This month we are considering the question: What is truth? No, we haven’t gone off the philosophical deep end; the question is a practical one for solving business problems. What truth do you base your decisions on?

Finding Too Many Truths?

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” For many organizations, there are many versions of the truth. Different reports from different sources are analyzed in different ways, each presenting a different picture of reality. This often results in managers needlessly arguing about what the problem is, how big the problem is (or is not), who is to blame for the problem, and whether or not there is a problem. Basically arguing about everything but how to solve the problem.

A Common Example

A product is manufactured at one location, warehoused at another, and sold from a third. A reasonable question would be: Is there enough supply to meet demand or is there a problem? Seems like a simple question, right? But if there is more than one data source, say three different inventory reports, the trouble starts. Is there any double counting in the reports? Is everything accounted for? What about product in transit? And so on.

WANTED: Single Version of Truth

To break through the logjam, managers need a Single Version of Truth (SVOT). One set of data pulling together and reconciling all sources, data that is easily understood, and understood in the same way by all. With one version of truth, the management team’s time and energy can be focused on problem solving.

But how does an organization achieve SVOT? Many make the mistake of working on improving data accuracy first. Jean Ross, Director of MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Information Systems Research, suggests a radically different approach, “Declare it.”

Getting to one version of the truth “doesn’t have anything to do with accuracy, it has everything to do with declaring it,” Ross said. “Once you tell everyone ‘This is our single source,’ they work pretty hard to make it more accurate.”

“Declare It” Works in the Real World

In a post on, guest poster rcoffield64 gave an excellent example of exactly how the “declare it” approach works:

“At one department I worked with, I was surprised by how many project managers reported that they were too busy running their projects to update critical information in a department-wide database. Telling the project managers to update the information for the good of the organization (and their careers) did no good. Then the department got a new department head.

“Being new to the organization, the new department head started using reports from the department-wide database. When she asked why the reports did not reflect the new contract award dates, her division managers cited, ‘we suggested that new dates be passed up the organization by word of mouth.’ But project managers were not updating the information about their projects in the department-wide project database.

“The new department head informed her division managers, she was going to print out the Scheduled Contract Award Date report for their divisions before their individual weekly meeting with her. And they discovered, she wanted any discrepancies in award dates cleared up before she met with her manager or other people outside the department who had even limited access to the department’s project database.

“Big Surprise! Within a couple of months, all of the scheduled projects award dates in the database were being reviewed and updated regularly. People inside and outside the department were using the award dates in the database instead of calling around the department to get an answer.

“When people are accountable things happen.”

We think that sums it up very well

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