I’ve been on vacation for bits and pieces of the past two weeks, taking care of a few odd jobs around the house. I’ve also spent a little time working in SharePoint and SharePoint online to move a couple of information management projects a little further down the line. You know where this is heading; something about one of those jobs around the house reminded me of something at work.
I’ll spare you the long story of hard work under a hot sun. I’m not talking about “edging” or clearing out a few blank spaces between stones. I’m talking about retrieving about 100’ of slate and fieldstone that had been consumed by the yard. Grass, crab grass, clover and a few unidentified items had devoured my walk.
The connection? It’s pretty easy to see.
In fact, we see it all the time in the document libraries, lists and record stores we create. They all start out all good-looking and functional and then the weeds start to sprout. The reasons, while not the same, are analogous to the walkway:
The design encourages weeds – Notice that I didn’t say that it’s a bad design. The wide gaps between the stones are necessary for drainage as the path of the walkway collects a lot of water. Many libraries encourage inappropriate material because there’s no or minimal metadata or the metadata columns include some vague terms. The best example of this can be found in any SharePoint site where the Shared Documents folder library wasn’t destroyed.
Edging – Encroachment begins at the boundaries, on the walk or in a library. When it’s hard to tell what belongs in a library, you end up with content that doesn’t belong.
Responsibility – Whose job is it? In the case of the walk, keeping the grass at bay was clearly my job. In the case of content libraries, responsibility is often misplaced. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the most common is some form of “I thought you were taking care of that.” The “you” might be the person who asked to have the library built. It might be the department head. It might be the lawyer who pointed out the regulatory requirement to keep stuff. And, in the worst possible case, it might be the poor slob who built the library.
Of course, there are technical ways to prevent weeds (both forms) but technology can’t solve every problem, and technology can’t always be used. I didn’t install edging along the walk because I drag a utility trailer out of the yard and over that walk in two places. I don’t use Roundup® between the stones because our dog plays in that yard and dogs absorb stuff through the pads of their feet. Similarly, we sometimes limit our use of metadata because the owners/users feel it would lead to a time-consuming process.
The problems in both domains (the yard and the library) are human problems. Humans either build the wrong thing, break the necessary rules that they established or are prone to bouts of laziness. You can build around these issues with careful planning and a lot of up-front thinking. When we replace the field stone portion of this walk (the part the dog is lying on) we are going to incorporate drain tile and use a material that eliminates most of the gaps. While we don’t always use the following techniques, these are effective ways to eliminate weeds in your document repository:
Workflow – One of the cleanest libraries that we have is one that has a workflow-drive process controlling the movement of content into the library and from the library into a records repository based on the document status.
Metadata – Although we consciously choose not to use it (as well as we could) in some cases, metadata requirements do help discourage the uploading of stuff that doesn’t belong. In order for metadata to work, it needs to be explicit; no “other” or “general” terms please.
Those tools-of-the-trade are way better than the information management equivalent of the tools shown at the right. Although, I do know of a couple of SharePoint sites that I’d like to take a hatchet to.
Summer is coming to an end soon, but my punch list of household jobs remains pretty long. You can expect a few more posts like this between now and Thanksgiving. In the meantime, enjoy the last holiday weekend of summer and thanks for reading.