Taxonomy and Agile: Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together
I was fortunate to attend Taxonomy Boot Camp for the first time this past November, but unfortunately missed one of the more unusual programs of the session: Ahren Lehnert‘s presentation on Agile for Managing Taxonomy Projects.
For folks who aren’t familiar with agile, it’s a suite of methodologies typically used for managing software development projects. These methods share some common notions about what it takes to build effective working software which upend a number of assumptions guiding older standards for project management.
Lehnert shows how agile approaches can be of benefit to taxonomy management projects. He notes that they share a lot in common with software development work, notably a need for continuous improvement and an evolving understanding of user requirements over time. His presentation keys into a couple things I’m passionate about: agile methods and robust taxonomy change management practices. (Hey, we can’t always choose our passions.)
Having spent a few years practicing taxonomy development and management projects in agile environments (not to mention being a member of an agile development team tasked with building a taxonomy management application), I will add that it often helps to be on the same wavelength that your developers are on. When developers and business stakeholders haven’t defined in advance how metadata values will be consumed by applications and displayed on web pages, or even which values are supposed to be available for selection, it does a taxonomist no good to be identifying standards and defining hierarchies. Though it can sometimes be frustrating, taxonomy development needs to keep pace with the broader development path and the discoveries made along the way.
Once a project is done, agile methods can provide a foundation for curating metadata going forward. Too often taxonomies are static products delivered along with code, with no plan, resources, or tools in place for ongoing development. Agile is one way of approaching change management strategically and incrementally, following the same iterative processes used to deliver other quality user experiences.