I was recently tasked with creating a file repository for a company currently going through some growing pains. This Company went from being a single main site with some branch offices to a bahemoth in it’s field of excellence. Through Mergers and Aquisitions, there came a need to have a single documentation system to be singular updatable, archivable, locatable file repository.
Again with all my work, I am not trying to sell you a software product, but a methodology to get you to think through what will work best in your organisation. If you want me or my experienced colleagues to take a look at your file system and make suggestions, feel free to contact the wonderful sales team at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk.
There is an interesting paralel between modern file systems used in computing and modern filing systems that bridge the gap between physical items and electronic items. So I am going to give multiple definitions for these words and then let you know which one I am using for the rest of the document.
Item: A thing. This can be a physical thing, a single physical “made from trees” document, an electronic “made from ones and zeros” file, or an organisational unit for any of the above.
Index: A list of one or more items with details such as where it is, what it is, and who is responsible for it.
- One or more items with a discreet index tag
- An Item saved on an electronic file system.
- The act of inserting an item into a filing system
- A physical device for containing zero or more physical documents.
- An organisational unit for electronic Items.
- A place to put Items that do not require rapid retreival, but may require retreival in the future.
- The act of placing an item into long term slow retreival storage.
Bussed : Verb. The number of bus crashes required to stop or severely delay a project or activity. This number should be at least two for business critical activities.
So now you have a whole bunch of things that need to be singular, updatable, archivable, accountable, locatable file repository.
“You are totally unique, just like everyone else.” — Margaret Mead
Let’s start with “Singular”.
I remember starting in a new job. I was asked to compile a list of “All the projects by all the customers that we have on”. I was given very little guidance, and did not understand the filing system as it had not been explained to me yet.
I did what any reasonably tech savvy person would do, I looked at the folder structure of our shared drive and found something that looked about right that had data that was about right. I extracted the data required, made the spreadsheet I had made look pretty, and sent it off. Job done. Or so I thought.
The person who had tasked me with this embarrassed herself greatly, when she handed this work in as her own. The people who read the document, knew that a bunch of the projects named in the report I had made, had been cancelled 6 months ago.
The wrath of the manager on my head was absolute. She cursed me for embarrasing her by giving her the wrong data. Two things saved me that day. Her lack of guidance (Why hadn’t she pointed me to the current data?) and her abrupt realisation that I wasn’t her report. (In fact, two weeks later, she reported to me.)
All a bit embarrasing. This could have been fixed, if there was only a “Single Source Of Truth”. One copy of the data that she wanted from which I could simply point people to.
Every time you create or take receipt of a document, you are entering into a contract to maintain that document for it’s lifecycle. Once you understand that there is a cost, you are going to want to reduce that cost. That is why you should keep documentation sparingly and link to current documentation rather than copy it. It makes sense to make a single entity responsible for a document. If it is in the interests of that entity to keep the document current, so much the better.
If you have multiple systems for filing your items into then you have more actions that a user has to make to file an item. The ideal system files items with as little interaction from the user as possible. Zero is sometimes possible, but two should be an absolute upper limit.
“This too shall pass.” – King Solomon
There are two types of document in this world. One designed to capture a moment in time, and the other designed to keep up with the times. A contract, or completed building plans would be examples of the former. The need from a documentation system is to ensure that these do not change.
The second type of document is the document that moves with the times. That needs updating. Policies, Works in progress, Conversations. These need updating as new information comes to light. These need to be updated by the people who are responsible for them, and those only.
Both of these need two things from time to time. Versioning, so that if a mistake is made then the document you can restore a previous version and continue.
Depending on how you want to do the versioning system, you can use a backup system, or an independant system designed for the purpose.
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” – Bill Shakespere
There is a need to ensure that someone is responsible for the decisions for any given document. They need to be able to make decisions regarding it. Permissions ensure that only the people who should see, edit, archive or delete a document can.
Archive or Remove? This decision should be made by your legal department and NO ONE ELSE. “Lunch room lawyers” can become a serious drag on resources. Archiving that which does not need to be archived is costly in maintaining the archive. Not archiving that which should have been archived is costly in court. Your legal team will know how long something should be archived for.
Don’t forget to purge as part of the yearly full system backup. This will ensure data creep is managed well.
Ensure one group is responsible for any set of documents. One person (usually the manager) should have the right to add to or remove people from this group. Make this person easy to find, as they are now the first port of call for access (Be that read, write or full access.) Ensure that more than one person is in these groups, so redundancies are built in and projects are less likely to be “Bussed”.
“Man – a being in search of meaning” –Plato
Having a library of all wisdom is all very well, but if you can’t find what you need, then what you have is a book depository. So, let’s do some indexing. Folder names should be logical. Name them after the project or operation they most affect.
File names should give you a good indicator of what’s inside. There is an interesting technology called “Tagging” doing the rounds at the moment. This allows the same document to be searched under different folders or names. But like all systems, the system works if you work the system.
Indexing is the technology that will read through the document contents in your repository and make that content searchable. Such technologies depend on having available systems to do the reading, analysis and index creation. This adds storage and compute overhead. Use these systems, but be aware that as you add more content, the system will become inversely responsive.
KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID! Any system you implement should have the minimum of necessary components to make the system work for you.
Most documentation systems consist of multiple products working together to produce the results you want. This can create levels of complexity that may need dealing with. Fortunately help is at hand and you can call Champions of Change to help you put together a system that works for you.