I attended once a session with a Gartner analyst, who declared that the closest thing to the work he was doing when helping customers with data governance was "Family Counseling". This statement expressed perfectly the complexity of the topic, and highlighted the strong focus on people and processes that apply to the Data Governance field.
When people ask me what is the relation between MDM and Data Governance, I oversimplify and say: "Governance is about making decisions, and MDM is about making them real".
MDM or Data Governance or Both?
So trying to do Master Data Management without Governance is enforcing rules and setting up systems without a formal decision path. This may work in first iterations, for simple problems or small organizations. When things get bigger, you need Governance.
Master Data Governance without the Master Data Management part is like having a constitutional body debating, making decisions, passing bills and laws but never actually enforcing them or getting anything real done. What is the point except for filling shelves with paper and spending time?
The key to this discussion is not whether you should do Governance or MDM. You should do both. Which brings me to another family metaphor: I call it the "Curtains Challenge". Let me explain.
The Curtains Challenge
One day, you decide to change the curtains in your living room. You talk to your wife, husband or flatmate, and enter into a real challenge!
You'll spend ages deciding the color, fabric, price, etc of the new curtains. You'll probably consider redecorating the entire room or house. After a couple of days or weeks of harsh negotiations, you'll agree (or bend the knee) on a specific (and probably too expensive) set of blue curtains.
Then you go to the store, and expect the curtains to be available. Well... not! The store tells you to wait for 3 more weeks as they need to order your curtains far-far-away! So you order the curtains, finally receive them 3 weeks later. In the meanwhile, you (or your wife/husband/partner) have changed and think that purple is better! The curtains end up somewhere in a box in the basement.
The 80/20 Rule
This curtain story illustrates the key aspect of the MDM/DG relationship: DG is painful, and lengthy. Once a decision is made, there is nothing more frustrating or risky than having to wait for ages to get it executed.
This is why there is an 80/20 time balance between DG and MDM. 80% of the time should be spent doing Governance, that is, talking with the business, stakeholders, execs, architects, process owners, etc. and reaching a decision; Getting decisions implemented should take less than 20% of the time.
When considering an MDM approach, think of this 80/20 rule, and challenge both your MDM approach and platform to work according to this rule.