Digging for treasure
I was reading another post on this site (Where not to store your work – make sure you read it if you haven’t already) and was misled by the title a little. You see, in my office we have been having a debate for the best part of four years ago about exactly this issue – the place we all store our work, also known as our dreaded shared drive.
This may not be a phenomenon restricted to local authorities, in fact I dare say it actually is endemic in any large organisation after a certain period of time. However, I get the distinct impression that in most rational organisations this issue is easily cleared up with a metaphorical slap around the back of the head and a simple, enforced way of doing things.
It may be easier if I briefly run through the problem. When I joined my team one of the first moans I heard was about our shared drive. No-one could find anything, not even the work they themselves had produced. Each member of the team used different naming conventions, not only from their colleagues but for different work areas; what they may have saved as ‘DMTevalrepFINALdraft.doc’ in one area they would call ‘v2draftreportThursdaymeeting – Drews comments.doc’ somewhere else. Things were stored in multiple folders across multiple levels, with many files so old that the people working there had never worked with or heard of the people who had created them.
In short, it was a mess.
I tried to start sorting this out by suggesting archiving off all files that were orphans or hadn’t been opened in, say, three years and then working out a clear way of storing files and folders. My arguement was that we live in the age of Google, and when people want to find something on the internet they simply run a search. They don’t go to a central point and then navigate their way through page after page of links until they drill down to what they want – they simply pop the name of the thing they are looking for into Google and it gives them a deep link straight to it, along with links to e-bay and more pornography than could be consumed by Belgium in a year.
The trouble with this was that the whole team was stuck in the old days of Windows, where you could only use a limited number of characters (eight I think) as a file name. They couldn’t understand the concept of calling an evaluation report just that, rather than removing all of the vowels to save space. It might have improved their ability to send text messages, but evlrptDRAFT or any of its variations is not an easy thing to search for.
We then joined another team with all of their own conventions and seven years of historical file mismanagement, so the problem was exacerbated exponentially. Various quick fixes were suggested, including a partial archive (so some files were moved but not all), storing everything in one folder (which just meant that folder was crammed full of randomness) and at least a hundred different ways of restructuring existing folders. This was escalated until a member of our senior management team was busy writing papers and had pulled together a project team to look at it in more detail. The issue was discussed at multiple service meetings and endless e-mail chains, none of which got anywhere.
It got so bad that some files were stored under ten or more layers of folders, each of which was crammed with files and none of them bore any resemblance to their surroundings. It felt a little like we had taken our team structure charts and replicated them in file form.
Eleven months later and still nothing had changed, so a colleague and I simply had a quick chat with our director, knocked up a set of clear guidelines on how to name a file and made every single folder and file in the old places read only. Anything the team produced would go into a brand new folder, and be clearly labelled. Anything not clearly labelled would be found and deleted.
A year or so on and mostly this is working out well. Gone are the days of DRAFT, FINAL and FINALDRAFT being added to the end of file names, replaced with simple version controls.
All this doesn’t make looking for things simple but it does make it quicker, and it’s worth all of the constant arguements to see the look on people’s faces as you announce they have twenty minutes to rename their files before you hit the delete key.