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Painting a bridge

December 7, 2010

I’m spending a few cycles digging in to my approach to taxonomy, which I introduced in a previous post (Irrelevant Taxonomies), both to contrast it with how I see taxonomy typically done as well as to solicit feedback, comments, and general heckling from you all out there–nothing like industry scorn to sharpen your ideas, right?

In that post, I introduced a number of dichotomies about relevant versus irrelevant taxonomies; in this series of posts, I’m taking the time to explain more about each of these dichotomies.

That having been said, let’s dive right in to the second dichotomy: strive to be comprehensive vs. strive to address only the highest value/impact areas of the organization.

The tendency to categorize absolutely every workgroup or department in an organization or every document in every workgroup or department is probably the leading indicator that your taxonomy is going to be irrelevant, for a number of reasons.

Most importantly, in the vast majority cases it’s simply not feasible to categorize every document–even for a single workgroup, let alone a department or the entire organization. This is the old saw about painting a bridge: by the time you get done, it’s time to begin at the other end again. A taxonomy effort that strives for full-coverage is in real danger of turning into just such a bridge-painting exercise.

In addition, striving to be comprehensive is a waste of resources, because all information is not created equal at an organization; some information is inherently more important than other information, either because it poses more risk, is more central to operating effectively, and so on. It’s hard enough to get people in a room to work on taxonomy–don’t make it worse by having them categorize documents that are tangential (or irrelevant) to their day-to-day jobs for the sake of completeness.

I introduced an easy way to make sure you’re focusing on the most important documents in my last post, Cereal in the Saucepan. There I argued that a relevant taxonomy should focus on how people work rather than on the documents they work with in order to make sure the resulting taxonomy fits the job to be done. This process focus also helps ensure that the documents you classify are high-value because they’re chosen based on their relationship to a core business process.

So much for focusing on high value/impact areas of the organization to help make your taxonomy more relevant. In the next post, we’ll tackle the issue of application-neutrality, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what folks think about my thoughts, relevant (or even not-so-relevant) taxonomy experiences, or whatever’s on your mind…jump in and let’s get the conversation started.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2010 9:16 pm

    Yours is one of the few blogs I’m actively following. I love taxonomy and am passionate about order. I’m learning from you. Thanks for expanding my mind.

  2. December 14, 2010 6:32 pm

    Thanks, Darrell!

    Appreciate the kind words and having you in the audience.

    Looking forward to hearing what you think of the upcoming posts…



  3. December 15, 2010 6:56 am

    I agree with the author about not wasting resources trying to capture everything; however, consider this … it is doubtful that the implementor/administrator of the taxonomy will know all areas (terms, processes, products, etc.) which add significant value to the organization. What happens when something is made available that has no “current” place to reside in the existing taxonomy? I would argue that there should be a structure in place that would be a capable repository for all eventualities of a particular organization. To that extent a bit of thought must be put forward to establish it at the outset. Again, there’s a balance of “do it all” versus “do just enough” that must be addressed. The best solution, in my opinion, is not at either end but in the middle … somewhere.

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