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Implementing Master Data Management Systems — 5 Lessons I Learned!

I think I'm not exaggerating when saying that Master Data Management Systems (MDS) has a dull image. No fancy user interface, no AI, no nothing. Not sexy at all. And I'm not exaggerating when stating that many Master Data Management Systems projects last much longer than expected, don't achieve set goals, or fail completely.

Master Data Management Systems — A Greek Tragedy!

Personally, I think this is a tragedy. Although Master Data Management Systems are not sexy, they do provide tremendous benefits. Enhanced process efficiency, reduced workload, and improved process quality are just a few examples (Check this blog post for a complete list of benefits). However, it is not the purpose of this blog post to convince you about the benefits of Master Data Management Systems.

My Very Personal Lessons When Implementing Master Data Management Systems

What I’d like to write about are my personal lessons learned when implementing Master Data Management Systems. To be frank, I’ve encountered almost all of the above issues:

  • Projects took much longer than expected
  • We finally implemented a Master Data Management Systems but nobody wanted to use it
  • The project did not meet the set goals and had to be re-engineered. And I can tell you, it’s horrible. You are demotivated, the client is unsatisfied. It’s a huge mess. Personally, it drives me crazy if a project does not achieve 100%.

Our Approach — Analyzing The Problems

That’s why we sit together after projects — internally but also with the client. And we discussed problems and mistakes we identified. But more importantly, we made up our minds about how to improve. And when analyzing each of the projects retrospectively, we could identify five crucial aspects that strongly influence the project’s success.

Interesting enough, none of them is related to technology or the master data management system itself.

Actually, I call those 5 aspects essential for a successful master data project. If you are planning to implement an MDS, you should invest five minutes in going through it. It will save you a lot of time, money, and stress in the end.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned When Implementing Master Data Management Systems

#1 — It’s a business project — not an IT!

Let us directly start with the most important point: Implementing a Master Data Management System is a business topic. You need your business department as a driver and sponsor. They have to understand the concept. They have to understand the benefits.

Yes, it’s called Master Data Management SYSTEM. And I am totally aware that a system implies IT. However, the IT part is just a tiny part of Master Data Management. Master Data Management contains so much more than just the system.

Subsequently, without strong business departments and a project champion from the business (side), your master data project will definitely fail. And fail in this context means you probably implement an MDS, but most likely, no one will use it.

Lessons learned #1: Get business departments onboard and never start a Master Data Management project driven by IT.

#2 — Don’t underestimate the change your initiating

As mentioned, an MDS is just a part of an overall Master Data Management. Implementing Master Data Management means a huge change to your organization. First of all, processes have to change. But more importantly, responsibilities have to change. That sounds trivial at first sight but turns out to be crucial and hard. Of course, employees don’t want to lose responsibility. And that’s just the beginning: Workload will be shifted and vanish completely. But, ultimately —and this is the toughest part— Information silos have to be burst.

Master Data Projects Usually Faces Enormous Reluctance!

I’m not telling you a secret that employees will be reluctant. Nobody wants to change. Nobody wants to lose responsibilities, and nobody wants an additional workload. And I’m repeating myself. A Master Data Management System is so much more than a new IT solution. It stands for a complete change in processes and the entire organization. Unfortunately, this aspect is often overlooked, forgotten, or simply pushed aside.

Lesson learned #2: The whole project must be accompanied by a proper and well-developed change management process. If you can’t do that on your own, go for external change consultants. The second aspect of this context is: Get management buy-in. That’ll help you to enforce the changes.

#3 — Well-defined processes are the key to Master Data Management Systems

Already said that earlier: MDS is about processes:

  • Who is responsible for data?
  • Who is allowed to make changes?
  • When does the responsibility of data shift from department A to department B.
  • Etc.

Just think about some of your most prominent master data. I bet dozens of departments contribute with input during the lifecycle.

Lesson learned #3: Master data processes are eminent. You should spend at least 50% of the project defining processes and setting up guidelines. This is a lot, I know. But what’s the alternative: A Master Data Management System nobody uses.

#4 — Establish master data governors

Operating an MDS and maintaining master data is not a one-off. It is a continuous process that has to be maintained. Moreover, it is a process you need to optimize continuously and monitor. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a complete mess.

Lesson learned #4: Establish master data governor positions. And I’m not talking about data police, searching for mistakes, and prosecuting the authors. Instead, I’m talking about the dedicated staff responsible for improving your Master Data Management System. They give advice, own responsibility for improving processes and connecting new data sources.

#5 — Content is king

Finally, I will tell you a secret: The best MDS won’t be used without content. Ok, that’s obvious — but still so super important. Content is king. Without high-quality content and a broad range of content, your Master Data Management System is useless.

Lesson learned #5: It’s never too early to start with creating content for your Master Data Management System. And always remember there are two sources for your content: Internal and external.


Finally, here is the good news. Once we identified those crucial factors and have been able to internalize all of them, we’ve massively boosted our result quality.

Indeed, we still encounter obstacles and hurdles in the course of a project. However, having understood the core aspects, the essentials that influence the project’s success, we have been able to deliver master data projects much more efficiently and at a higher quality.

What Dou You Think?

Always happy to receive your feedback, thoughts, and input. Let me know about your experience with MDS projects. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter, or get in touch on LinkedIn.

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Benjamin Walther

CEO, Frankfurt

Benjamin is Information Design's CEO and a proven content-maniac. Besides running a successful business and developing pioneering ideas, he's dedicated to writing blog posts and creating content.

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