#304 Getting Your Data Mesh Journey Moving Forward – Interview w/ Chris Ford and Arne Lapõnin

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Transcript for this episode (link) provided by Starburst. You can download their Data Products for Dummies e-book (info-gated) here and their Data Mesh for Dummies e-book (info gated) here.

Arne’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/arnelaponin/

Chris’ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ctford/

Foundations of Data Mesh O’Reilly Course: https://www.oreilly.com/videos/foundations-of-data/0636920971191/

Data Mesh Accelerate workshop article: https://martinfowler.com/articles/data-mesh-accelerate-workshop.html

In this episode, Scott interviewed Arne Lapõnin, Data Engineer and Chris Ford, Technology Director, both at Thoughtworks.

From here forward in this write-up, I am combining Chris and Arne’s points of view rather than trying to specifically call out who said which part.

Some key takeaways/thoughts from Arne and Chris’ point of view:

  1. Before you start a data mesh journey, you need an idea of what you want to achieve, a bet you are making on what will drive value. It doesn’t have to be all-encompassing but doing data mesh can’t be the point, it’s an approach for delivering on the point 😅
  2. Relatedly, there should be a business aspiration for doing data mesh rather than simply a change to the way of doing data aspiration. What does doing data better mean for your organization? What does a “data mesh nirvana” look like for the organization? Work backwards from that to figure where to head with your journey.
  3. A common early data mesh anti-pattern is trying to skip both ownership and data as a product. There are existing data assets that leverage spaghetti code and some just rename them to data products and pretend that’s moved the needle.
  4. “A data product is a data set + love.” The real difference between a data product and a data set is that true ownership and care.
  5. ?Controversial?: Another common mesh anti-pattern is trying to get too specific with definitions or prescriptive advice. There isn’t a copy/paste approach that will work and getting a specific definition of a data product doesn’t really change much. Mindset is far more important than definitions.
  6. It can be very helpful to have some simple checklists around your data products. While there is no prescriptive way to build, checklists remove a lot of the uncertainty for teams asking ‘am I doing this right?’ It gives some simple reassurances that you aren’t missing out on key pieces of what they’re building.
  7. ?Controversial?: Most organizations probably don’t need to do a ton of pre-work before starting on a data mesh implementation. They need some achievable goals, a roadmap for how they plan to achieve those goals, and a lot of willpower to push things forward and keep going when the going gets tough. You also need an enticing vision for people to buy into.
  8. THIN SLICE! Don’t try to take everything on at once but also don’t try to skip over any of the four pillars. There’s a reason they haven’t changed from Zhamak’s initial blog post. Scott note: don’t try to argue the governance pillar wasn’t in the first blog post, it just wasn’t called out separately…
  9. Three key questions to answer if you are considering data mesh: A) Do you have sufficient scale? B) Do you have a strategy that depends on deriving value from data? C) Are you prepared to take advantage of the autonomy Data Mesh will afford to your product teams? If you don’t have satisfactory answers to those three questions, data mesh is probably not right/overkill for you.
  10. If people don’t see the strong need to transform your business through data, it’s likely to lead to troubles 6-9 months into your data mesh journey. If you aren’t addressing key organizational pain points or delivering value, you will likely lose support for your data mesh implementation initiative. Doing data better has to be valued to get more budget to keep going.
  11. Another anti-pattern is focusing too much on use cases at the expense of the platform and the journey. Data mesh is designed to work at scale and that only works by finding repeatable processes. You can’t treat each data product like a one-off.
  12. In order to get buy-in from the data engineers – or whoever are your data product developers – you need to invest in changing hearts and minds through the platform. If creating and managing data products is significantly harder than the old way of dealing with data, you will lose people quickly.
  13. Read about the data mesh accelerate workshop 😅
  14. When you think about first steps with data mesh, A) build buy-in at the strategic level that you want to actually start leveraging your data for high-value purposes; B) find use cases to support those strategic initiatives; and C) make sure you are ready to actually thin slice and not try to only tackle on pillar – you have to be ready to take on a LOT of challenging work.
  15. !Controversial!: None of the four data mesh principles are all that useful on their own. Scott note: there’s a figure Zhamak has that explains why all four are necessary in conjunction that’s very helpful here.
  16. It’s easy to want to skip bringing all your key stakeholders into alignment early in your data mesh journey. But you need matching expectations and shared understandings of what you are trying to accomplish and why. Scott note: this doesn’t mean everyone has to be bought in that they are first, there’s a balance to be found here.
  17. You need room to make mistakes and adjust your data mesh implementation because you will not get it all right at the start. Data mesh is as much about learning how to do data well as doing data well.
  18. It’s crucial to not just ask if you are succeeding with your data mesh implementation but measure that. It can be hard to measure but consider what matters to your implementation’s success and find things to measure if you’re succeeding in each of those areas. Otherwise, how do you know where to focus and optimize?
  19. Subsidiarity: “everything should be decided as locally as possibly but no more so.” Basically, there are many decisions that should be made in the domains but there are some that need to be made centrally. The challenge is figuring out which decisions should be made where 😅
  20. There will be capability challenges in every organization when doing data mesh. That will impact initial decisions around how much to centralize or decentralize but as you upskill the teams, you may want to decentralize more. Find your equilibriums but equilibriums change. It’s all about trade-offs!
  21. Many people are too focused on exactly if they are doing data mesh instead of are they delivering value in a scalable way through data. That happened in microservices too and it took them 10+ years to really get to best practices. Data mesh is only 5 years old and only ~3 with any number of organizations attempting it – focus on getting better instead of being worried if you’re the perfect picture of data mesh yet.
  22. When talking about your data mesh success internally, you need to talk about the value from use cases AND the value of improving your data capabilities in general. You prove out you are delivering specific value along the way but also that you are getting more and more capable at doing the data work to make the organization better. Both are of valuable and you should promote the value of both aspects: use case value and capability value.
  23. When talking about data mesh, use the ADKAR method: create Awareness and Desire, give them the Knowledge about how you’re doing it, upskill people so they have the Ability to do data mesh, and finally constantly Reinforce the value and that it’s important. Without touting your mesh successes, you’ll lose momentum.
  24. When looking for your first data mesh use case, look for something that has a customer impact – what can you do for them that you couldn’t before. Personalization is a good example. Legal is potentially another place re reducing risk.

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All music used this episode was found on PixaBay and was created by (including slight edits by Scott Hirleman): Lesfm, MondayHopes, SergeQuadrado, ItsWatR, Lexin_Music, and/or nevesf

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