Forum Guide to Metadata
NFES 2009-805
July 2009

Chapter 4. Implementing a Metadata System - Establishing a Project Implementation Plan

A thorough and realistic project plan is critical to an efficient and effective metadata system implementation effort. Planners should recognize the iterative nature of developing and implementing a technology initiative as complex as a metadata system, and budget the time needed to plan, implement, test, and refine the system repeatedly until user requirements are met. The implementation plan and schedule should address all aspects of the project, from planning through post-implementation training. Good plans often

  • start with a basic and understandable feature that stakeholders are likely to care about, rather than a component that may be important, but does not speak clearly to user needs or experiences;
  • build in evaluation time for a "feedback loop" that supports the iterative nature of developing and implementing a technology initiative; and
  • stress extensibility, which allows modules to be expanded or customized after initial implementation has been successful—in other words, once stakeholders have mastered the basics, functionality can be extended to include more specialized capabilities.
A development schedule is only effective if its goals and deadlines are realistic. If they are unattainable and targets are missed, subsequent deadlines lose their credibility.

A project implementation plan should present work in discrete, manageable tasks. For example, mapping a metadata item inventory to all active data elements in a large education data system is a very big job—potentially too big to be accomplished in a single step. Instead, more manageable tasks might be identified and prioritized, such as mapping a smaller set of core metadata items. Another approach might be to divide a large, systemwide mapping job into subtasks based on data categories: student personal information, student enrollment, student assessment, staff personal information, staff assignments, etc. The activities in the implementation plan are then assigned, carried out, monitored, and completed in discrete units that can be understood and undertaken by members of the implementation team.

One special consideration when implementing metadata systems is the coordination required between metadata and existing (or envisioned) data systems. If an organization does not have a clear understanding of its current data—what exists, what format data are in, where they are located, and what quality they are—a metadata system that is dependent on those data is unlikely to provide useful information.

Tried and true tips for developing an implementation schedule

  • Reduce large tasks to more manageable subtasks to keep jobs achievable.
  • View the first attempt at a task that must later be repeated as a pilot effort. Learn from the experience and modify subsequent efforts (and timelines) to reflect lessons learned.
  • Phase in functionality rather than triggering an all-or-nothing event. This may require more time initially, but will reduce wasted effort in the long run when lessons learned in early phases improve subsequent decisionmaking.