Taxonomy Project RFP Considerations

We recently had a prospect ask what they needed to consider as part of their taxonomy RFP. Here are some things to include:

1. Specific approaches to taxonomy development: steps for term extraction, approaches for automated and manual content audit procedures

2. Taxonomy testing: What are the methods by which the taxonomy will be tested prior to deployment? What usability tests would be performed and what data would be collected?

3. Metrics: How will search engine and web tracking metrics be used in deriving the taxonomy?
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Politics of terminology

One of the things that we get called in to help with is the set of governance policies and processes that are necessary to make taxonomy projects a success.

There are number of things that need to happen for organizations to be effective in this area:

1. Sponsorship: Someone with power and authority needs to understand the value of taxonomy and nomenclature governance

This person can help settle turf disputes and conflicting organizational requirements. The key is that they are truly engaged and really get it, rather than delegating authority.

2. Ownership: An operational champion needs to own the project. This is the person to whom ultimate accountability falls. They are the one that has to drive communication and get people to participate

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Technology before requirements

I have been presenting at several conferences in the past couple of weeks (10 sessions in two weeks) and I am still getting the same situation over and over again. I had an attendee in a workshop on a content management maturity model say: “I am not sure where to start. It feels like this is so overwhelming. Can’t we buy the tool first? That’s what my boss wants me to do.”

I can understand why this is a first reaction to the complexity of content management. There are so many issues and factors to consider. From business problems to content architecture, existing systems that require migration and integration, user needs and scenarios, meta-data standards, taxonomy development, work-flow processes, governance, change management and so on. The first time you are going through this, it is overwhelming.

But choosing a tool before understanding exactly what you need can create at least three major problems:

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“Just tell me the answer”: the challenge of stakeholder engagement

Recently, a client declined the opportunity to review some work we were doing. When we submitted the project, we did so with the caveat that the taxonomy needed to be validated and that we needed a half day from the subject matter experts.

The client said “no, we can’t do that – they don’t have the time”.

I explained that we had to make a number of assumptions about the taxonomy and how it would be integrated into content strategy. We needed to discuss these issues and talk about the choices that could be made and the alternatives available. This still met resistance. They said “you are the experts – just tell us how to do it. Rather than asking us, just tell us the answer.”

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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
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Keeping Projects on Track

Just last week, a colleague asked me to run down a few of my experiences about projects that go awry. Here are a handful that we have observed:

1. Inconsistent team participation – This is especially true of longer term projects. One of the worst things that can happen is to have team members turn over. So much of a project is about context and getting people to share a common understanding of the problem and solution. When team members (whether internal people or external resources) turn over, it is very difficult to achieve a consistent understanding of that context and the direction of the project.

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