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Taxonomy Disaster Stories

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  • Patrick Lambe
    I ll be leading a session at the SLA annual conference in San Diego this coming June on Taxonomy Disaster Stories . I have a couple of examples of my own to
    Message 1 of 8 , Mar 3, 2013
      I'll be leading a session at the SLA annual conference in San Diego this coming June on "Taxonomy Disaster Stories". I have a couple of examples of my own to share but thought it might be more interesting from a sharing and learning point of view if I put this topic out there for folks to share their own experiences/mistakes/accidents/nightmares-come-true/impossible challenges.

      I suggest two options:

      (a) If it's something you don't mind sharing in public, feel free to post your example(s) here.

      (b) If it's a story that's a little sensitive email me your example offlist at plambe@... with identifying information removed from the anecdote (though it would probably be useful to know the organisation type and size), and I undertake not to disclose the source or geography of the example.

      If we get a good enough range of examples, I'll attempt a summary and propose some "lessons learnt" for discussion here.

      Thanks in advance!

      P

      Patrick Lambe
      Partner
      Tel: +65 62210383





    • Patrick Lambe
      ... Patrick Lambe Partner Tel: +65 62210383 website: www.straitsknowledge.com weblog: www.greenchameleon.com book: www.organisingknowledge.com Have you seen
      Message 2 of 8 , Mar 5, 2013
        Here's a contribution from a list member:

        I can share a story with you. Despite the subject line, I prefer to think of it as a lesson learned than horror story.

        I've been involved in the biz of general info work, abstracting, indexing, etc. since 1995. As I got more experienced with thesauri (before "taxonomy" took over) in my early years, I studied, learned, and embraced Z39.19--essential in my work context. I had to do a taxo for a budding online info site pertaining to certain state-by-state regulations, for access in the field by any device. The taxo I created was totally Z39.19 compliant, gorgeous, comprehensive, informative, fully reflecting the authoritative info source. The only problem was that it was presented entirely differently from the way the domain pros conceived of the information. I remember a disbelieving question: "what is this?" Fortunately that wasn't the reason why the project fizzled, but it became a lasting lesson to follow the standard as an ideal and guideline, but to be pragmatic and not so stuck that you forget the importance of first serving the customer/stakeholders/end users.

        We live, we learn....to take guidelines with a grain of salt.


        Patrick Lambe
        Partner
        Tel: +65 62210383





        On Mar 4, 2013, at 2:26 PM, Patrick Lambe wrote:

        I'll be leading a session at the SLA annual conference in San Diego this coming June on "Taxonomy Disaster Stories". I have a couple of examples of my own to share but thought it might be more interesting from a sharing and learning point of view if I put this topic out there for folks to share their own experiences/mistakes/accidents/nightmares-come-true/impossible challenges.

        I suggest two options:

        (a) If it's something you don't mind sharing in public, feel free to post your example(s) here.

        (b) If it's a story that's a little sensitive email me your example offlist at plambe@... with identifying information removed from the anecdote (though it would probably be useful to know the organisation type and size), and I undertake not to disclose the source or geography of the example.

        If we get a good enough range of examples, I'll attempt a summary and propose some "lessons learnt" for discussion here.

        Thanks in advance!

        P

        Patrick Lambe
        Partner
        Tel: +65 62210383

        <SKlogo10anniv150.jpg>





      • Patrick Lambe
        Here s one of my stories, taken from my book Organising Knowledge: In one very large organization we worked with, the corporate taxonomy team were working on
        Message 3 of 8 , Mar 5, 2013
          Here's one of my stories, taken from my book Organising Knowledge:

          In one very large organization we worked with, the corporate taxonomy team were working on an enterprise wide taxonomy and a knowledge portal. A year into the project, they started bumping into other similarly semi-mature projects emerging out of the woodwork, that had developed competing category systems: a project to collate all the organization’s policy papers into one repository; a collaboration platform for projects involving internal staff and external partners, structured according to another category system; an intranet development project that involved allocating content management responsibilities according to another set of categories; a workflow development application that presented documents to users in a completely different way from the knowledge portal; a new information security policy that allocated access privileges based on another set of categories.

          It was obviously too late to call a halt and try to integrate these different perspectives into the corporate taxonomy, so they had to settle for (i) mapping the competing category systems to the corporate taxonomy via a thesaurus (ii) developing taxonomy development and extension guidelines to reduce the differences between the competing systems (iii) resolving the biggest vocabulary conflicts through negotiating a common standard. In this case, many of these projects had been sponsored and championed by the same senior managers. As is so often the case in infrastructure projects, they simply didn’t see the connections. So you may have to probe your project sponsor on what else might be going on, because they might not be aware of the potential relevance of such projects.



          Patrick Lambe
          Partner
          Tel: +65 62210383





          On Mar 4, 2013, at 2:26 PM, Patrick Lambe wrote:

          I'll be leading a session at the SLA annual conference in San Diego this coming June on "Taxonomy Disaster Stories". I have a couple of examples of my own to share but thought it might be more interesting from a sharing and learning point of view if I put this topic out there for folks to share their own experiences/mistakes/accidents/nightmares-come-true/impossible challenges.

          I suggest two options:

          (a) If it's something you don't mind sharing in public, feel free to post your example(s) here.

          (b) If it's a story that's a little sensitive email me your example offlist at plambe@... with identifying information removed from the anecdote (though it would probably be useful to know the organisation type and size), and I undertake not to disclose the source or geography of the example.

          If we get a good enough range of examples, I'll attempt a summary and propose some "lessons learnt" for discussion here.

          Thanks in advance!

          P

          Patrick Lambe
          Partner
          Tel: +65 62210383

          <SKlogo10anniv150.jpg>





        • Patrick Lambe
          Here s another anonymised contribution - some resonances with Chloe s ... Patrick Lambe Partner Tel: +65 62210383 website: www.straitsknowledge.com weblog:
          Message 4 of 8 , Mar 7, 2013
            Here's another anonymised contribution - some resonances with Chloe's challenge a week or so back:

            When working in the Asian office of a global company in the late 1990s, I built up a traditional hierarchical 3-level taxonomy applied to file shares that was reasonably successful.  It was based on file-plans that we had been building since 1990.  We centralized the creation of all folders in 9 countries against the taxonomy with web-page request forms, local and central approval and actual folder creation done by technology people in Australia.  The vast majority of end-users were positive about this approach.  They were from all parts of the world, about 1,000 users.

            I transferred in in the early 2000s to the European HQ as the global head for Records and Information Management.  They had no RIM program at the global HQ with 2,000+ employees.  I tried to convince a group of senior functional heads (Finance, IT, Operations, Logistics) that they needed a taxonomy.  They hated the idea.  They said it would never work with Europeans, only Asians would be so "obedient".  After 2 years I was exhausted.  I had sourced a RM system for paper records and installed it with a classification system I was careful to never call 'taxonomy'.  It wasn't very accurate because I wasn't allowed to do the requirements interviews, analysis of existing classification schemes, validation tests with small groups of users that had all together worked well in Asia.  At the HQ it was all by stealth and in the end I was just guessing what would work.  

            Taxonomy, metadata, facets, classification, controlled vocabulary all speak to control (I know some of these are synonyms).  Executives know there will be lots of pushback so they don't want to support these approaches.  They like the IT vendor who comes in and says it can all be done transparently with auto-classification and search.  As taxonomy professionals we know these only work well in conjunction with taxonomy, metadata, facets, classification and controlled vocabulary but the system is purchased and the IT vendor is long gone before someone like us is allowed to make this point to the executives.  

            Now that company has a new global head of RIM, the third since I left.  He recently told me he is trying to convince the management teams to build a global taxonomy for file shares and Sharepoint. How do you sell the idea of a taxonomy to executives who won't listen?

            Patrick Lambe
            Partner
            Tel: +65 62210383





          • Patrick Lambe
            Another anonymised contribution, this time looking at externally facing taxonomy work. What looks like a productive and rational approach doesn t always work
            Message 5 of 8 , Mar 13, 2013
              Another anonymised contribution, this time looking at externally facing taxonomy work. What looks like a productive and rational approach doesn't always work out with the technology or the maintenance implications!

              I was tasked to expand a marketing site's taxonomy to increase their SEO footprint, allow for more refinement, and maintain the specificity of inbound mappings. The taxonomy grew from a few dozen categories to over 500.  

              We are now in the process of removing many of these categories from the site for a variety of reasons but primarily because of the SEO hit the site has taken since Google's Panda update last year. Google's Panda update penalizes thin content pages and we never had a strategy or the resources to populate these category pages with relevant content.

              The lesson learned for me is to really really understand whether the organization can support a large taxonomy because there are 'costs' associated.  We all love the challenge and understand the benefits of growing a taxonomy to better organize information but there are costs associated in terms of maintenance and optimization (remapping content, keeping the categories populated with fresh content, training of staff to be aware of these new categories, etc.). 

              I've witnessed that the benefits of growing the taxonomy to the depth I did (from 2 levels deep and a few dozen categories to 6 levels deep and over 500 categories) didn't outweigh the costs.

              Patrick Lambe
              Partner
              Tel: +65 62210383





              On Mar 8, 2013, at 12:21 PM, Patrick Lambe wrote:

              Here's another anonymised contribution - some resonances with Chloe's challenge a week or so back:

              When working in the Asian office of a global company in the late 1990s, I built up a traditional hierarchical 3-level taxonomy applied to file shares that was reasonably successful.  It was based on file-plans that we had been building since 1990.  We centralized the creation of all folders in 9 countries against the taxonomy with web-page request forms, local and central approval and actual folder creation done by technology people in Australia.  The vast majority of end-users were positive about this approach.  They were from all parts of the world, about 1,000 users.

              I transferred in in the early 2000s to the European HQ as the global head for Records and Information Management.  They had no RIM program at the global HQ with 2,000+ employees.  I tried to convince a group of senior functional heads (Finance, IT, Operations, Logistics) that they needed a taxonomy.  They hated the idea.  They said it would never work with Europeans, only Asians would be so "obedient".  After 2 years I was exhausted.  I had sourced a RM system for paper records and installed it with a classification system I was careful to never call 'taxonomy'.  It wasn't very accurate because I wasn't allowed to do the requirements interviews, analysis of existing classification schemes, validation tests with small groups of users that had all together worked well in Asia.  At the HQ it was all by stealth and in the end I was just guessing what would work.  

              Taxonomy, metadata, facets, classification, controlled vocabulary all speak to control (I know some of these are synonyms).  Executives know there will be lots of pushback so they don't want to support these approaches.  They like the IT vendor who comes in and says it can all be done transparently with auto-classification and search.  As taxonomy professionals we know these only work well in conjunction with taxonomy, metadata, facets, classification and controlled vocabulary but the system is purchased and the IT vendor is long gone before someone like us is allowed to make this point to the executives.  

              Now that company has a new global head of RIM, the third since I left.  He recently told me he is trying to convince the management teams to build a global taxonomy for file shares and Sharepoint. How do you sell the idea of a taxonomy to executives who won't listen?

              Patrick Lambe
              Partner
              Tel: +65 62210383

              <SKlogo10anniv150.jpg>





            • Gary Carlson
              This is an excellent argument for viewing taxonomy work in the context of content strategy or at least understanding the relationship between the two. The SEO
              Message 6 of 8 , Mar 13, 2013
                This is an excellent argument for viewing taxonomy work in the context of content strategy or at least understanding the relationship between the two.  The SEO hit was not a result of a poor taxonomy, it was the result of not having a content strategy to build out the necessary content.


                On Mar 13, 2013, at 7:52 PM, Patrick Lambe wrote:

                Another anonymised contribution, this time looking at externally facing taxonomy work. What looks like a productive and rational approach doesn't always work out with the technology or the maintenance implications!

                I was tasked to expand a marketing site's taxonomy to increase their SEO footprint, allow for more refinement, and maintain the specificity of inbound mappings. The taxonomy grew from a few dozen categories to over 500.  

                We are now in the process of removing many of these categories from the site for a variety of reasons but primarily because of the SEO hit the site has taken since Google's Panda update last year. Google's Panda update penalizes thin content pages and we never had a strategy or the resources to populate these category pages with relevant content.

                The lesson learned for me is to really really understand whether the organization can support a large taxonomy because there are 'costs' associated.  We all love the challenge and understand the benefits of growing a taxonomy to better organize information but there are costs associated in terms of maintenance and optimization (remapping content, keeping the categories populated with fresh content, training of staff to be aware of these new categories, etc.). 

                I've witnessed that the benefits of growing the taxonomy to the depth I did (from 2 levels deep and a few dozen categories to 6 levels deep and over 500 categories) didn't outweigh the costs.

                Patrick Lambe
                Partner
                Tel: +65 62210383

                <SKlogo10anniv150.jpg>




                On Mar 8, 2013, at 12:21 PM, Patrick Lambe wrote:

                Here's another anonymised contribution - some resonances with Chloe's challenge a week or so back:

                When working in the Asian office of a global company in the late 1990s, I built up a traditional hierarchical 3-level taxonomy applied to file shares that was reasonably successful.  It was based on file-plans that we had been building since 1990.  We centralized the creation of all folders in 9 countries against the taxonomy with web-page request forms, local and central approval and actual folder creation done by technology people in Australia.  The vast majority of end-users were positive about this approach.  They were from all parts of the world, about 1,000 users.

                I transferred in in the early 2000s to the European HQ as the global head for Records and Information Management.  They had no RIM program at the global HQ with 2,000+ employees.  I tried to convince a group of senior functional heads (Finance, IT, Operations, Logistics) that they needed a taxonomy.  They hated the idea.  They said it would never work with Europeans, only Asians would be so "obedient".  After 2 years I was exhausted.  I had sourced a RM system for paper records and installed it with a classification system I was careful to never call 'taxonomy'.  It wasn't very accurate because I wasn't allowed to do the requirements interviews, analysis of existing classification schemes, validation tests with small groups of users that had all together worked well in Asia.  At the HQ it was all by stealth and in the end I was just guessing what would work.  

                Taxonomy, metadata, facets, classification, controlled vocabulary all speak to control (I know some of these are synonyms).  Executives know there will be lots of pushback so they don't want to support these approaches.  They like the IT vendor who comes in and says it can all be done transparently with auto-classification and search.  As taxonomy professionals we know these only work well in conjunction with taxonomy, metadata, facets, classification and controlled vocabulary but the system is purchased and the IT vendor is long gone before someone like us is allowed to make this point to the executives.  

                Now that company has a new global head of RIM, the third since I left.  He recently told me he is trying to convince the management teams to build a global taxonomy for file shares and Sharepoint. How do you sell the idea of a taxonomy to executives who won't listen?

                Patrick Lambe
                Partner
                Tel: +65 62210383

                <SKlogo10anniv150.jpg>






              • Patrick Lambe
                Nice observation Gary - we often stress the business strategy as a driver for taxonomy development and take the content strategy for granted. Would you like to
                Message 7 of 8 , Mar 14, 2013
                  Nice observation Gary - we often stress the business strategy as a driver for taxonomy development and take the content strategy for granted. Would you like to say a little more about how you think the two strategies should interact?

                  P

                  Patrick Lambe
                  Partner
                  Tel: +65 62210383





                  On Mar 14, 2013, at 11:18 AM, Gary Carlson wrote:

                   

                  This is an excellent argument for viewing taxonomy work in the context of content strategy or at least understanding the relationship between the two.  The SEO hit was not a result of a poor taxonomy, it was the result of not having a content strategy to build out the necessary content.



                  On Mar 13, 2013, at 7:52 PM, Patrick Lambe wrote:

                  Another anonymised contribution, this time looking at externally facing taxonomy work. What looks like a productive and rational approach doesn't always work out with the technology or the maintenance implications!

                  I was tasked to expand a marketing site's taxonomy to increase their SEO footprint, allow for more refinement, and maintain the specificity of inbound mappings. The taxonomy grew from a few dozen categories to over 500.  

                  We are now in the process of removing many of these categories from the site for a variety of reasons but primarily because of the SEO hit the site has taken since Google's Panda update last year. Google's Panda update penalizes thin content pages and we never had a strategy or the resources to populate these category pages with relevant content.

                  The lesson learned for me is to really really understand whether the organization can support a large taxonomy because there are 'costs' associated.  We all love the challenge and understand the benefits of growing a taxonomy to better organize information but there are costs associated in terms of maintenance and optimization (remapping content, keeping the categories populated with fresh content, training of staff to be aware of these new categories, etc.). 

                  I've witnessed that the benefits of growing the taxonomy to the depth I did (from 2 levels deep and a few dozen categories to 6 levels deep and over 500 categories) didn't outweigh the costs.

                  Patrick Lambe
                  Partner
                  Tel: +65 62210383

                  <SKlogo10anniv150.jpg>




                  On Mar 8, 2 013, at 12:21 PM, Patrick Lambe wrote:

                  Here's another anonymised contribution - some resonances with Chloe's challenge a week or so back:

                  When working in the Asian office of a global company in the late 1990s, I built up a traditional hierarchical 3-level taxonomy applied to file shares that was reasonably successful.  It was based on file-plans that we had been building since 1990.  We centralized the creation of all folders in 9 countries against the tax onomy with web-page request forms, local and central approval and actual folder creation done by technology people in Australia.  The vast majority of end-users were positive about this approach.  They were from all parts of the world, about 1,000 users.

                  I transferred in in the early 2000s to the European HQ as the global head for Records and Information Management.  They had no RIM program at the global HQ with 2,000+ employees.  I tried to convince a group of senior functional heads (Finance, IT, Operations, Logistics) that they needed a taxonomy.  They hated the idea.  They said it would never work with Europeans, only Asians would be so "obedient".  After 2 years I was exhausted.  I had sourced a RM system for paper records and installed it with a classification system I was careful to never call 'taxonomy'.  It wasn't very accurate because I wasn't allowed to do the requirements interviews, analysis of existing classification schemes, validation tests with small groups of users that had all together worked well in Asia.  At the HQ it was all by stealth and in the end I was just guessing what would work.  

                  Taxonomy, metadata, facets, classification, controlled vocabulary all speak to control (I know some of these are synonyms).  Executives know there will be lots of pushback so they don't want to support these approaches.  They like the IT vendor who comes in and says it can all be done transparently with auto-classification and search.  As taxonomy professionals we know these only work well in conjunction with taxon omy, metadata, facets, classification and controlled vocabulary but the system is purchased and the IT vendor is long gone before someone like us is allowed to make this point to the executives.  

                  Now that company has a new global head of RIM, the third since I left.  He recently told me he is trying to convince the management teams to build a global taxonomy for file shares and Sharepoint. How do you sell the idea of a taxonomy to executives who won't listen?

                  Patrick Lambe
                  Partner
                  Tel: +65 62210383

                  <SKlogo10anniv150.jpg>








                • Patrick Lambe
                  Here s another anonymous contribution - a lesson in the importance of preserving team continuity on a large and complex project Taxonomy in Xanadu The project
                  Message 8 of 8 , Mar 31, 2013
                    Here's another anonymous contribution - a lesson in the importance of preserving team continuity on a large and complex project

                    Taxonomy in Xanadu

                    The project was vast in scale, ambitious, with many stakeholders who
                    had many grand visions. Taxonomy was only a small part of the overall
                    plan. I joined the project ten years after the project was first
                    conceived, which should have served as a warning, but because much of
                    those ten years had been spent in proof-of-concept experiments and
                    requirements gatherings, and given the vast size of the organisation
                    and its democratic culture prone to committees and lengthy debating,
                    this did not seem entirely surprising. However, rather like the Greeks
                    at Troy, the ten years of planning and minor skirmishes had begun to
                    take a political toll. One major attempt to deliver had been scaled
                    back at the last minute, many of the original project team had left,
                    and I joined at the point of a re-grouping, re-budgeting, and
                    re-prioritisation exercise. My role was to find a way of integrating
                    existing taxonomies and thesauruses with the new enterprise
                    architecture, but I had no direct control over the project budgets and
                    no direct voice in any of the overall architectural decisions.

                    Nevertheless, at first, all seemed to go well as there was much
                    enthusiasm amongst the technical team and the user interface design
                    team to create a state of the art search and navigation system. The
                    lead technical architect understood taxonomies and taxonomy management
                    software and was experienced in delivering intergrated search
                    solutions. We worked together on software procurement and data
                    migration planning. All went well, the software was acquired and the
                    data migrated successfully into the new taxonomy management
                    application. All that remained was to link it up to the new search
                    engine. However, by this point, other areas of the project were not
                    doing so well and the total time and money spent on the overall
                    project had become of increasing concern to the key stakeholders, who
                    began to question the original vision. Then the technical architect
                    left - strike one.

                    It was decided that in order to save money, the technical architect
                    would not be replaced. The role was passed like a hot potato amongst
                    various people who had other full time roles and little experience of
                    delivering search systems and eventually was simply left unfilled.
                    Meanwhile, a major crisis in an unrelated area of the project had come
                    to light and so all resources were diverted away from the search part
                    of the system, in order to fight that particular fire. The decision by
                    the key stakeholders that search was a lower priority than other
                    aspects of the project became politically impossible to reverse -
                    strike two.

                    The interruption to the work on search led to huge knowledge loss. In
                    a downward spiral of diminishing resources and stakeholder pressure to
                    cut costs, the data analysts and most of the business analysts who had
                    overseen the data migration into the search and taxonomy system left.
                    Almost all of the UI design team left. Most of the technical team,
                    including the programmers, left. Only once the other aspects of the
                    project had been brought under control were we able to return to the
                    completion of the search system. However, by this time the loss of
                    staff had been so great that not only was there no-one on the
                    technical team who knew what they needed to do to deliver a complete
                    search system, but no-one was left who could understand the code that
                    had already been written nor the scant documentation that had been
                    left behind. There was no money remaining in the budget to re-hire any
                    of the original technical team or bring in any new search and taxonomy
                    technicians - strike three.

                    I hope that we can find the money and the technical knowledge to
                    complete the project, as so much of the work that has already been
                    done was sound. However, I fear that once the “Person from Porlock”
                    breaks the flow of such a project, the vision and the knowledge
                    disappear like a dream forever.

                    The End


                    Patrick Lambe
                    Partner
                    Tel: +65 62210383






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