Designing your taxonomy is the hardest thing you’ll have to do for your SharePoint project. The correct definition will inevitably mean the difference between success and failure, and alignment between your corporate road map and strategic objectives is critical. As your standard business language, your taxonomy must be all encompassing but provide a strong foundation for corporate growth. A question that comes up early and often in a project is that of taxonomy: What is it, how does it work, and how do we “get a good one”?

Taxonomy should be very straightforward and is easily understood across business lines regardless of your position, role or department. Taxonomy is the common business language that logically classifies and categorizes information and data across your organization.

For example, if I were speaking to 200 people and said the word “coffee,” everyone in the room would understand what I meant. Therefore, coffee could be a term in your taxonomy because it is commonly understood and accepted. From that single term, many other variations could be made regarding a favorite drink or method of making it, but the foundation would never change. For all you Starbucks lovers, even a venti-2 splenda-blonde-misto is still coffee, it just has some additional metadata elements attached to it.

When it comes to a business-level discussion, there are so many different perspectives on business vernacular that defining taxonomy is difficult. To complicate the issue, Microsoft hasn’t done much to offer predefined taxonomy, leaving companies up to their own devices.

At Concatenate, we have created our RealTime Starter Kit as a solution to true out-of-the-box taxonomy at a work management level. This article will provide some insights into that process, and give you some tips to creating your own taxonomy to establish work management success. The process of creating your taxonomy takes a great deal of time and effort to complete. In fact, a 2010 white paper stated that it takes approximately 500 hours (or US$200,000) to engage a consulting firm to create a business’ taxonomy with proper definition.

When developing your taxonomy, my suggestion is to do so with a technology-neutral approach. This will allow the focus to be put on your business objectives and the creation of taxonomy at an enterprise level. When working with clients on this definition, there are four questions that should be asked: How do you work as a department, as a company and as a business? What does everyone in the organization do the same way? What best practices do you follow? What common work processes do you have in place?

Designing the right SharePoint taxonomy for your business begins with defining standard business rules. Bring your business leaders together and hold a meeting to define your intentions. This will serve as the basis for your information architecture and provide the input necessary to form your governance plan for both the implementation and buy-in long term. With the right people together, begin defining your core work processes, and what you already know you do well and often.

Our project management taxonomy and content types were defined by analyzing our methodology and mapping those processes to each department, department content type, and finally department document set. Obviously, each of these categories is intertwined as they build on each other, which is why the definition of your core business and process is critical. You will also want to be sure that diligence has been completed in order to protect against any issues in the future. Be sure to review and analyze the taxonomy schema to resolve any potential gaps or issues once you have made the initial definition.

SharePoint has many content types and formats to create and choose from when designing your taxonomy. These include documents, images and media, wikis, blogs and discussions, people records, business data, and events. With all of these elements residing in a single system, you have to create and manage these items through a common process. From a management perspective, assigning a librarian or custodian to your taxonomy is strongly suggested. This will be the individual who ensures that your structure is monitored and maintained for consistency. Also, remember that content types are searchable through SharePoint’s search engine, so locating information will always be possible so long as you know how the information was tagged.

Eric is the EVP of Systems Integration for Concatenate, a software firm focused on maximizing SharePoint through product innovation and systems integration based in Toronto. You can reach Eric by e-mail at or on Twitter at @rizinsights. Read his other SharePoint thoughts on his blog at