Data Governance and MDM – The 80/20 Rule

I attended once a session with a Gartner analyst, who declared that the closest thing to the work he was doing when helping customers with data governance was “Family Counseling”. This statement expressed perfectly the complexity of the topic, and highlighted the strong focus on people and processes that apply to the Data Governance field.

When people ask me what is the relation between MDM and Data Governance, I oversimplify and say: “Governance is about making decisions, and MDM is about making them real”.

MDM or Data Governance or Both?

So trying to do Master Data Management without Governance is enforcing rules and setting up systems without a formal decision path. This may work in first iterations, for simple problems or small organizations. When things get bigger, you need Governance.

Master Data Governance without the Master Data Management part is like having a constitutional body debating, making decisions, passing bills and laws but never actually enforcing them or getting anything real done. What is the point except for filling shelves with paper and spending time?

The key to this discussion is not whether you should do Governance or MDM. You should do both. Which brings me to another family metaphor: I call it the “Curtains Challenge”. Let me explain.
Data Governance and MDM- The 80/20 Rule

The Curtains Challenge

One day, you decide to change the curtains in your living room. You talk to your wife, husband or flatmate, and enter into a real challenge!
You’ll spend ages deciding the color, fabric, price, etc of the new curtains. You’ll probably consider redecorating the entire room or house. After a couple of days or weeks of harsh negotiations, you’ll agree (or bend the knee) on a specific (and probably too expensive) set of blue curtains.

Then you go to the store, and expect the curtains to be available. Well… not! The store tells you to wait for 3 more weeks as they need to order your curtains far-far-away! So you order the curtains, finally receive them 3 weeks later. In the meanwhile, you (or your wife/husband/partner) have changed and think that purple is better! The curtains end up somewhere in a box in the basement.

The 80/20 Rule

This curtain story illustrates the key aspect of the MDM/DG relationship: DG is painful, and lengthy. Once a decision is made, there is nothing more frustrating or risky than having to wait for ages to get it executed.

This is why there is an 80/20 time balance between DG and MDM. 80% of the time should be spent doing Governance, that is, talking with the business, stakeholders, execs, architects, process owners, etc. and reaching a decision; Getting decisions implemented should take less than 20% of the time.

When considering an MDM approach, think of this 80/20 rule, and challenge both your MDM approach and platform to work according to this rule.

5 replies
  1. David Eckler
    David Eckler says:

    I’m inspired to respond, but not quite sure where to start. Is the baseline assumption that you’re starting from scratch (e.g. implementing a new ERP system, starting a new company, etc.)? Otherwise I think this article is jumping too far ahead. We started our MDM department ~5 years ago (no new systems, just “MDM’ing” our current systems and processes) and have spent a tremendous amount of time (a) understanding the processes that exist across the globe (b) documenting as much as we can..basics to more complex information (c) cleaning up the junk that has piled up over 15+ years. We have used minimal technology so far so we’ve relied on good ol’ fashion elbow grease. We are still not at a place where we could even begin to say the 80/20 rule would apply to us because there is still so much work to do to establish the foundation of our MDM/DG strategies and processes. Only after we have the foundation locked down, or even somewhat close, do I think the 80/20 rule would apply.

  2. David Hicks
    David Hicks says:

    David E.
    I think the implication is that you may well be doing a fantastic job of documenting what is useful in your 15 years worth of data, cleaning, grooming and putting it in neat piles. Awesome work and admire that you have had buy in for that over the last five years.
    But without having a discussion and making some decisions about what is the important data, what constitues clean/groomed, defining what comes in to your data world and who brings it in (etc etc) you may never complete the cleanup because someone is coming in behind you and adding/modifying data as quickly as you can clean and document it.
    The people and discussion part of Governance is way harder than the data part.

  3. RDG
    RDG says:

    Cleansing is always a portion of DG. The biggest issues are where none exist. This takes 90% discussions on what data to use and where. Then DM kicks in after implementation where the data are used. I like the idea of conducting these types of discussion when a new ERP project is starting. A timed look at where you are and where you would like to go is crucial. After it is decided where you would like to go, you cleans data, change processes to the new ERP, and write data dictionaries to place in the hands of the business. Does this mean governance is a done deal? Hardly, it is just the beginning. Then you audit and report on data integrity and processes. In this way you can quantify how the data behaves and either create new processes or improve the old processes. Of course where would we be without cleansing cases, these are ongoing and will never stop just because new systems are in place.
    To accomplish this goal DM becomes an 80/20 proposition to DG. The turn will come of age during normal business operations. Just remember not to over staff in any one area, you need a balance of both on your team. That is right I said it TEAM, it takes more than one to manage and govern data in a business. Professionals complete these tasks every day in firms whereby promoting growth and higher margins because data are clean and efficient. This begs the question as to how? I.T. is a black hole where funding in concerned and more so DM and DG. The first to take cuts when businesses are looking for higher margins DG and DM are normally the first to go. This is a double edged sword, you cut the program, you change the model you are back in the same shape you were when you first started, and is that the true definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and hoping for a different outcome. Just a thought..

    Thank you


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