We have all been in the world of multiple versions for a team document. I personally cannot tell you how many times I have seen on a document, when “completed” is labeled: “Final FINAL FINAL FINAL FINAL.docx.” It may seem obvious, but the topic of naming conventions is something a lot of teams fail to talk about at the very beginning of team work and collaboration. Many of us carry with us some standard of naming convention, “obvious topic name, perhaps date, perhaps initials, perhaps status”.docx. This has varied according to need and situation, but this convention is most often the norm. There are a couple of problems with this practice which can lead to team frustration. However, with a little alteration, this practice can be easily simplified and help tell teammates what is happening with a document.

So, why exactly is obvious topic name, perhaps date, perhaps initials, perhaps status”.docx a bad naming convention?

First, there is a natural text limit to how long a file can be named. In Windows, the total character count is 256 characters. 256 characters may seem like a lot, but this also includes spaces, underscores, and other character limitations built into the Office Program. With this limit, Windows have a 1054 character limit in file structures, which limits how specific users can be in creating folder structures on collaboration tools or even their own desktop.

Second, after so many texts humans now suffer from word fatigue.  With so much information already available to each user on their screen, words and letters get very distracting very quickly. The longer the naming convention, the higher probability a user’s eyes will glaze over and not miss crucial information about the document he or she is about to access.

Finally, without a simple naming convention documents suffer from version bloat. Version bloat is the process whereby users copy multiple versions of the document onto their hard drive and then fail to update the name, send out the wrong copy or just max out their hard drives and work history with so many versions of the same document. This process leads to greater frustration and decreased effectiveness, as the user wastes precious time organizing and finding documents via search or by navigation.

Fortunately, there are a few things teams can do in order to apply effective naming conventions for documents and minimize version bloat.

First, many tools, including SharePoint and Huddle, offer effective version control. This process allows versions of a document to be stacked on top of one another as it is edited and changed. No need for users to keep multiple copies of work history, the entire work history of the document is captured by the application and kept safely for everyone to view.

Second, a little bit of team administration and communication can facilitate really effective naming conventions. For starters, there should be an agreement made with the team to use or not use terms such as DRAFT, FINAL, REDO, etc. It is recommended these terms be scrubbed entirely because SharePoint and Huddle offer metadata views which tell you this already. Huddle for example offers audited history and @mention comments for users to share the status. Huddle also offers approval, a feature which allows users to request approval on a document from another user, such as a manager or team lead. When approved, the document is marked as approved, letting teams know the document is at the final stage.

On the collaboration front, a team is only as good as how well it follows their own rules. All members of the team are responsible for following the rules of engagement within a document, and all must charge each other with effective enforcement. This applies to managers and team leads, who must lead by example and enforce polite best practices.

Finally, even in the explorer view of Windows, metadata will set users free. Windows offers a standard view of columns telling users vital information about the folders and documents in the window. This information includes date modified, date created, last edited by, etc. If users want more specific information, views are available under the views tab, which users can add or modify specific views for themselves and their documentation. Both SharePoint and Huddle offer standard metadata views which also tell the same story about the document.

Naming conventions do not have to be problematic for effective team management. Taking a few moments as a team to discuss file naming conventions can help minimize a lot of frustration. Reminding team members about application features in offerings such as SharePoint or Huddle can also help users understand more about collaboration tools and how to best apply them. 

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