Operationalizing a taxonomy

A number of clients and prospects have come to me with the same dilemma. They have been engaged in varying levels of taxonomy programs and have arrived at a point where they need to overcome a certain sticking point in their projects. They are wrestling with challenges around getting real benefit from their taxonomy projects. While on the surface, taxonomy as a concept is straightforward, getting the organization to embrace standardized terminology and consistent classifications is incredibly complex. It impacts so many aspects of the organization on many different levels: many classes and instances of technology, work processes and practices, change management and governance. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when trying to move the organization to the next level:

1. Focus on implementation issues that will solve problems of a business unit: Fast moving organizations on the front lines usually don’t have the time to learn about things like best practices in taxonomy development. They need to solve customer problems and meet their short term objectives. So the taxonomy issues need to address this and not be theoretical
2. Cross pollinate between efforts: As lessons are learned in one area, reapply and reuse in another area. Consistency of implementation and a cross project perspective go a long way toward building standards. This means having continuity between efforts so as not to reinvent the wheel.

3. Build overall fluency across the organization: Concurrent with short term problem solving, increase the level of competency and awareness of common issues through education forums and discussions. These can be “lunch and learns” and conference calls. These should focus on practical aspects of implementation and on how others have solved problems.

4. Keep a long term perspective on developing standards: This is where cross effort governance comes into play. There should be an overall commitment to a standards process that helps the organization prioritize on efforts where standards need to be enforced.

Change management and governance happens at two levels: each project or application area (for example e commerce or web content) needs to own terminology to the extent that it meets the needs of their systems and applications in support of their business goals.

A broader governance process needs to ensure that changes that affect bigger picture initiatives are correctly managed.

This is a bottom up and top down approach. (Think states rights versus federal control) The organization needs to devote time and resources to helping individual business areas solve problems with an eye toward and overall control of the long term.

In keeping with “pace layering” theory, the faster layers (such as e commerce) need to adjust quickly to market conditions while the longer term layers (enterprise standards) need to provide consistency across the organization.

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