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Categories: SharePoint

Just compile a taxonomy of organizational units in the SharePoint term store. What’s so difficult about that?

A challenge with taxonomies is that different stakeholders need them arranged in different ways. What seems like one taxonomy is often actually several different arrangements of the same basic elements: Sites by Geography, Sites by Business Unit, Sites by Department, and so on. Information workers need taxonomies that usefully categorize their information in the context of their role in the organization, so we give them each what they need and, next thing we know, we have 5 taxonomies that are similar but not the same.

Then the head honcho walks in and says “I want a dashboard/workflow/search/integration that operates by site. You folk have been categorizing all this information by site, right?” Uh ... well ... yes, but I’m afraid the system has 5 different notions of site.


Here's a text book nugget that Information Systems students learn.


I am still frequently amazed by its far-reaching consequences in large organizations. Honouring this principle empowers the use of information in flexible ways. Neglect it and bad things will happen downstream.


I'd like to put forward the following as a SharePoint good practice that can help to retain flexibility without sacrificing integrity.

  1. Maintain base term sets that lend themselves to re-use
    • These term sets are simple but serious.
    • Examples: Flat term sets of company locations, commodities, products, customers.
    • They should be kept uncontroversial in nature – avoid arranging them into hierarchies unless those hierarchies are obvious to all stakeholders.
    • Place these in well locked-down term groups. Good maintenance is a big deal.
    • They should correspond to the organization’s master lists. The maintainers should respect the authoritative sources and keep the term sets aligned with them. Automation can help but someone who cares is the key.

  2. Compose variant taxonomies from those base lists
    • These taxonomies are much more flexible. Variety is cool.
    • Make use of SharePoint’s re-use and pinning facilities. Site Xyz can be re-used in 3 different term sets, each in a hierarchy that makes sense for their context.
    • Compose the perspectives the organization needs, from the trusted building blocks.




Here is a fictitious but practical example.


This way, the identity of the terms is preserved regardless of where they are consumed. You can rest easy knowing that as content is tagged across your SharePoint landscape, using different taxonomies, common real-world things can still be reliably recognized.