small income?
to take charge or care of: to manage my investments.
to dominate or influence (a person) by tact, flattery, or artifice: He manages the child with exemplary skill.
to handle, direct, govern, or control in action or use: She managed the boat efficiently

from Merriam-Webster.com:
to have control of (something, such as a business, department, sports team, etc.)
to take care of and make decisions about (someone’s time, money, etc.)

So, what is the takeaway of all this? To my mind, as one looks at the definitions, governance is about establishing controls and guidance that provide direction and constraints upon decisions made and actions taken; while management is the actual making of those decisions and orchestrating the actions resulting from those decisions.

For me, this means that when one is asked to institute governance it is about establishing the “rules of the road” for making decisions, how decisions are to be made and who has the right (and responsibility) to make those decisions. This is quite different from management, which is the act of actually making decisions and acting upon them. Governance therefore forms the framework within which management executes.

So, this also implies that, ideally, governance should come first. That is, establish the “playing field” before involving the players and handing them the reins to perform. Realistically, this often does not happen. We are often “chasing the train once it has already left the station”, but, regardless, keeping the difference in mind between governance and management will help in defining both the scope and the approach for putting governance in place (or maturing what is already in place.)

One last thought. You may have been wondering why I never mentioned Data Governance or Data Management, or any other incarnation of these concepts. Well, to leave you with a mixed metaphor: that is a conundrum of a different color! And will be the subject of my next post. That is, what is being governed (or managed)? Is it Data, is it Information, are they the same, are they different? Now that we have identified the difference between Governance and Management, we can now turn our attention to WHAT is being governed and managed.

See you in my next post, and again, thanks for taking the time to read this one!

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Mark Steinbacher

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