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Free Your Data! Banish Data Silos For Good

Data silos are a common problem in organizations. Incompatible tools (and often a dose of departmental territoriality) cause actionable information to become isolated and stuck. Information can’t cohere, and valuable insights are lost. These silos kill the ability to adapt, collaborate, and integrate the big picture. As Patrick Lencioni put it in Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, “Silos—and the turf wars they enable—devastate organizations. They waste resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize the achievement of goals.”

Product data is not immune. Product and user data are often in the hands of one product manager or a small team, and the temptation to hoard the data is strong. There’s a fear of other teams misinterpreting the data, or somehow “going rogue,” and the fear of a loss of control. Plus, the problem of capturing, cleaning, and reporting all that data can be overwhelming. We’re afraid of diverting resources from development, of being put on the spot, and of unleashing a flood of requests for ad-hoc reports. So a minimal and patchwork approach tends to prevail.

But, whether it’s born out of technical limitations or anxiety or both, product data silos have real consequences for an organization. Imagine these scenarios:

So many lost opportunities! In every case, actionable information is missing when product data gets siloed. In some cases, even product teams can be in the dark. It’s not for a lack of opportunity: great data exists in the CRM system, and the product generates a massive amount of data every day, but basic questions like “what percentage of top-tier, high-value customers adopt the latest features within their first 12 months of service” frequently cannot be answered.

In an information vacuum caused by lack of access to genuine user data, product data tends to play second fiddle to marketing and sales data. These data tend to be easier to gather and quick for those departments to pull together in reports. It’s also easy for business intelligence efforts to look first toward data that have a revenue line item associated with them. In comparison, product data can be tough to wrap your head around.  But ultimately it’s an invaluable measure of the health of the customer relationship, and the only way to understand the interaction between customer and product.

What can you do to free the data? Here are a few starting points:

In short, look everywhere in your organization for the missing user data, and ask what you can do to set the data free!


John Cutler is a product management and UX consultant. His passions are UX research, evidence-driven product development, and empowering the front line to solve business and customer problems. For more of John’s writing visit his Medium profile or follow him on Twitter.  He is honored to team up with longtime friend and editor Katherine Maurer, a freelance editor and poet whose work has appeared in many pretty good literary journals. She is also a graduate student in clinical psychology, and drummer in the band Again is Already.


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