Managing Taxonomies Like A Pro

Taxonomies have been around for a very long time. In biology, even before technology evolved, taxonomies were defined to group and structure various organisms based on shared characteristics.

Evolving with technology

With the evolution of technology, the approach has been borrowed, and is now used in structuring data and various materials.

SharePoint has been dealing with taxonomies for a long time. Through the use of metadata, taxonomies in SharePoint define the information architecture of a site. This is one of the most important and visible approach to make it easy for users to retrieve a piece of data, or a document. But building complex yet successful taxonomies has always been somewhat of a challenge.

Taking a page from the SharePoint world, and looking inwards to the Dynamics 365 platform, and in particular at the Customer Service app, we find a somewhat slimmed-down version of Taxonomy definition in the Subjects area. You can find it under Settings > Business Management > Subjects.

Subjects definition in Dynamics 365

For those of you that have not really used this feature, this is what allows you to structure Knowledge Base materials. 

Leveraging Subjects in Knowledge Articles

You can also use that same taxonomy for organizing products and cases. For this reason, structuring and segregating the information becomes even more important.

One approach is to structure at the top level by the business context. For example, you could structure your taxonomy by various departments. Or, alternatively, you could structure at the highest level by the categories, like cases, products, services, etc.

Next level down, you can start splitting categories by the target audience. Is this something targeted primarily at support people, or sales people, etc.

These are just examples of possible approaches. All customers are different, and their needs sometimes do not align to a standard framework.

So, how do you build the correct taxonomy for each client?

It all starts with the team. This is the most important step of the process, the success of the entire effort is highly dependent on the quality of the team assembled for this process.

This team must include resources familiar with creating taxonomies, as well as market expertise and product knowledge from the client side. In addition, familiarity with the organization culture and how teams work and need this knowledge is extremely important. You’ve guessed by now, the team is a mixed team, with taxonomy creation experts from the consulting group, and experts from the client side. This is a blend of technical and business resources. Do not underestimate the creation of robust taxonomies. You could be pushing a robust solution, which can easily be ruined by a convoluted taxonomy.

Steps for creating taxonomies

First off, once you have the team in place, start by defining the scope. This definition is a joint effort, and both taxonomy experts and business experts have an equal input.

Next, move into defining the business context. This defines how the taxonomy is to be used, how will it enhance the user experience, and what are the sources making up the final definition.

Finally, move on to the creation of content. Start with the top level scope. This could be a structure by department, geographical region, etc. Next, drill-down and define all the child levels that make sense and align to the business needs and structure.

Finally, define the structure of users that will be leveraging these taxonomies. This will also have a heavy input into how the created structure will be used.

Finally, test and collect feedback. Start with a minimal taxonomy, and test drive it with various groups of interest. Collect feedback, and return to the drafting table to make tweaks.

When the team decides the structure is finalized and satisfied the needs of the organization, move on to creating and organizing the content. This is typically a combination of automated and manual processes.

Ongoing Maintenance

No matter how well your initial taxonomy is structured, as the business evolved, a need for change arises. A taxonomy is not a static product, but rather a work in progress. You should be maintaining and improving your taxonomies on regular basis.

And with that in mind, have fun and do things the right way!

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