Sometimes product data management can seem vast or vague, even to IT experts who know technology and data well. At Ntara, we remove the mystery by clearly defining what each data engagement involves and how it helps your business.

One such deliverable is a master attribute document, or MAD. In this blog post, we’ll share what a MAD is, why it’s important, and how we guide you through creating this essential resource.

What is a master attribute document?

A master attribute document—sometimes called a data dictionary or attribute dictionary—is a list of every attribute that could describe your products. It also includes where each attribute lives in the data hierarchy.

And while that may sound simple, its purpose in product data management goes deeper.

Every company has its next big goal. It could be implementing product information management (PIM), producing a catalog, or launching an ecommerce site. During our discovery process, we peel back the layers of those goals and explore what makes your business, ecosystem, and data unique.

Working through a product data audit, we create several assets to organize our thoughts and align our efforts. Two of those services include the creation of a product data lifecycle map and the MAD—both of which are critical to understanding the state of your data.

It’s important to know that a MAD is a living document, not a one-and-done project. Data never stops moving, growing, and changing. Neither should your MAD. We continue to populate the MAD throughout implementation and equip your team to do the same for the long term.

Why is a MAD important?

Consider your product data management challenges. Like most organizations, you may struggle with manual initiatives, poor data quality, and collaboration between employees and teams. A MAD serves as a starting point and ongoing tool to help you unify your staff and overcome those issues.

It’s a single reference point that helps eliminate duplicated effort.

Employees can waste hours and days doing duplicate work. Why? Because when you work in silos, you lack visibility into what data already exists. With everyone using different systems, each team ends up documenting just their process and system. The MAD gives a single point of reference to align all the teams together using their unique naming (alongside the other systems’ names) to truly bring the staff and systems together.

It’s a tool for product data governance.

Your data governance committee can refer to the MAD to inform data decisions. For example, what’s the potential impact if you remove or change an attribute? Do you need a new attribute, or do you already have one that will meet the need?

Establishing a “read only” MAD for stakeholders is also a way to standardize your data dictionary and support data quality. And if your MAD becomes outdated because it’s not well maintained? That’s a clue that your data governance needs a closer look.

The MAD supports cross-enterprise collaboration.

Most companies are segmented by divisions, departments, and the systems they use. These silos can cause misunderstandings and data inconsistencies. The MAD becomes a unifying asset that enables people to talk about data using a common vernacular. It also lets us track where these attributes are being used, as well as what they are named in each system. This keeps everyone on the same page about the attributes—despite employees working in disparate systems. 

How does a MAD streamline product processes?

A MAD doesn’t just list your products; it helps you look at all the data layers involved with each attribute.

The starting point is an identification (ID) number representing the master attribute. That “code” sets the stage for the rest of the documentation and becomes the identifier for that specific attribute.

From there, we typically create columns for the following documentation:

  • The most common way to talk about that attribute within the company, i.e., the nomenclature—SKU, SKU ID, product code, variant, etc.
  • Whether the attribute is listed in a single or multiple systems, like your enterprise resource planning (ERP), product lifecycle management (PLM) system, or ecommerce system.
  • Which system “owns” the attribute and serves as the system or record. That way, you’ll know which system to target when resolving a data issue.
  • Any nomenclature differences per system.
  • Where the attribute is syndicated or published, e.g., your ecommerce platform, brochure website, Amazon, or other marketplaces.
  • Data types, like whether it’s a controlled vocabulary list (CVL), such as a drop-down or pick list, or a string field.
  • Relevant dates, like a launch date that involves the attribute.
  • Roles related to the management of the attribute.

This is a snapshot of a typical MAD dictionary, where each attribute now has a quick reference ID and accompanying documentation. With all the information condensed into one line, it’s easy to understand each attribute.

Illustration representing the information contained in a Master Attribute Document. On the left are blue, yellow, and red cylinders representing various data sources. Inside them are black dots representing data. These dots are connected to the black document on the right by various paths representing workflows. Inside the document are various data points organized into columns.

What resources do you need to build a MAD?

Many companies already have some type of data documentation, which can be a great starting point. But chances are you’ll need to flesh it out or potentially create something new.

There’s prep work involved before you begin—and continuing the process comes with certain pitfalls, particularly when unifying marketing and IT. Who is driving the effort? What budgets are affected? Is there tension between the two groups? If so, how can you bring together the people and teams required for a successful outcome?

An expert PIM partner can guide you through the process step by step by helping you:

  • Act as a conduit between marketing and IT, bringing harmony to the process.
  • Avoid common risks and pitfalls and identify challenges unique to your business.
  • Provide change management to help your employees emerge from the process invigorated and excited to participate in your product data program.
  • Ensure the MAD has the elements needed to support your specific business objectives.

When done correctly, you’ll end up with an asset that creates a buzz of excitement. Business, marketing, and IT leaders will appreciate the single source of reference that guides, unifies, and ignites their efforts.

Working on your product data management? Be sure to include a MAD.

No matter where your product data journey takes you, creating a MAD helps set you up for success. There are several ways to get started. Some organizations like a “done for you” approach, while others prefer to join the process. Either way, we’re here to help.

Ready to start streamlining your product processes?

Schedule a call with a member of our team to learn more.

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