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Using a framework to define key elements



Last week we discussed the key steps in building a taxonomy. For a quick refresh, every taxonomy consists of four core concepts:

  1. Foundation: Set baseline understanding around the definition and purpose 
  2. Framing: Determine guiding principles for framing the key structure
  3. Fundamentals: Define your terms and how they are used
  4. Fit: Test the efficacy and accuracy of terms and principles

We discussed the first two elements, creating a foundation and framing your guiding principles. Using those concepts, we‘ll dive into the meat of creating your taxonomy, which is defining fundamentals and testing fit. 


With your framing principles in place, you can start building out your fundamental terms and how they connect. This is best done with a whiteboard, some beer, and a decent amount of time. Pending beer, patience will be your saving grace. There are three steps in defining these terms:

  1. Identify terms that are used vaguely or inconsistently
  2. Show relationships across terms, and identify what makes them distinct
  3. Look for gaps to ensure your terms are comprehensive and exhaustive, without overlapping

Here are some easy terms that have a broad set of definitions depending on which role you are in:

  • Program: Application on a computer or Legal agreement with partners?
  • Owner: The person that does the work or the person that make sure it gets done?
  • Solution: A group of products sold together or the answer to a question?

An easy way to start fleshing these out is look at your definition and guiding principles, and clearly define any company or industry specific terms, buzzwords (Anything-as-a-Service), and remove all cases of DBA (Death By Acronym).

When you are defining terms, here are three buckets each one should always have:

  1. Term name
  2. Definition - Be clear, concise and precise
  3. Relationship - How it relates but is distinct -If this is used in conjunction/commonly confused with another term (Discounts vs. Rebates)

Now you need to look for gaps. This is a little like writing down the things you don't know, so you will need to phone a friend and test the fit.


This is the hardest part of the process, and that is showing the world your new taxonomy. You will want to get this into a digestible form, with a slide or section each for your Foundation, Framing and Fundamentals. Think about how you will describe this to someone who hasn't spent days arguing about it, and give them some runway to get up to speed. You will also want to identify the best to discuss with, starting small, typically your nearest peers.

While you review through this, focus specifically on these 3 elements:

  • Accurate - Are the terms clearly defined? Do any terms have circular definitions?
  • Efficient -Do people understand the clarification readily? Are there words that can be removed?
  • Comprehensive - Is anything left implied or undefined?

If you have tried fit testing before, you may have followed a predictable trend of:

  • First few stakeholder meetings go well, general agreement with foundation and framing, minor changes to your fundamental terms
  • You now have 10 more terms than you started with, and have doubled the amount of stakeholders to review with
  • Your initial review timeline has stretched out another month, and you are slowly drafting a dictionary for future generations to complete

Stopping this path requires you to answer two questions before you start:

  1. Who has final signoff that your terms are complete?
  2. Does your framing limit the scope of your taxonomy?

By identifying a final decision maker, you now know who will say “enough is enough.” If YOU are that decision maker, then question 2 is crucial. Using a Venn Diagram approach, outlining “Included in taxonomy” and “Excluded from taxonomy” find terms that lie in the overlap, and strengthen your framing questions until there are no terms remaining that are in that overlap.

You will probably have some changes going through this, be prepared to discuss your thinking but avoid an argument. A discussion will lead to an outcome, and argument leads to a victor. If you have been successful, you will have a team with common understanding and language, with a clear understanding.

Sharing your Taxonomy

Now that you have completed this process, it is time to communicate your taxonomy out. Since this was not a magic trick, make sure to not hide the process. The document you send out should include every element, starting with your foundation (now a value proposition), your framing guidelines, the stakeholders reviewed with, and the key terms your fundamentals defined. With your communications should also be how this taxonomy will impact business processes and reporting, as a tool is only effective when it is used properly. 

Trying to figure out how to align the taxonomy within your organization? Get in touch with us. We'd love to help.

The Spur Group

The Spur Group

Turn customer, partner, and employee experiences into competitive advantages.