a collaborative workshop taking place in a meeting room

Every MDM Initiative Should Start With a Collaborative Workshop

Get people into a room and communicate!

You have a confidence-inspiring revelation that your organization would benefit from a master data strategy. You’re not alone. As noted in a survey as far back as 2007,  51% of the respondents noted their company uses master data management (MDM) solutions to support their businesses. Since then, due to the perpetually increasing need to gain the most coveted “customer 360 view,” you can bet that number has dramatically increased as well. You are in good company.

No Workshop? Costly Mistake.

Many years ago, I was involved in an aggressive MDM initiative that promised to provide an enterprise view of the customer. Though the initiative was widely successful and strategically executed in three carefully articulated phases, six months into the project we had to restart due to a mistake many have fallen into: We focused primarily on the technology. It was as if business process and data became secondary in importance. Imagine our surprise when the senior project manager proclaimed, “Data stewardship capabilities are outside the scope.” How can there be an MDM solution without the data management bit? That was a pivotal meeting because it was the beginning of the reset.

The problem was that we had no common understanding of what was important to the enterprise project. There was an expectation that this was a technology project and that solving for technology would solve all our problems. Each siloed team came in with their agenda to “check boxes” and be done. We realized that the scope was incomplete and would not yield success. Long story short, we regrouped and brought stakeholders in to build and agree on common definitions, use cases, and goals. That was a long but necessary three weeks spent in conference rooms. In hindsight, we could have used a cross-functional and collaborative workshop to level-set and prioritize workflows and use cases focused on data, business processes, and goals. In other words, we should have discussed what was working, what was not working, and what budding opportunities we had, using fundamentals of master data as the framework.


fundamentals of Master Data

The Master Data Workshop

Workshops are used for many purposes. Regardless of the use case, you can divide their purpose into three elements: communication, prioritization, and progression. When you put into context the six fundamentals of master data, you will be able to discuss a clearer path forward to understanding the process and nonnegotiable aspects to get to the goal. The purpose is to unite cross-functional (potentially siloed) operations to freely discuss potential actions and roadblocks to the path forward. The workshop will provide methodologies that empower the collective team to prioritize and build actionable workflows. Let’s break down the three main elements of the workshop.

Communication: People and Data Do the Talking

Having cross-functional membership in attendance is a must for any enterprise-level initiative, particularly when various organizations and departments operate in silos. Individual perspectives become a treasure trove of insights, nuances, sentiments, etc., to level-set expectations and build common goals, policies, and rules. An effective master data workshop will collect all these through discussions, human-centered design, collaborative methodologies, and pre-workshop assessments. Don’t be surprised when your company has its first cross-functional project discussion during a workshop such as this. Many other companies did as well. The free flow of ideas, innovative or cautionary, is the foundation of a workshop.

People are not the only ones that can contribute to the workshop. Keep in mind, your data will also need to do some talking. In a master data workshop, your data will take the center stage. Why? Knowing your data’s current state capabilities and limitations will become the starting point of your master data initiative. Understanding data characteristics such as quality, linkage, enrichment, aggregation, and integration are only some of the aspects that will be needed to determine your priorities and actions. You will need data inventory and quality assessment included as voices in the workshop.

The workshop will provide methodologies that empower the collective team to prioritize and build actionable workflows.
Joseph Santos

Prioritization: To Get the Right Things Done

This is where the master data workshop can truly play a pivotal role in your organization’s data initiative. Through available collaborative methods, such as Rose, Thorn, Bud and clustering, the cross-functional collective can put on the table data-related topics pertinent to the initiative and provision its initial prioritization through voting. Although these are sentiments, the group can further articulate its importance and potentially its order of magnitude as they relate to the goals they are attempting to accomplish.


The idea here is to line up goals and objectives with the issues, resources, and expectations. The collaborative methods of the master data workshop deliver the discovery and alignment processes to your organization’s enterprise data vision to discern the actions and workflows to take.

Progression: Movement Toward an Advanced State

Apart from the collaborative discussions and methods noted above, the master data workshop will take into consideration inputs with the fundamentals as a framework to initiate action. Yes, the workshop aims to answer “How do we get there?” Or at least, “How do we get started with the journey?” Yes, having the master data workshop is the action toward the direction of the enterprise data vision. However, we need to have identified workflows that various members of the teams need to perform to solve issues, innovate solutions, and define a successful initiative.

Using the fundamentals of master data as a framework for these workflows, we will ensure the inclusion of each of these nonnegotiables in the initiative. We could then define roles and assign people, efforts, parameters, and dates to ensure the initiative’s progression.

The Fundamentals of Master Data

Master Data Readiness – Think of this as the “You are here” indicator on a map. Knowing where you stand and how far you need to go is an unassailable necessity of any data initiative. Crystalizing the maturity of various departments/organizations individually and in aggregate will offer that reality check on the potential effort, vulnerabilities, and investment for the initiative.

Common Identifier and Entity Creation –Know your data. This means being able to identify the what, when, why, where, and how of your data. It becomes more prevalent when the initiative requires bringing disparate data sets together to form that enterprise view of the customer. Deciding on a common identifier, such as the Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S® Number, will scale the identification and progression toward that 360 view of the customer.

Hierarchies and Relationships – Hierarchy linkages allow us to group and aggregate master data components into meaningful scenarios to perform reporting, analysis, and, ultimately, decision-making based on relationship constructs that matter to the business.

Integration of Disparate Sources – Legacy systems and data sources are potential candidates for augmentation in a master data management solution. At the least, we need to know which ones are material, how they provide value to the initiative, and who owns them in order to articulate their roles in the initiative.

Master Data Enrichment – One could say that data is alive. As long as the entities the data are about are operating, the potential for that data to change is imminent. Now multiply that by the number of customers, vendors, and partners your organization manages. To manage this data at scale, there is a need for an enrichment strategy and methodology.

Master Data Governance – This pertains to the enforcement of enterprise-level decisions, policy, and data logic to help manage data at scale with a cross-functional purview.

What to Expect in a Master Data Workshop

Dun & Bradstreet provides the Master Data Workshop as a service to its customers. In this D&B service, you can expect the following:

Pre-work and collaboration. Identifying your cross-functional stakeholder attendees would be paramount for a successful workshop. The more diversity in stakeholder roles, the more data topics you can cover. Planning meetings with your D&B Data Advisory team and your account team to coordinate logistics, agenda, and topics to cover is a close second. There will also be data and maturity assessments to perform if applicable. If so, the results from these assessments should be included in the workshop.

Healthy Cross-Functional Discussions. Your D&B Data Advisory Team will be facilitating the workshop. Come ready for discussions—and potentially short debates—about items or processes surrounding current and future states of managing master data. As mentioned earlier, some of the attendees might be hearing about these aspects for the very first time. Also, take this opportunity to disclose and discuss different views of data expectations and management. Take notes or, if you can, record the presentation.

Master Data Items/Issues Ranking. In the collaborative portion of the workshop, you will get the chance to voice what’s working, what issues there are (existing or impending), and current opportunities through the Rose, Thorn, Bud and clustering methods. Your D&B facilitators will aggregate the result of this activity and provide the tally and ranking. This document will serve as a seed to define use cases, prioritization of goals, scope creep, and potentially more cross-functional collaborations.

Elected Workstreams. From the discussions and aggregation of the collaborative engagement, you should be able to conjure workstreams that would serve as action items to progress the initiative forward. This should be done by both your D&B data experts and the cross-functional team, ultimately matching potential initial workstreams with those who are accountable, actions to consider, ideal completion date, and goals.

Post-meeting Checkup. At a prescribed time after the engagement, your organization will meet again with the D&B team to itemize progress, go over challenges, and determine potential adjustments to the elected workflows. It is recommended to do this at the six-month mark, and to reengage the workshop periodically during your implementation or data journey for a comprehensive perspective on your initiative’s progress.

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

There is intrinsic value in taking a couple of steps back to evaluate the direction, progress, and goals of your master data initiative. Performing this periodically and holistically using different stakeholder lenses and reasoning creates that path to a true enterprise asset. Pause a moment and bring everyone together; unite not only data and technology but also language and data goals; and, most of all, listen to both your stakeholders and your data. In their voices are priorities, solutions, potential gaps, and the path forward. The Master Data Workshop unravels them with you.

A 23-year veteran in the data and technology space, Joseph Santos is a Principal Consultant on the Dun & Bradstreet Data Advisory Services team providing strategic guidance on data initiatives to organizations, large and small. Joe was also a long-time Dun & Bradstreet customer working in the trenches as a data leader for several high-tech companies. His extensive experience and expertise allow him to deliver strategic solutions on Master Data, hierarchies, customer data management, data governance, data stewardship and data forensics. 

Learn more about how we can help you with a Master Data Workshop. Talk to your account team or connect with the author, Joseph Santos, at SantosJos@dnb.com.