There are a variety of types of list which have distinct attributes in terms of the design of the taxonomies that go with the lists:
1. Random name based lists
The simplest type of list is a randomly generated alphabetically sorted list of customers, suppliers or other comparable data.
Items are added to the list as business proceeds and there is no logic or control over what gets added to the list.
For such lists it is not possible to develop a taxonomy although it is possible to adopt coding conventions such as first three characters of the supplier name followed by a three digit sequence number for repeat occurrences of that name.
The same approach applies to personnel codes for software access control, etc.
Examples would include STA001 for Standard Bank or RobertJA001 for James A Robertson.
The value of having a standard code format is that references, etc are more consistent and the list appearance is neater and it is easier to manipulate the list electronically.
The number of characters and number of digits would be determined from consideration of the size of the organization and foreseeable growth over say the next ten years. Ease of remembering the code and ease of interpreting the code is also a consideration.
The classification of suppliers, customers, etc will fall under the simple or intermediate validation list category of lists.
2. Project and other time sequential lists
Project lists have the distinct characteristic that the list grows in time with no other logic.
In some cases one might use some intelligence in a prefix such as RJ00175 where the RJ represents projects run by project leader Robertson James (RJ) and 00175 is a sequence number which indicates that this is the 175th project under the control of that project leader.
The number of digits is determined from consideration of the maximum number of projects that can reasonably be foreseen for one project leader in the next ten years or similar.
This code provides a short-hand referencing method that allows transactions such as time sheet entries, purchase orders, etc to be directly linked to the project.
In cases like this I recommend the use of a check digit such that the above example would take the form RJ00175c where "c" represents a check digit that might be the rightmost digit of the sum 1x5 + 2x7 + 3x1 + 4x0 + 4x0 where each digit of the code is multiplied by some factor and the composite code gives rise to a check digit which is a direct function of the numeric elements of the code. In the above example the sum would be 5 + 14 + 3 + 0 + 0 = 22 so the check digit would be 2 (rightmost digit of 22) and the full project number would be RJ001752.
There are more sophisticated algorithms for check digit calculation and check digits can be computed on the alpha component as well if required.
The goal of the check digit is to ensure that if a typing error is made and two digits are transposed during data capture the resulting erroneous number is unlikely to be a valid code. This is important in any situation where high speed, high volume data capture is required and greatly improves data accuracy.
Complex check digit algorithms are used in Credit Card and other bank account number generation.
Note that bank account number generation is a specialized field which is outside the scope of this handbook.
Check digits could also be used with Customer codes and Supplier codes as discussed in the previous section.
Check digits can also be used for sequential detail in Material Master type data at the finer levels of the code where time-sequential data may be recorded.
The classification of projects will be a simple or intermediate validation list.
3. Simple validation lists
Simple validation lists are lists in any location in software where simple classifications occur. Perhaps the simplest example would be Gender – e.g. Male, Female, Unknown for "Gender of purchaser".
This would extend to things like Credit Note Reason Codes, basic classifications of products, etc.
There are innumerable examples of simple validation lists in well-designed software.
These lists may drive software intelligence.
I would classify a simple list as having one or two levels of hierarchy and, by extension, not more than about 50 entries.
In most cases with strategic executive input the content of such lists is finite and can be circumscribed at a level that the list can be built in such a way that it will not change much over time.
4. Intermediate complexity validation lists
Intermediate complexity validation lists are simply more complex lists than the simple lists discussed above.
Examples would include Locations and Functions in the Cubic Business Model and would have between three and five levels of hierarchy.
Intermediate lists can be encountered anywhere in software where reasonably complex data is classified.
As with the intermediate lists the scope can be reasonably clearly defined with strategic executive input taking a medium to long term view of where the business is going.
5. Charts of Accounts
The Chart of Accounts is typically a very specific form of complex list which will tend to have between five and ten levels of hierarchy and between 1,000 and 10,000 entries.
A Chart of Accounts is a distinct taxonomy because its design is based on accounting principles and conventions and for any business its scope is distinct and finite – it is therefore generally possible to build a Chart of Accounts that will last for many years with minor changes PROVIDED the General Ledger is used effectively and the business does not attempt to include excessive evolving detail in the Chart of Accounts.
Notwithstanding the above comment, a well-designed Chart of Accounts taxonomy will accommodate considerable change and growth over many years.
A Chart of Accounts taxonomy will typically be numeric only with occasional exceptions where business considerations indicate that Alpha is required to accommodate specific logic or more than 10 items occur at any level in the hierarchy (generally NOT recommended).
6. Product / Material / Item Master lists / classifications
In most organizations the content of the Product Master, Material Master, Item Master or equivalent list is diverse and complex and complex hierarchies and code schemes result.
These are the most complex lists.
In some cases the Product or Material list will be an open ended random list coded on the basis of EAN Barcode or other random sequence number allocated by suppliers, in this case the logic must be contained in the Product Classification, Material Group or other comparable list.
Product / Material and Item Master lists can include elements of all the other categories of logic and coding listed above.
7. Cubic Business Model
The cubic business model is a multi-dimensional assembly of taxonomies (lists) to model the business and results in a three or more segment compound code scheme comprising business divisions (business units), physical locations, functions and specific accounts picked from the Master Chart of Accounts.
The first three dimensions of this code scheme also apply to the categorization of personnel, assets and other physical elements of the business.
8. Project plan work breakdown structures
Project plans have a very specific logic insofar as they map out the logical progression of a project from start to finish.
Most project plans are NOT designed from the perspective of the management of the project towards an outcome but are designed from consideration of estimating the project in the first place. This is NOT the right approach.
A plan that can be used for management requires a consistently fine level of granularity at the work execution level with work packages that might be classified as "parts, tasks and activities" in reusable modules that take account of the human aspects of project execution. The lowest level activities should have an execution time-span of between one and three weeks so that for monthly progress reporting an activity is either not started, in process or completed and is not in process for more than one month.
This is the only way to really evaluate the progress of a project from a management perspective.
This is over-and-above the application of the principles of precision taxonomies advocated in this handbook.
9. Filing and document classification
Filing and document classification as a standard across an entire enterprise is vital to the longevity of information.
The filing and document classification scheme should apply to the full spectrum of documents generated in an enterprise and should be applied to storage on local and network disk drives, manual filing, etc.
Again there are specific principles to be applied to this genre of classification scheme over and above the principles applied in this handbook.
10. Other lists
To the best of my knowledge the above categories apply to the full spectrum of information that it is required to catalogue and classify information in organizations. Should you identify categories of information that seem to lie outside the above I suggest you look carefully at the possibility that the principles catered for in the above nine categories will somewhere cater for your data.
If you still cannot find a category that applies you are welcome to contact me.
The above categories cater for every type of list and provide a basis for formulating an approach to classifying and coding information.
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