Archive for September 2006


Setting Expectations for Taxonomy Efforts

September 30th, 2006 — 7:54pm

Set­ting good expec­ta­tions for the out­comes of a tax­on­omy design effort is often dif­fi­cult. It can be espe­cially if any of the fol­low­ing are true:

  • The goal is to cre­ate an ini­tial tax­on­omy, and no ref­er­ence exists
  • The solu­tion envi­ron­ment the tax­on­omy will “live in” is in flux (own­ers, tools, governance…)
  • The busi­ness scope which the tax­on­omy will address is not well defined
  • Orga­ni­za­tional aware­ness of tax­on­omy con­cepts and is low
  • Orga­ni­za­tional matu­rity and expe­ri­ence with man­ag­ing infor­ma­tion archi­tec­tures and meta­data is low

When deal­ing with sit­u­a­tions like these, con­sider chang­ing the empha­sis and goals of the effort to a “tax­on­omy pilot”. This will shift the expec­ta­tions you need to meet from cre­at­ing a production-ready tax­on­omy that can stand on its own some­thing more rea­son­able, such as an interim tax­on­omy that effec­tively solves a lim­ited scope prob­lem, while set­ting in motion a well bal­anced tax­on­omy effort likely to be suc­cess­ful in the longer term.
The objec­tives of a tax­on­omy pilot effort that bal­ances short and long term busi­ness needs in this way could be:

  1. Develop an ini­tial tax­on­omy to solve a spe­cific and prefer­ably small problem
  2. Pro­vide a con­crete exam­ple tax­on­omy to use in a spe­cific imple­men­ta­tion or environment
  3. Pro­vide an oppor­tu­nity to eval­u­ate the impact of a tax­on­omy on a user experience
  4. Serve as a scop­ing exer­cise that sheds light on the costs of an ongo­ing tax­on­omy sys­tem design effort (one that will sup­port) the orig­i­nal expec­ta­tions and busi­ness scope
  5. Eval­u­ate and choose tech­niques, tools, stan­dards, and processes for design­ing fur­ther tax­onomies and vocabularies
  6. Pro­vide real expe­ri­ence with the orga­ni­za­tional impact of sup­port­ing a tax­on­omy effort — tax­on­omy projects usu­ally imply busi­ness change

The project plan for a pilot tax­on­omy effort aim­ing to achieve the objec­tives above should fur­ther a cul­ture of learn­ing, rather than scope of accom­plish­ment. This kind of plan would:

  • Estab­lish fre­quent check­points that bring all inter­ested par­ties together to dis­cuss the process itself, in addi­tion to accom­plish­ments and milestones
  • Cre­ate reg­u­lar forums where tax­on­omy design­ers and busi­ness spon­sors make deci­sions on tools and stan­dards with guid­ance from qual­i­fied experts
  • Incor­po­rate mul­ti­ple iter­a­tions or cycles of user dri­ven review and revi­sion of in-progress taxonomies
  • Include time for the cre­ation of “next time” rec­om­men­da­tions for what to do dif­fer­ently or the same as a group

Of course, it’s not always pos­si­ble to change expec­ta­tions, espe­cially after fund­ing and time­lines are set. When expec­ta­tions are unrea­son­able and set stone, take shel­ter in the inevitable “next ver­sion” and frame the tax­on­omy you’re design­ing as an ini­tial effort that will require sub­se­quent revision…

Comment » | Information Architecture

3 Conferences In October: BarCampNYC2, UI11, IDEA

September 22nd, 2006 — 5:53pm

Prov­ing that it’s good to get out of the house — even if you’ve just moved in — my sched­ule for Octo­ber includes three con­fer­ences, cov­er­ing both coasts.
In order, you can find me at BarCampNYC2, UI11 in Cam­bridge, and IDEA in Seat­tle.
I’m not pre­sent­ing, so I’m hop­ing to relax and enjoy the ses­sions, speak­ers, and inevitable hall­way con­ver­sa­tions with other mem­bers of the IA / UX / design com­mu­ni­ties. If you’re there and you have a minute, say hello!
ps. Did I men­tion that Bruce Ster­ling is speak­ing at IDEA? How cool is that! Seri­ously, I think this is a good exam­ple of con­ver­gence bring­ing fun­da­men­tally related ideas and ways of think­ing into prox­im­ity. It’s also evi­dence that the IA com­mu­nity is in active search of ground­ing to help us build a point of view on what the future holds — for every­one who inhab­its the infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments we help cre­ate, not just ourselves.

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