Build consensus on MDM programme goals to boost chances of success

Advice on how to build political consensus for successful MDM initiatives, distilled from Jim Mortleman's fieldwork for Common advice uncommonly gathered.

Building an organisational consensus that can withstand the many political, technical and operational disputes and challenges that will inevitably arise throughout the course of a master data management (MDM) programme is crucial to maximising the chances of keeping it on track for the long haul. And while designing a business-focused MDM programme is largely about planning and putting in place appropriate processes and structures , consensus building mostly involves people skills such as communication, lobbying and negotiation.

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The work to get internal agreement on the goals of an MDM strategy should begin before you put together a business case for the initiative, according to advice drawn from resources that include analyst reports, interviews with consultants, user case studies and conference presentations. Talk to managers in your organisation's various departments and business units to identify the problems they encounter as a result of inconsistent records, segregated data silos and other data problems. Explain your MDM vision and identify the potential benefits -- not just for the business as a whole, but for managers’ specific areas. That means understanding their individual business drivers and articulating in business, not technical, language the particular ways in which MDM tools and processes can help them better achieve their priorities. They don’t care how the system works; they just want to know how it’s going to help them.

Gaining the input and support of business managers before putting together a business case will also allow you to pinpoint potential programme sponsors and champions early on in the process. Sometimes, the best advocates for change are former sceptics who you manage to persuade of the benefits of MDM -- the zeal of the convert can be a powerful force for spreading the message. Your backers on the business side will be your greatest allies when it comes to maintaining consensus on the ground throughout the course of the MDM programme.

Getting buy-in and support from senior management is also vital. Having business sponsors on board from a range of areas who' ve already been persuaded of MDM's benefits will help here, too. For their part, senior management also need to work to build consensus by effectively communicating the overall strategic benefits of the MDM process as well as preparing operational staff for the changes to their work habits that will be necessary -- and explaining why those changes are necessary. That means, for example, clearly showing why staff can no longer continue to populate their own desktop spreadsheets and databases and must now use information from the new master data environment. The faster you can change their practices, the faster you’re going to be able to demonstrate the benefits that having a single set of master data brings -- and the easier it will be to persuade any waverers.

That said, it's equally important to manage expectations. It's fine to paint a picture of how great life will be once the MDM programme is fully in place, but no one should be under any illusions that this is going to be straightforward. Be open and honest from the outset about the fact that difficulties and discrepancies are going to emerge during the course of the programme. Maintaining consensus through these tough times can be tricky, but it will be far easier to manage if you have the right governance structure in place to keep everybody focused on the end goals -- with mechanisms to resolve conflicts and ensure that all affected areas of the business are kept informed of progress and delays.  

Specifically, many MDM practitioners cite ongoing data governance (as opposed to the structural governance of the programme itself) as the key to keeping the organisational consensus intact. Indeed, the lack of adequate data governance mechanisms is what led to the failure of many early MDM initiatives. You need to create the right hierarchy to oversee the governance, custody and stewardship of data to ensure that all stakeholders' information requirements are being met on an ongoing basis.

Within the IT function, too, there will be conflicts of interest, so building consensus there is equally important. Application managers, information architects, system developers, metadata analysts, data quality staff and others will all have their own technical considerations and viewpoints that can often be fairly intransigent. Again, the MDM programme and data governance process should be structured to facilitate collaboration and focus everybody -- whether they're in a business or technical function -- on the end point of using MDM tools and techniques to achieve the company's overarching strategic objectives.

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