Documenting Critical Data Elements –

By neub9
3 Min Read
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Many Data Governance or Data Quality programs focus on “critical data elements,” but what are they and what are some key features to document for them?

A critical data element is any data element in your organization that has a high impact on your organization’s ability to execute its business strategy. For example, Customer Email Address would be a critical data element if your business primarily has correspondence with customers via email. These are key fields or data points in your organization that, if negatively impacted by quality, process, or overall management, would severely impair your ability to conduct business. Now that we’ve defined critical data elements, here are four things to document when cataloging them.

1. Foundational Information

When looking at our element, we want to document some basic information. Here’s where we capture data type, format, and any specific validation tables. We may also consider documenting basic data quality issues such as completeness, accuracy, and validity. This foundational information provides for easy lookup as specifications change over time and when presenting or discussing the element with others in the organization.

2. Key Roles

We need to consider who’s involved with our critical data element. Documenting key stakeholders at play is important, including the Data Owner, Data Steward, and Data Custodian. This provides an understanding of where in the organization the element fits and whose priorities are impacted by working with it.

3. Key Lineage

Capturing lineage is crucial. It includes source systems, reporting architecture, and key reports that use the data element. This helps to communicate the impact of the data element throughout the organization and answer questions about its complexity.

It’s important to have a section to link to existing artifacts or controls within your organization. This allows easy access to details without bloating the document. Including documentation links for Root Cause Analysis, Prevention Plan(s), Resolution Plan(s), Controls, and Communication Plan(s) works well and provides additional context.


Considering key critical data elements is crucial for the success of Data Governance or Quality programs. Focusing on data that is critical to the success of the business is what will get your program to a sustainable state with plenty of engagement and interaction. With some key items documented, you’ll have a good understanding of what is important to consider when purchasing any vendor solution. Now, without further ado, go forth and document!

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