Typology may set better expectations than Taxonomy

I’ve always struggled with the “MECE” (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive) promises of taxonomies.

It can be easy to confuse a Department in the HR reporting structure called “Logistics” with the corporate Function for “Logistics”.  In my practical experience the Function of Logistics is useful where staff from other business or administrative groups may be the primary actors in the delivery of some specific activities in the overall process.

Despite the best efforts of IM Pros to follow traditional scientific notions of classification, in the business world there is rarely the time to ensure that (1) a domain/set of terms truly represents the whole picture and (2) each entity/term in the set is both unique and useful.  Therefore what we call “taxonomies” often actually contain terms that have some pragmatic messy degree of overlap.  Often this is good because it allows us to maintain an ROI in our metadata, and it’s good enough to reach a silver level of compliance.  We just need to expect to have to roll with the punches when new information is provided by the business that requires the addition of new functions, activities, terms, etc.

To that point I was pleased to discover this well written blog post by Dave Snowden (formerly of IBM) http://cognitive-edge.com/blog/typology-or-taxonomy/ In case that page disappears off the interwebs here is the summary to get you thinking:

“The message is very simple rigid boundaries have huge value in static situations so taxonomies work. But where things are subject to rapid change and the possibility of encountering novelty is high they are plain dangerous. However we do need constructs to make sense of the world and that is where conceptual frameworks, or typologies come into their own.”

Hope this helps you in your business communications!