7 tips for starting information governance projects

There will never be a “right” time to start, so don’t wait too long

This article is the part one of a seven part series on successful information governance projects.

One general counsel recently told me he would rather change a tire in the rain than work on a records management project. I can understand his reluctance. Considering the tar pit of corporate compliance, records management, litigation readiness, data privacy, e-mail retention and other information governance projects have a tendency to get stuck.

Follow these tips to avoid getting caught in the muck:

1. Don’t get stuck before you start: The timing never seems to be quite right for starting these projects. “We are in the middle of litigation, and as soon as that is over we can start,” “We need to wait for the new budget cycle” and “We are waiting on IT” are reasons for not starting. Yet most organizations realize, years later, that the timing is never right. One AGC recently stated: “We finally realized that the timing would never be perfect. We would never not be involved in some litigation. Other groups would never be ready. We realized we had to drive the project, as well as drive funding. Otherwise we would be waiting forever." 

2. Determine what is in and out of scope: These projects can be very narrow in scope, such as updating the records retention schedule, or fairly expansive, driving enterprise-wide archiving and litigation readiness, for example. Decide what is in and out of scope at the beginning, and stick to it.

3. Create a long term roadmap: One information governance project often begets another. E-discovery can drive data mapping which in turn can drive IP strategies. Take a big picture view early through a long term roadmap. Decide which pieces you will do this year and which in subsequent years.

4. Don’t proceed without senior management support: Effective information governance requires senior management support across multiple groups. Don’t execute projects without this support, otherwise you will not get very far. Don’t assume senior management will “become wise” and halfway through suddenly buy in to your initiative.

5. Break it into pieces: Information governance is too complex to execute as a single project, and any such attempt is likely to run out of gas before finishing. Break these into smaller projects, with a defined and socialized benefit at the end of each piece. Rack up a series of little wins to build momentum.

6. Bring in outside assistance, but own your programs in the end – While many corporate legal initiatives can be executed with internal resources, the multidisciplinary nature of information governance projects makes it difficult for companies to execute these projects totally alone. Consider bringing in help. (Full disclosure: Contoural provides consulting services for information governance.) At the same time, while assistance in building programs can be helpful, companies should ultimately plan on running their own programs. Don’t build in dependencies from outside vendors such as law firms to run part of your program on an ongoing basis.

7. Discuss who will own in the long run – Information governance is a hot potato passed from one group to the next, or dropped on the floor. Early on in the project, discuss eventual roles and responsibilities.

Despite these challenges, many companies are executing effective, compliant and defensible information governance programs, even across large and complex organizations.

The next article in the series will discuss key yet often overlooked members of your information governance committee.

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