Discover How Your Data Governance Team Can Avoid Common Pitfalls

by Jason Freeland and Melanie Henry


Through the process of partnering with our clients to implement data management and governance programs of all sizes, the data governance team at StrategyWise has seen common themes emerge. When starting our partnerships, specific roadblocks observed may take the form of misconceptions, skipped or insufficiently completed steps, or excessive focus on the wrong leverage points to create lasting change. In this article, we discuss the five biggest obstacles to creating an effective and robust governance team and program.

Throughout the article, we refer to “MDM+DG,” which stands for Master Data Management and Data Governance. StrategyWise prefers to use this term rather than simply “data governance,” because while they are both closely related and reliant on each other, they are different activities with specific aims occurring at various levels within an organization. Usually, when people refer to “data governance,” they mean both topics, and this blurs details within an already complex topic.

1. Overestimating the Time and Money It Will Take to Implement Data Governance

Sometimes, when business leaders at the enterprise level see the concepts and materials related to data governance, their first reaction is frequently to assume that such a system will take millions of dollars and three or four years to implement. Even more so, when the discussions start at the departmental levels, many people perceive that they will be required to do extra work. When considering implementations, a company’s management sometimes fears they will need to hire additional personnel or add departments and entirely new teams to build out an implementation.

These are reasonable and understandable concerns, but their validity will depend heavily on the scale, scope, and implementation strategies considered. At StrategyWise, we have found that sustainable results are built from implementation strategies that start small and iteratively build upon successes. The key is to seek early wins with limited-scope data domains to demonstrate the concepts and their value. Organizational excitement and company-wide buy-in soon follows. Managers of data governance will be able to rally their organizations around the boundaries of limited resource requests and frequently short timeframes needed to see results. Maintaining clear communication with stakeholders and leadership about the ongoing process of continuous improvement over several business quarters will help ensure focus and sustained commitment to the methodology and shared organizational goals.

Tailoring the governance framework to match your organization by building on what is already there is critical. This can be done by unearthing all the elements of data management and governance that are already occurring in each of your departments—even if these elements are not currently operating under an umbrella of “data governance.” Frequently, the design of a governance structure will uncover good processes and disciplines that had become orphaned, because they were not rooted in a larger framework that efficiently communicated its value to the organization. These components can often serve as an extremely useful platform on which to build a more robust governance implementation while rapidly speeding up time to deployment.

2. Underestimating the Cultural Change Required for a Successful Implementation

One of the most persistent misconceptions about MDM+DG is that it is an IT-centric or technical project. Business leaders and technical staff alike tend to think that the success of such programs revolves around the adoption of new tools, policies, process diagrams, and job titles. Further, business leaders typically think that the creation of budgets, departments, or positions will ensure the success of an implementation.

At its core, management and governance of data is about behavioral change across the organization. If this is not the primary focus, then implementation will certainly suffer. All the proposed elements of an MDM+DG framework should be traceable back to the behaviors the organization desires from its employees as they interact with its data.

So what drives behavioral change across an organization? Answers will vary from company to company, but we see common elements regardless of the company or its culture. A main element is a plan that results in buy-in with a shared sense of personal ownership in organizational concepts and objectives. That is why building business cases to demonstrate the value of MDM+DG is so necessary. We have also found that when the deployment team leverages the organization’s “governance champions”—those people who have seen it work or believe deeply in the ideas—their behaviors and beliefs can be contagious. Thus, a key step in creating behavioral change is to find the people within your organization who demonstrate excitement for the concepts of MDM+DG, and then place them in centralized positions for implementation. These individuals will usually volunteer to help develop and strengthen the organization’s structural systems of MDM+DG over time.

Data Governance Team MDMDG Team

3. Skipping the Business Value Demonstration or Business Case Step

This is one of the most valuable steps in the implementation of a data governance program or team, yet it is commonly skipped. Creating consistent documentation about value is crucial for multiple reasons. For example, technical staff are not always comfortable creating business cases, yet these experts are necessary to their creation. Other times, business leaders erroneously believe that any projected savings or revenue creation is not as significant as planned profits, so they downplay the usefulness of business case creation efforts.

As we have discussed in our previous point, however, the process of mapping the business value of a governance program is essential for both building an understanding that the program will be worth all efforts and heightening a sense of shared ownership in implementation and outcomes. Partnering with business lines that use the organization’s data to build value cases will bring needed experts and leaders together for MDM+DG implementation and will get them in the habit of thinking how governance will deliver value toward achieving the organization’s strategic aims.

As for the perception that a governance program cannot deliver “real monetary value,” it helps to frame governance of data alongside an organization’s governance of money. Data and money are both relatively abstract organizational assets that can be successfully or poorly leveraged. An accounting department within an organization does not generate any revenue, but compared to an alternative of “loose accounting practices,” company accountants deliver tremendous value to the organization. Likewise, a robust MDM+DG implementation protects the organization from risk, creates a shared understanding of best practices, and enables effective utilization of assets through careful management. To continue the analogy, a business’s corporate finance department continuously seeks to improve on value derived from an organization’s financial assets. In the same way, a great MDM+DG implementation seeks to do the same with its data. Your organization’s data governance team should be continuously seeking new and better ways to monetize your data; you might be surprised by the transformative impact that can be delivered by considering your company’s data to be a monetizable asset.

4. Failing to Get the Right People Involved in the Discussion

Many times, the participants in the MDM+DG implementation effort are technical subject matter experts and business leaders. Naturally, they are identified and engaged to design and implement the MDM+DG framework. However, these are frequently the same individuals who will perceive a major shift or added responsibilities in their workflow. Hence, they may be resistant to the topic—or sometimes downright hostile— and may produce major roadblocks to progress while undermining the perception of business value across the organization.

The MDM+DG implementation team must rely on these experts and win them over. More importantly, however, the implementation team must seek out their technical and business experts who understand, believe in, and show excitement for a governance program. These are the people who understand what MDM+DG is and is not (even at a basic level), believe in data as a valuable shared asset and in MDM+DG as a value enabler, and show enthusiasm for the idea of implementing it. For these reasons, its best to set up an MDM+DG Working Council based on “fluid membership” or “tours of duty,” so nobody feels their participation is assured or permanent. This approach gives the implementation team the ability to monitor the excitement or belief level of key participants, and if it is low, to cycle them out of integral involvement and replace them with someone better suited to driving cultural change within the organization.

5. Failing to Adequately Scope and Phase the Implementation

At one extreme, business or technical staff may think that MDM+DG implementation will only apply to their particular data project or to their specific corner of the business. At the other extreme, some staff may think that MDM+DG will apply to all shared data, including scanned faxes on tape backups dating back to 1998, for example. This uncertainty or inconsistency in understanding can cause serious disconnects for the implementation team. In other cases, business leaders may think that they will go from zero to a full-drive MDM+DG implementation in six to twelve months, without defining what “full implementation” means or the growth stages required to get there. That leaves key participants in the process believing that they have been given an insurmountable task.

Determining the scope and phasing of an MDM+DG implementation as part of the MDM+DG roadmap is essential to both setting up and maintaining expectations at the leadership level. This can be done through clear communication among key participants as to how the overarching end state will be achieved through smaller steps, which also enables the implementation team to demonstrate how it will start small and produce value without demanding years or millions of dollars from the organization.

StrategyWise recommends determining the scope of an MDM+DG implementation based on ranking the business value of different domains of valuable shared data. When this step is completed early in the process, the implementation team can prioritize various shared data domains and propose an initial scope for implementation. The business case can be built to justify expanding that scope over time, through the demonstration of value. However, we recommend that the scope initially include a few different domains of data, so it is not perceived as being too tailored to a single department’s needs. The right balance in the implementation’s first phase can happen if the chosen scope will be suitable to 70–85% of an enterprise’s data domains, while acknowledging that some tailoring of the framework to specific domains will usually be required.

Beyond determining the initial scope and end-state scope, a great implementation plan clearly defines different phases and spells out what MDM+DG will look like at incremental stages. StrategyWise typically refers to these phases as MDM+DG V1.0, V2.0, and V3.0 with a definition of each phase’s scope, the breadth of its framework evolution, and the timeline for its implementation. This helps business leaders see the progression plan for MDM+DG methodology within their organization over time.


We hope that this article has helped you and your team in several ways! Maybe it has helped to shed some light on why a recently implemented program has not been as successful as had been planned. Possibly, this paper has armed you with some talking points to help your team and your leadership better understand key elements of an implementation’s pitfalls and their avoidance. Most of all, we hope your reading this has increased your excitement about the topic and strengthened your ability to be an MDM+DG champion within your organization!

If you would like additional information on any of the topics covered in this white paper, StrategyWise welcomes the opportunity to elaborate and to discuss your requirements with you!