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The Taxonomy Campaign

It’s an election year, so what better way to talk about kicking off a successful taxonomy campaign in your organization than comparing it to a political campaignAfter all, we’ve seen that politics are a happy place full of harmony, cooperation, and cool-headed logic, so what could go wrong with such a comparison? Well, 2020, I’m going to make the comparison anyway.

Campaign Donors

The adage goes that one should not discuss politics, religion, or money. Well, I hate to break it to you, but politics and money are necessary subjects to navigate and discuss when running a taxonomy campaign. When deciding about the taxonomy modeling and which software and database to purchase, we might just be crossing the line into religion, too.

Let’s face it: organizations are political. Some are more so than others and some have healthier cultures than others, but it will require the taxonomy campaigner to make alliances, find sponsors, and solicit endorsements. A good taxonomy campaign needs influencer backing and money. It’s rarely the case that the taxonomist, the most likely advocate for taxonomy in the organization, holds the strings to the budget. Not only will you need to make friends and influence people, you will need them to provide you the budget required to purchase taxonomy management software, other systems such as auto-categorization and search, and the resources to set these systems up and maintain them over time.

In my experience, an organization is willing to find budget for systems which make the organization perform better and especially provide return on investment (ROI). Soft ROI, such as time saved and increased efficiency, is easy to explain, but difficult to quantify. Hard ROI, such as money made or cost reduction (hopefully not in headcount!) is hard to link to taxonomy, but easier to quantify. What can you do?

If the time and resources allow, you can conduct information finding exercises in the form of interviews and user testing. For example, ask a user to find the company’s code of conduct or time off process and quantify the results. The answer might be no one can find it or it takes minutes. One measure I’ve used in the past is to take the time spent looking for information in these sessions subtracted from the total working hours in the year (2000) multiplied by the average employee cost. For an engineer who spends 10 minutes a day, 250 working days a year, at $150 an hour bill rate, the result is an almost unbelievable $6,250.00 spent on your employee finding information. And how many engineers does the organization have? When I used this calculation, I had to scale down the numbers just so people would take them seriously.

Even better measures are to tie taxonomy work directly to lost revenue through poor navigation on an e-commerce website, poorly tagged information leading to the plant using the wrong final documents and resulting in manufacturing mistakesfines incurred because records could not be found when they should have been saved and found when they should have been deleted, or any other real-world, tangible event as the result of poor information tagging and retrieval.

Making the ROI tangible will help win you friends and convince them that taxonomy work and its associated costs is worth it.

Build Your Team

Not every taxonomy advocate has a taxonomy team. The taxonomist may be embedded in a larger group, such as knowledge or content management, and it is this team which is usually part of the taxonomy campaign team. You may find in the course of campaigning that you develop a team. This team may have been there from the start or forms by virtue of your active messaging, drawing in believers who want to be part of the process and project.

To be truly successful, the taxonomy campaign team should include all of the roles required to develop a strategy and execute the vision. Along with the taxonomist, a search specialist, members of knowledge management, business and IT representatives, and any other associated system advocates, such as a content management system (CMS) or digital asset management system (DAM), should be included.

When building a team, it’s easy enough to map the people, processes, and technology. Depending on the viewer’s perspective, each of these become equivalent. The taxonomist, the taxonomy and governance procedures, and the taxonomy management system are essentially one. When we think about it this way, and we consider that the taxonomist would fare much better with a strong running mate, then choosing a partner can start from several sources.

Just a few of the many inter-relationships between people, processes, and technologies. 

For example, if there is a C-level executive who sees the value of taxonomy across the enterprise, then you have a clear personality who is your running mate. A strong and powerful advocate in a high position can do a lot for your campaign. Similarly, you may identify a project being pursued by a team in need of a solution. The team could be business unit representatives or other roles sharing a common way of working. Again, a team with an identifiable challenge which taxonomy solutions can address can be powerful advocates.

Finally, seek out related existing and planned projects and work for coordination and alignment. A mission-critical, enterprise-wide system deployment, such as a CMS, can be a running mate. The argument in this case is that taxonomy is foundational to the system’s success since few, if any, offer the robust taxonomy functionality needed for an enterprise deployment. Often, the project, the head of the project, and the technology being deployed are inseparable, and the messaging on which gets the most focus depends only on the audience. Not only that, but you may find your project has just become part of someone else’s larger budget set aside for critical infrastructure and you’ve found your running mate and budget in one.

When choosing a running mate, you may find that, in fact, you are the running mate for a larger campaign. Take it in stride. If your taxonomy mission is not the star of the show, it’s still much better to have your mission succeed on the larger enterprise scale than to go it alone on a smaller proof of concept.

Target Voters (Audience)

In order to define the scope of activities for your taxonomy campaign and communicate out the plans and activities, you’ll need to listen to your audience’s needs and then be able to speak to them to show you understood what you heard. Part of that is knowing your audience. If you take the perspective that taxonomy is good for all in the enterprise, you may not be wrong, but you may not be specific enough to win people over to your way of thinking. You are the taxonomy expert in a sea of people who, potentially, do not know anything about taxonomy or what it can do for the organization. However, operating from your expertise in a vacuum will eventually lead to resistance from people who feel like they weren’t listened to or, worse, not even asked.

You’ll need to identify your audience just like a politician identifies his or her voters. Which voters have you already won over? Which voters are going to put up resistance? Which voters could be persuaded with a clear message impacting and improving their work? Make sure you identify these potential audiences and tailor the message to their needs, some of which you’ll already know but many of which you won’t. You’ll need to do the groundwork to understand their use cases and pain points so you can clearly articulate how taxonomy will address their issues.

Conducting opposition research and understanding which stakeholders are on your side and which aren’t is critical. Try putting together a stakeholder analysis and fill it out with the known parties. While it’s tempting to simply avoid or ignore people opposed to your project, you’ll soon come to regret it when they form a coalition of their own to bury your project before it even gets started. 

Think about the identified audiences as you develop your messaging materials. Develop messaging and communications appropriate to the same kinds of demographics reflected in the world at large and communicate at the right level for the audience. 

Define Your Platform & Get the Message Out

Every good campaign needs a platform identifying issues and messaging the positions. For taxonomy, the issues often include datacontent silos, and disparity; the lack of unified metadata for search retrieval and analytics; and lack of clarity and agreement on terminology and definitions.

Taxonomists know the challenges of communicating the need for taxonomy and how it is used in real-world scenarios. Thus, defining simple, short, consumable textual messages, eye-catching illustrations, and clear infographics and images are key to developing quick understanding of the issues and how taxonomy addresses them. Messaging should be agreed upon by the larger team, advocates, and champions and, if taxonomy is part of a larger project, the message should uphold the greater mission statement.

Be sure to target your message to the appropriate audience. Sell the business benefits of the taxonomy to the business users. Communicating your platform might be as literal as selling the technology benefits of the taxonomy management technology platform to the system users and IT administrators. Having the right message for the right audience will be critical in developing understanding and support.

Once the messaging is developed and vetted, it’s time to communicate your platform to a larger audience. To do so, you really should have a carefully thought out project communications plan detailing what, how, when, and to whom you are communicating. More often than not, the messaging is limited to an internal audience as any front-end taxonomy work is relatively unknown to consuming end-users.

Like any modern campaign, the way messages are conveyed is only limited by the channels you have available to you and whether they are approved for use. One of the most effective campaign messaging methods is door-to-door canvassing. In-person messaging in the form of one-on-one meetings and workshops (campaign rallies) attaches the project to the person and allows for developing personal relationships. Communicating directly is a grassroots plan leveraging your champions and allies who will likely be more than happy to speak on your project’s behalf.

Messaging via the Intranet and any social media channels are also great ways to give energy to the campaign, reach a larger audience, and link out to campaign materials. The Intranet may be tightly controlled by Communications and/or Marketing, so be sure you work with these groups and give them the same convincing, targeted messaging you provided to other groups. Whether they are direct consumers or beneficiaries of your taxonomy project or not, they need to understand it to give it the attention it deserves. Remember, you’ll be competing with other very important corporate messaging to be hear on your company Intranet, so plan in advance on how and when you’ll get your turn at the podium. Having the Intranet as your communications platform will be as important before the project kicks off as after it has been launched, so keep that team engaged and on your side.

Get the Votes 

It’s election day! You’ve worked hard to win over skeptics, build allies, and clearly communicate the value of taxonomy. Now comes the voting. What does voting look like in a taxonomy project? It could be literally voting for the taxonomy management software and getting approval for purchase from those who will use the software directly, those who will use it indirectly through systems integrations, and those who must maintain it. Voting may come in the form of the success (or, the dreaded failure) of a proof of concept project which shows the value of taxonomy. You might even find yourself the victim of your own success wherein people vote with their projects, wanting them included in the building or use of the taxonomy. You may find yourself pleasantly overwhelmed with a landslide victory which hopefully sees you in a position to deliver on your campaign promises.

Strangely enough, the principles of the Electoral College and popular voting may be mirrored in your organization. The popular vote may reflect a love for the user experience and interface of a particular taxonomy management software while the Electoral College essentially overrules this vote based on security concerns or interoperability issues brought forth by IT. Likewise, the lofty expectations of business users on what their integrated user interfaces may look like when using taxonomy terms in the CMS or DAM system may hit head on with cold, hard reality when the organization cannot supply sufficient technical and business resources to deliver on the project promises.

These are the challenges and obstacles you’ll continue to face even when you’ve won the election. However, too many taxonomy projects never see the light of day, so consider yourself lucky to have ongoing problems to solve rather than struggling to even get your campaign off the ground. 

Taxonomy 2020!