taxonomy governance

advice, best practice, enterprise content management, taxonomy governance

Effective Taxonomy Governance, Part 1: The Taxonomist’s Role

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The key to successfully creating, implementing and maintaining a taxonomy in an organization is having an effective Taxonomy Governance Plan. The governance plan is the road map that coordinates the efforts of everyone involved as they go through the phases of developing a taxonomy that is fully integrated with the organization’s Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system and becomes part of the daily workflow. The goal of this three-part series is to provide an in-depth look at the taxonomy governance road map for each of the three main teams that need to work in tandem to accomplish this goal: the Taxonomist, the IT/System, and the Enterprise.

Let’s start with the taxonomist.


The Taxonomist’s Role

The taxonomy team is charged with the crucial task of creating the taxonomy. An effective taxonomy governance plan clearly sets the parameters of what domains the taxonomy is going to cover and what it is that the overall project is supposed to accomplish. The governance plan also gives the team the credentials and organizational support that they need to conduct user interviews with key stakeholders and perform the content audit. With the guidance of the governance plan, they are able to focus their efforts on gathering key terms and concepts that should be included in the taxonomy, discovering all of the potential document repositories and content types, and understanding what is important to the people who will ultimately be using the taxonomy.

The content audit and stakeholder interviews inform the creation of the draft taxonomy. This draft taxonomy needs to be reviewed by stakeholders and user testing conducted to make sure that it is on the right track. After this critical review process, the taxonomy is put into the ECM system test environment along with some sample content to ensure everything is working before it goes live and becomes part of the daily workflow.

The implementation is just the beginning of the taxonomy governance process. The users will inevitably need to add new terms to the taxonomy to reflect the changing nature of their work. The governance plan needs to address the process for adding new terms to the taxonomy. The taxonomy team will receive requests to add new terms and make the determination of whether to add the requested term or not. There will be pushback from some stakeholders who may not be happy with the taxonomist’s decision, and the governance plan must address how to resolve these conflicts.

Once the taxonomy has been created and has been implemented, there will be reports and metrics to monitor how it is being used. The taxonomy team is on the front line seeing how the users are interacting with the taxonomy and their input is critical in determining the next steps that are necessary to make improvements.

advice, best practice, Posts, SharePoint, SharePoint 2010 taxonomy, SharePoint 2013, taxonomy governance

Friday Afternoon Tips: 5 Key Questions about Taxonomy Governance in SharePoint

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Some clients have said they don’t even know how to ask the right questions about taxonomy governance. Based on the Taxonomy Governance for SharePoint guide (see more in our Store), here are five key things to think about regarding governance and your taxonomy in SharePoint:

1. Why is a taxonomy necessary? A taxonomy (or a collection of taxonomies) provides a foundation for how a company can control and use terms and vocabularies across all of its assets and content/information systems.

2. How long does it take to create a taxonomy? An initial taxonomy can be created in as little time as a month, but most take 2-3 months to establish and many more months to be fully integrated into one or more systems (e.g. SharePoint).

3. Why does a taxonomy need governance? Taxonomies can grow rapidly and can quickly become outdated or unnecessarily complex unless some kind of rules and processes are in place to help with control and planned growth.

4. What kind of governance ‘model’ is best? Of the three main types of governance models (defined below) – centralized, decentralized, autonomous – in most cases the best is a decentralized approach that works best for growing and maintaining a taxonomy.

5. Who’s going to maintain it? For those without the services of a professional taxonomist or trained knowledge manager, maintenance can be accomplished with shared responsibilities within the existing staff. The harder part is how the taxonomy should be maintained and even expanded and improved over time.


SharePoint, SharePoint 2010 taxonomy, SharePoint 2013, taxonomy governance, Uncategorized

Taxonomy Governance for SharePoint guide now available!

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Taxonomy Governance CoverThis nearly 100-page, hands-on guide to taxonomy governance in SharePoint 2010 / 2013 is now available in our Store. Also includes links to 15+ videos that show the ideas in action.

Designed for anyone responsible for maintaining a taxonomy in the SharePoint Term Store, this guide will get you started on governance and help keep your taxonomy up to date and useful once it’s launched.

Don’t let your SharePoint taxonomy investment go to waste! Use industry standards, policies and procedures and best practices for taxonomies.

advice, enterprise content management, taxonomy governance

Effective Taxonomy Governance, Part 3: The Enterprise’s Role

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by Brian LeBlanc, Term Management Taxonomist

The key to successfully creating, implementing and maintaining a taxonomy in an organization is having an effective governance plan. The governance plan is the road map that coordinates the efforts of everyone involved as they go through the phases of developing a taxonomy that is fully integrated with the organization’s enterprise content management (ECM) system and becomes part of the daily workflow. The goal of this three-part series is to provide an in-depth look at the taxonomy governance road map for each of the three main teams that need to work in tandem to accomplish this goal: the Taxonomist, the IT/System, and the Enterprise.

Previous posts in the series addressed the role of the taxonomist and the role of IT and the system. Let’s now conclude with a look at the role of enterprise.


The Enterprise’s Role

The enterprise team has the crucial role of creating, promoting, and enforcing the taxonomy governance plan itself. The enterprise team includes the taxonomy champion, the project manager, and key leaders who back the project. They are the people who see the big picture of what the taxonomy project is all about and they need to convince everyone in the organization to sign on and contribute to its success.

At the heart of the enterprise team’s work is the convening of the governance committee. This team will create the statement of purpose for the entire project, which will guide the creation of the taxonomy governance document. The governance document should clearly explain the purpose, the timeline, and the expectations of the project.

Once the governance document has been created and is in use, the enterprise team will switch to monitoring the work being performed, promoting the initiative, and making sure it gets the cooperation of key stakeholders.

After the taxonomy and ECM system implementation, governance shifts to focusing on the rules regarding how terms will be added to the taxonomy. The taxonomy team will inevitably get pushback from various stakeholders demanding that their terms be added. If the governance team is not there to referee and enforce the rules, then the taxonomy could be overloaded with too many terms.

Once the taxonomy has been implemented in the ECM system, it is time to look at the results. The enterprise team will monitor the results of the implementation and lead the effort to make the needed improvements to the taxonomy.


While a taxonomy project can be started, it is never completed; rather, it is always evolving to meet the needs of the users or risks falling into disuse. An effective taxonomy governance plan defines what needs to happen to successfully launch the taxonomy, but also how to maintain it and make continuous improvements. A successful taxonomy is one that has an effective governance plan in place to help it grow and evolve along with the organization.

(If you are interested in getting a copy of the entire Taxonomy Governance Plan, please contact us.)

advice, best practice, enterprise content management, taxonomy construction, taxonomy maintenance

Creating a Taxonomy Governance Checklist

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Due to the dynamic nature of human language, good taxonomies must grow and change over time in order to remain relevant to their target users: people trying to find information. The life cycle of a taxonomy includes much more than just the initial taxonomy development, and keeping this entire life cycle in mind from the beginning will ensure the long-term success of your taxonomy initiative. The three main life cycle phases are planning, development, and maintenance.

Following a proven strategy, we provide maintenance protocols created with these four core components of governance in mind:

    1. Organizational structure: Who is responsible and has the power to make changes
    2. Processes and procedures: How things get done
    3. Standards, measures, and practices: What is considered good
    4. Tools and solutions : What helps get the job done

The systematic and intentional management of your taxonomy investment is vital to your organization’s goals. In our process, pertinent steps are organized across two domains:

    1. Stage of development (pre-, during, and post-taxonomy implementation)
    2. Role (executive, taxonomy team)

A successful taxonomy allows individual users to find the information salient to their particular positions based on the stage of the taxonomy’s development and the user’s particular role at the organization.

Our taxonomy governance checklist provides a detailed overview of the process we use to create successful taxonomies. Check it out!

Download/view the PDF.

enterprise content management, taxonomy maintenance

Governing a Taxonomy in an Enterprise CMS

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The more time I spend with clients working on taxonomies within a CMS, the more I realize that the real challenge isn’t technical per se (even though CMS platforms out there aren’t really “taxonomy friendly” just yet). It isn’t even designing and building the taxonomy itself, although that does present a lot of challenges and issues. Really, what matters the most in the long run for totally integrating a taxonomy into a CMS is governance.

I know, boring, right? You hear about governance all the time with regard to backend systems or even portal management, for example, but it’s not that exciting a topic. It’s certainly not a big hit in the taxonomy world (yet). Do a search for “taxonomy governance” on this very site and only one hit is returned (well, maybe two once this post is indexed…).

The point is that like records governance or content governance, taxonomy governance can have a huge impact on how well your users can find and use information on your site. Good taxonomy equals great findability, but the taxonomies have to be maintained to be useful and provide relevant search results.

How to do it?

The 4 Core Components

The core components of governance are:

  1. Organizational structure: Who is responsible and has the power to make changes? Who is in charge of the CMS and who can approve how a taxonomy is used within a CMS? This person or these people need to be involved.
  2. Processes and procedures: Are there any current CMS processes and procedures that need to be taken into account? What are the processes and procedures and how would they be applied to a taxonomy?
  3. Standards, measures & practices: What is considered best practices for maintaining the taxonomy within the CMS, and how should it be done? Who’s in charge of keeping the practices up to date?
  4. Tools and solutions: How does the CMS manage and maintain the taxonomy? Manually or automatically? Are there steps and processes to consider for using the CMS to maintain the taxonomy?

A Model

When we are working a project with a client, here’s a model that we start with as we explain the value of using a taxonomy within a CMS:


Note that most of this is outside of the CMS system. It’s about people and processes and how your company wants to govern its data and information.

Although this diagram looks complicated, considering taxonomy is really a small part of an overall CMS implementation. Once you make the commitment to use a taxonomy to govern terms, you’ll need to set up something like this to keep it controlled. Or, as is the case in SharePoint 2010 with enterprise keywords, your users will start to create their own folksonomies of unofficial terms and use those instead.

I’ve seen this use of “unofficial” terms sidetrack a company more than once, since there is little control of the (mis)use of enterprise keywords. Most companies have a vague idea about this kind of information governance. Some companies have their information governance locked down and do a great job of managing how their information is created, managed and published in a CMS. You’re probably somewhere in between, right?

Time to Start Thinking

If so, and you’re planning to integrate a taxonomy into your CMS, be it SharePoint, OpenText, Drupal, whatever, it’s time to start thinking about how your taxonomies are going to be governed. The diagram above is a simple start, but there needs to be more formalized governance processes and procedures implemented. It doesn’t take too long to do it, maybe 3-4 weeks, but it can make a huge difference when your users are able to perform a search and find a document or piece of information that is relevant and timely for them.

enterprise content management, taxonomy maintenance

Featured Service: Taxonomy Governance Planning

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Developing and implementing a company-wide taxonomy can represent a significant investment for an organization, and once integrated, the taxonomy must remain current if it is to constantly and consistently deliver value. This requires careful management of the taxonomy. A solid governance plan will help you to keep your taxonomy relevant and up-to-date—and to maximize your investment.

Taxonomy governance doesn’t have to be hugely demanding effort; as long as the right model is chosen and some simple well-constructed policies and procedures are instituted, it can actually be quite easy. Since many companies don’t keep a taxonomist on staff, a sound model can also make governance a team effort that doesn’t place too great a burden on any one group.

Here’s a preview of the steps in our Taxonomy Governance Planning process:

Step 1 – Taxonomy Overview

  • Taxonomy types and models – To understand the short- and long-term requirements for your taxonomy, first know what kinds of taxonomies are relevant for your company and how they improve search, findability, and information organization.
  • Type of governance – After a review of your company’s approach to governing information, develop an appropriate taxonomy governance model that allows you, if necessary, to effectively distribute governance responsibilities

Step 2 – Taxonomy Development

  • Step-by-step development – Detail taxonomy development with instruction on constructing and editing a standardized taxonomy for use in multiple information management systems.
  • Technical implementation – Plan for developing the taxonomy within your company’s asset management system.

Step 3 – Taxonomy Maintenance

  • Teams, roles, and responsibilities – Identify roles involved in the long-term maintenance and strategic growth of the taxonomy within the company.
  • Policies and procedures – Review, select, and build a set of templatized governance policies and procedures.

Step 4 – Taxonomy Growth

  • Short- and long-term planning – Plan how to stabilize the taxonomy after its initial launch and consistently scale it, in the future, across more areas of the company
  • Cross-channel integration – Investigate how multiple business units can take advantage of the taxonomy.

Learn more: download/view our Taxonomy Governance Planning datasheet

enterprise content management, taxonomy construction, taxonomy maintenance

Featured Service: Enterprise Taxonomy Implementation

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Planning, building, and implementing a taxonomy, which requires understanding users’ needs, can serve a company’s needs for today and tomorrow by helping it to deliver an improved search and navigation experience for everyone.

 A company may have a general idea of what it wants to accomplish with an enterprise taxonomy, but it may not be aware of all the details critical to developing and implementing a taxonomy that will make the most of its investment. There are teams to assemble, technologies to use, timelines to create, and budgets to approve, certainly, but it must also consider how to best govern and grow the taxonomy for the future.

Here’s an outline of how we roadmap an entire enterprise taxonomy implementation

Step 1 – Research and Auditing

  • Interview subject matter experts – SMEs help provide an understanding of the terms that should go into the taxonomy.
  • Audit content – Collect and analyze content to construct a taxonomy with the right mix of terms to use as tags, for manually tagging and autoclassification.
  • Review existing taxonomies – Identify any existing informal taxonomies in the company to help build out the formal enterprise taxonomy

Step 2 – Building and Testing

  • Creating the initial draft – Assemble as many relevant terms as possible for the first draft.
  • Subject matter expert review – SMEs must have chance to review and guide final development of the initial draft.
  • Revisions and testing – First version of the taxonomy is tested in informal technical setting with end users and revised based on its ability to tag and retrieve content.

Step 3 – Technology Integration

  • Import into Technology – After user and systems testing, taxonomy is revised for adaption and integrated into the technology.
  • Testing within search system – Results page may need to be redesigned to take advantage of newly tagged content.

Step 4 – Governance and Growth

  • Policy planning and development – Identify people to work on the taxonomy and create policies to manage it for long-term stability and growth.

Learn more: download/view our Enterprise Taxonomy Implementation datasheet

enterprise content management, taxonomy maintenance

Taxonomy Governance Planning – Quickstart Tips

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Taxonomy Planning

Want a copy of the full taxonomy governance planning diagram featured above? Email us for details.

Building a taxonomy is fun and exciting! Right? Well, actually it takes a lot of hard work and coordination between many different people within an organization. And once it’s “done” (which it never is) someone’s got to step up and maintain the beast, especially if it’s immediately put into action within a system like SharePoint or a DAM platform.

But how to start? Follow the tips below and you’ll be on your way to managing and maintaining a taxonomy plan long term:

  • Get one or two people really excited about it within the organization: It will probably not be their job, but someone’s got to take charge of the taxonomy and write some initial set of rules to govern it. Think about Heather Hedden’s book and find “the accidental taxonomist” on your staff.
  • Write a mission statement for the taxonomy. Everyone needs to know why the taxonomy exists and what its purpose is for being used within the organization. Publish this on a SharePointTeam Site or local project site and make sure you’re able to point to it when others, like grumpy executives or accounting people, try to understand why they’re spending money on a taxonomy.
  • Set up a super simple new term approval process. We all love workflow processes (!) but keep your term approval process simple at first. You want to get people contributing new terms to your taxonomy, and they won’t do it if there’s a 30-step approval process.
  • Hire a PT taxonomist. Seriously, you’re not going to be able to maintain your taxonomy long term without someone who knows what they’re doing. There are a few freelance taxonomists out there who can do the work.
  • Always use a taxonomy maintenance tool. Keeping your taxonomy in an Excel spreadsheet is going to last about a week. Then you realize you need a proper tool to maintain and grow the taxonomy across the org. It’s not that expensive to get a taxonomy maintenance tool in place. The bigger cost would be not having a tool in place and wasting time on building out a taxonomy governance model in the first place.

If you’re interested in taxonomy governance models, contact us and we’ll send you a copy of the taxonomy governance model diagram we’re working on.

enterprise content management, taxonomy construction

Featured Service: Taxonomy Services Planning

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Most information workers understand the need to quickly find and access the information they’re looking for. However, most information systems (like an intranet) aren’t organized as well as they should be to make this happen. Taxonomy services can help a company understand what kinds of information it has and how to organize it into topics and areas with terms and keywords that make sense for users and help everyone find what they need.

Saving users’ time makes a company’s information that much more valuable, and engaging a taxonomist—a relatively low cost—can save a company time and money on both new projects and existing web sites.

Before committing to a complete taxonomy design, a company may want or need a roadmap to determine the extent of its need and help estimate the cost of a taxonomy solution. With our Taxonomy Services Planning offering, we can put such a roadmap into a client’s hands after a three-day initial engagement in which we examine a company’s content, user needs, and how a taxonomy will benefit the client.

Here’s an outline of the process:

Day 1 – Content Audit

  • Sample existing content types – Uncover and list common types of content to help identify key concepts and keywords to be used later in taxonomy construction.
  • Interview key stakeholders – Identify and interview 4-5 key stakeholders who understand users’ information needs and can help prioritize content for classification and search.

Day 2 – Needs Analysis

  • Classify content samples – Organize key content into common types that can be used to establish initial automatic classification.
  • Prioritize user and system needs – Determine user needs and prioritize in conjunction with technical system requirements.

Day 3 – Taxonomy Evaluation

  • Determine taxonomy value – Evaluate how a taxonomy would help organize user content and how a classification would increase its findability.
  • Prioritize next steps – Prepare a prioritized list of steps to take to effectively implement a taxonomy solution.

And afterwards:

Weeks 2-24 – Ongoing maintenance

  • Once an initial taxonomy has been implemented, it must undergo ongoing maintenance. Our maintenance plan includes scheduled meeting with stakeholders, search log analysis, continued end user interviews, and cross-department reviews.

Learn more: download/view our Taxonomy Services Planning datasheet