As people produce work in “silos”, duplicate information is created: duplicate process, duplicate pieces of content, and so on. As more people or projects come into the mix, multiple data silos are created as well as competing versions of the truth.
Which process is the standard? Which verbiage is within the company brand? Which template is ideal? What information do we collect, and how do we interpret and use it?
By now you know that productivity is of particular importance to me. And the situation described above is not productive. Many hours will be lost, and mistakes made when operating in this way.
At a certain point in every business, it becomes necessary to decide on a consistent way for everyone in the company to operate to avoid overlap, duplication, and using outdated information. Depending on the type of business, each will need a standard for how they will analyze and interpret data, use consistent verbiage, follow project protocols, onboard and train employees, etc.
But what is this magic state of being that brings everything back together in one coordinated, reliable place?
The concept is called the single source of truth. And every company needs one.
What is a single source of truth?
A single source of truth (SSOT) is a data storage principle for managing company knowledge by synchronizing data or content so it is sourced, mastered, and edited in only one place. This way, everyone in the organization takes action and makes decisions based on the same data. Hence the name, single source of truth.
Establishing a single source of truth eliminates the issues of confusion, duplication, and lost productivity. Instead of debating which data sources should be used as company standard, or spending time sifting through competing data and content, everyone can have access to the same reliable source of information.
The key message here is, the worst thing you can do for productivity in your company is to have multiple systems containing duplicated data. Worse would be having more than one project management tool. This is no problem if one team uses their own tool and they work in a “silo”. However, as soon as they need to collaborate with other departments where teams use different tools, things will stop working.
People will start searching for information and duplicating data in two systems if there is no way to sync them. This will decrease the overall productivity and motivation of people working in this ecosystem. This is why a single source of truth needs to be defined for the company.
Creating an SSOT starts by deciding on a single source for storing data, and then making that source available to employees to use. The type of storage system can vary based on the needs of the organization.
Although deciding on an SSOT for locating and storing data can seem relatively simple, integrating disparate information that has spread through an organization can be difficult, depending on the size of the company, and the amount of data it has amassed.
A self-contained system
A well-formed single source of truth is self-contained. This means that the system that is used to store the company’s source data is also the system where the data is created and edited.
If you have a location for your SSOT, but you have multiple contributors creating content in different systems and then importing it into the SSOT, you will ultimately end up with the same situation you had when there were silos of data in the organization. The info, when created off of the platform where the SSOT is housed, will have the tendency to shift over time.
Your SSOT is the place where your company’s data exists once, with no duplication. Why? Because there’s no need for repetition of foundational information. With every duplication comes a slight variation, and that’s where the trouble starts.
The information contained in the SSOT should be your company’s standard operating procedures and other non-changing directions and data. These things should be created once, and not open for random changes without review and oversight. This way, the truth remains the truth.
In order for a single source of truth to be effective in a company, it must be agreed upon and used. It is not simply a repository of information that sits in a vault. It is a system employees can use to get the correct data or information they need to perform their job correctly.
When employees know they’re operating with the most up-to-date and correct information, they have the freedom to perform their role without the need for oversight and without the worry of misinformation. Giving employees this type of freedom makes them more productive because there is no backtracking, and everyone is speaking the same “company” language. When employees can quickly access reliable info, they can be more productive.
Syncing and linking, the key to an SSOT
One of the key features of SSOT is a fully developed linking strategy. This means that the entire system can be used via linking across departments or the entire company. Deciding on, and mapping out, your linking strategy is essential to the adoption and success of the system throughout the organization.
For example, in my company (PaperlessMovement) I have implemented:
- Asana as SSOT for TaskManagement and collaboration
- Notion as SSOT for Wikis and Standard operating Protocols
In addition, I use ToDoist for personal task management. However, to avoid duplicating tasks it is connected via 2-way sync to Asana using Pleexy. This allows me to keep the SSOT Asana while I can keep my personal task manager too. The advantage of this setup is that Todoist also syncs 2-way with my GoogleCalendar. This way I can plan out my tasks throughout the day. If I make any changes when organizing my calendar, it gets automatically reflected in ToDoist and through Pleexy in Asana.
For brainstorming and creating flowcharts and mind maps, I am using Miro in my company too. Miro also integrates with Asana, which allows me to get cards of my Asana tasks into Miro to build mind maps out of it. The advantage of this is that the progress of the Asana tasks is reflected in Miro too. However, no changes can be made in Miro on those tasks.
The above illustration shows how I mapped out the linking system of the SSOT used inside the Paperless Movement. While every business will build their SSOT differently to meet their organizational needs, this illustration offers a visual representation for how the system can work.
How to make an SSOT work for you
When deciding on which tools to use to implement a single source of truth in your organization, the challenge isn’t a lack of choices, it’s choosing from the many tools to create a customized system for your particular business.
First, you must choose a single-source system to house your “truth” data. This can look different for different types of businesses. For example, a business selling services or products might choose a task management tool with integration features as their central repository of their SSOT, and then use their mapped out linking system to create a standard process everyone can follow while having access to the SSOT.
As noted in the outline of SSOT for the Paperless Movement, you can have an SSOT for different areas of your business, such as task management and collaboration, Wikis and Standard operating Protocols, content creation, CRM data, etc. Different single-source management systems can include: master data management (MDM), data warehouse (DW), distributed SaaS data (DSD), a project management tool, solid and source code, and enterprise service bus (ESB), to name a few.
Any tool that allows you to centralize and stabilize your company’s information in a way that integrates with your employee’s workflow, or can be accessed for reference, can be mapped into an effective SSOT for your organization.
Equally as important as which tools you use, is the type and quality of data kept in the SSOT. Collaborate with your management and senior business leaders to establish which source of information to rely on as the company’s “truth”, and then create and collect that info to serve as the guide for all business decisions. This will take careful consideration and collaboration, but in the end, you’ll be left with the best information and processes in your organization, while clearing away the duplicated or lesser quality data.
While it takes careful thought and planning up-front, the effort will be returned in the form of a cohesive and coordinated organization with consistent processes and higher productivity.
Where do you go from here?
Now that you have a basic understanding of what a single source of truth is, you can make an informed decision as to the type of SSOT your company needs. There are many ways to implement an SSOT in your company and many tools you can build it around.
But how do you select and build an SSOT system to help your organization?
As a member of the Paperless Movement Inner Circle, you have access to me, and the rest of the group, to gain more information and insight into this topic. If this is something you would like to learn more about, you can ask a question in the Monthly Interactive Webinar, or post a question inside the Paperless Movement Inner Circle Forum and we’ll discuss it as a group.