Why Your Remote Team Needs a Single Source of Truth
Why Your Remote Team Needs a Single Source of Truth
I know it’s difficult to manage a remote team if you don’t have the right tools, resources and a single version of truth for team members to access.
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By now, most businesses have completely adopted the remote work model, but few can sail a smooth ship. I’d know. Having worked for businesses with chaotic processes, I know for a fact that it’s difficult to manage a remote team if you don’t have the right tools, the right resources and a single version of truth for team members to access.
Plenty has been said on tools and resources; that won’t be the primary point of this article. What business leaders need to know in deeper detail is the “single source of truth,” a relatively new term in business jargon, borrowed from information design and theory.
This post will answer questions as:
- What is a single source of truth?
- Why should you care?
- How does it affect your remote team?
- What are the benefits to a single source of truth?
- What are the risks to disparate information?
- What can I do about it?
- What are my first steps?
Sounds interesting? Let’s get started.
What Is a Single Source of Truth?
In technical, information design terms, a single source of truth (SSOT) refers to, "the practice of structuring information is such a way that every data element is mastered in one place and any possible linkages to this data are by reference only."
In enterprise-level organizations where there is an urgent need for an organized data structure, the deployment of an SSOT architecture is necessary to counter data duplication and outdated information.
In business terms though, a single source of truth can have a more relaxed meaning where it can often be referred to as a single version of the truth, which Forbes defines as, “One view of data that everyone in a company agrees is the real, trusted number for some operating data.”
Keeping it relevant to this article, a single source or version of truth can be used interchangeably because, in essence, the meaning remains the same — you, your team and your business need to have information that is accurate, reliable, accessible and delivers a truth that everyone agrees to.
Let’s understand this with an example of a fictional company ABC Group.
ABC Group, a large online retailer of home improvement items has 8 teams divided over 8 departments. Except for a few international staff members, ABC Group’s team worked in a physical location before the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, they are all working remotely, and, they are struggling. The teams do not have a centralized platform of information.
Billing and customer service operations on their own software, marketing, and sales use their own CRM. Now that they need accurate data to make critical decisions, no one agrees to the data. Long team meetings are being held to discuss managing data. Of course, while they were working on location, it was perfectly easy to walk across the cube and ask for information, but now while working remotely and with fluctuating routines, that doesn’t seem so easy anymore.
Add to this the team’s frustration over dependencies on each other. A task could not be pushed forward unless it was verified. Sales team personnel is dependent on customer service to resolve a ticket from their system. Customer service is dependent on the billing department to confirm a purchase from their system. No one in the team has access to a unified source/version of the truth. Productivity takes a hit and business is being run sacrificing time, efficiency and accuracy.
At this of all times, the company needs data it can rely on to make strategic decisions, to help teams reduce dependencies and to ensure optimal customer support. Therefore a single source of truth is more important now, than ever.
Why Should You Care?
Quite simply because you want to make informed decisions in times of uncertainty. You and your team need to adjust to changes in real-time. We don’t know how long this pandemic will take to settle down, when will we be able to go back to what once was and how we will revive the economy again — what matters is how we are performing right now and keeping businesses afloat for the coming times.
More importantly, having a single source of truth keeps everyone on the same page, limiting disparity in information. In times when frustration and uncertainty are at its peak, you wouldn’t want team members to engage in conflict over data and processes.
How Does it Affect Your Remote Team?
SSOT has been discussed as an important data principle for businesses in general, but it’s never been considered relevant to a team, only until now.
Let’s explain this using ABC Group’s example above.
Two team members from marketing decided to run a content promotion campaign which included highlighting their case studies on social media and tagging their clients for extra outreach. They obtained the case study from the website, ran a social media campaign, tagged their client and were happy. The result? The client sent an angry email. Explicit permission to publicly publish the case study was not given.
This information was recorded in one of the notes managed by the sales team on their CRM to which marketing did not have access. Furthermore, because some team members work in different time zones, they could not interact with each other promptly to make a confirmation. In usual circumstances, the members could ask for verbal confirmation from the team lead or the sales lead. In this particular case, they had too much to do, too many dependencies and communication was a challenge.
See how have disparate information siloed away in different sources can cause a ripple effect?
What Are the Benefits of a Single Source of Truth?
You probably guessed it already, but I’ll go ahead and give a quick rundown. Benefits include:
- Increases productivity and operational efficiency: Eliminating dependencies and preventing the toggling between sources of information, it paves the way for efficiency and productivity.
- Helps organize data and removes duplicates: If different data sources are siloed away, chances are that data is duplicated. Again, referring to customer information. If the same customer’s data is being stored in different platforms, managed by different teams, the business does not have a unified source of data which will hamper any analytics or reporting goals the business may have.
- Improves Communication: When everyone has access to the right information and agrees to it being the accurate version, communication and decision-making are easier.
- Encourages Data-Driven Decision Making: Everyone’s talking about data-driven decision-making but to make such decisions, your team needs access to the right information.
- Helps Your Business be Customer-Centric: At this point, customers are sensitive. If you end up making a crucial mistake because of data-related issues, you’re losing value and credibility fast. To truly be customer-centric, your team needs to have reliable data.
What Are the Risks of Disparate Information?
Plenty. The fact that your team is struggling to make cohesive decisions is indicative of the problem with disparate data. Additional problems could include:
- Lack of Accountability: This is where the blame game starts. Accountability becomes a problem when teams don’t have access to information.
- Lack of Collaboration: Teams would find collaboration difficult especially if there is a high dependency but little adherence to processes.
- Poor Data Accessibility: Every moment spent on waiting for the right person to hand over information is precious time wasted. Data should be made accessible for all involved personnel (of course after implementing user accessibility rules) with everyone receiving the necessary training to make use of that data.
- Struggles with Decision-Making: Team A says there are 10 customers with high priority tickets. Team B says there are 8 customers with high-priority tickets. Who do you believe? How do you make decisions? This is why it’s necessary to have data that everyone can trust to be accurate.
How Do You Establish a Single Source of Truth?
Well, there are two approaches to this — the long-haul and the short-term. I’d encourage the long-haul approach, but considering the current situation, we can make do with short-term too.
Here’s what you can do.
Use an Off-the-Shelf Solution: In an age of excessive information, there’s no way you can implement a manual method to manage all your data. You will need a commercial solution that allows you to make sense of data through the implementation of a data preparation framework. This will include data profiling, data cleaning and data matching to clean and unite data from disparate sources into one single record. This record can then be presented in the form of an Excel sheet or stored in a CRM for everyone to access.
Creating a Source of Truth Manually: If you’re skeptical about getting a software, then you can choose to create a single source of truth manually. This can be done on an ad-hoc basis using Excel or Google Sheets, which can hold necessary and updated information from different data sources. Be warned, though, this approach will still require you to clean and prepare your data before merging. Unless you can do that manually via filters and other Excel tricks (which will take you more time), you will still need a software integration to optimize the process.
Regardless of the approach you take, one thing is certain — you need to establish a single source of truth for your organization to operate efficiently.
- A single source of truth is data everyone agrees on to be accurate and everyone involved can get access to it.
- It prevents teams from engaging in unnecessary conflicts, enables the organization to make data-driven decisions and encourages operational efficiency.
- In a time of uncertainty, having a single source of truth will keep your team united, enable your business to be customer-centric and ensures all stakeholders have the same data to make unified decisions.
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