And how to build the best naming convention
We all know the moment during training for a new position when you learn about your new company’s standards for naming conventions. Before this moment, onboarding was likely a whirlwind—you’ve met interesting people, got a new desk, swooned over the mission statement, and went out to lunch three times in the first week.
But when it comes to learning, following—or even creating—naming conventions, the fun falls flat.
And yet, behind successful organizations it is unlikely that you will find chaotic naming patterns. This is because like a literal human backbone, naming conventions are what stand up an efficient organization and are only thought about when they are damaged.
But why though?
If you’re still not convinced that taking time out of your week to be sure your libraries, sites, subscriptions, lists and documents are effectively named, here are some important reasons to do just that.
1. Signals cohesion in employees. Believe it or not, many employees thrive within boundaries. Giving your employees a naming pattern for their work reduces chaos and increases the confidence they’re working within an established system.
2. Quick onboarding. New employees can easily jump in and understand where to retrieve files, explore project context, and execute alongside current projects—and it reduces time spent training and hand–holding.
3. Governance is important. Governance is a hot topic and naming conventions is the cooler. By decreasing the number of decisions any one person needs to make in their work protects your organization from becoming the Wild West.
4. Easier bulk auditing. Suppose you need to audit work for an error that was made and your files are a mess. I’ll just leave that nightmare to your imagination.
5. Version control and retrieval of historic work. Similar to the above, but less terrifying. Projects and requests always come full circle. By cloning and updating previous work you can take full advantage of your company’s body of knowledge from the past.
6. Out of the blue requests. Especially for client-facing projects, it is vital to have naming conventions assist in unplanned fire drill requests for a specific asset. This reduces the time sitting in sweaty silence, clicking around your library like a maniac.
How to build or spot an effective standard
Some of the good
1. No spaces between words. This rule is easy to follow and makes a document easier to find in search. Client-facing document libraries maybe the exception if it is aesthetically pleasing and the library has minimal files.
2. No special characters. Name your documents using only letters, numbers, and short dashes if necessary (-). Avoid ” * : < > ? / \ | (luckily these aren’t typically allowed in file names anyway).
3. Unique and detailed names in the file path. Do not repeat names or descriptors in the folders of your file path. Each folder in the file path should describe the next unique part of your file structure.
- Example: You don’t drive to California and then to California-Los Angeles so that when you arrive you’re in, California, California-Los Angeles.
4. Keep versioning consistent. Single digit versions should always start with ‘0’ number—it will display before the 10’s, 20’s etc…
- TIP: Archive folders are your friends. The first thing you should do, before updating a file, is save a copy to the archive folder, then rename it. Even for the smallest update, this habit reduces risk and keeps your files clean.
5. To date or not to date? If there is a date included it should fit in with the expected workflow. Is it super important that this file be connected with this date? Or is it going to be updated regularly for the next three weeks? Re-dating files seems like an easy standard, but it only takes one or two missed updates to make this, not just worthless, but confusing.
- TIP: If there is a date in the file name, it should be in the format of YYYYMMDD.
6 All aboard. Everyone creating or editing files understands and agrees upon the naming convention. Whether you talk to the VP of Marketing or the summer Marketing Intern, they better all know and follow those standards. If they aren’t following naming conventions, then the importance of those standards (or the standards themselves) were not explained to them.
Some of the bad
- Any folder title including “Misc”
- Files or folders that begin with “zzz_”
- Files with words like “and”, “the”, “a” (those words will never be used to search)
- Initials or abbreviations that you only once in the entire library
- UNNECESSARY capitalizations
- The company is too regularly re-socializing new conventions
- Two folders with the same name
Companies and organizations are always looking for powerful tools to either transform their work or deliver the best – but some of the most powerful tools to achieve this are habit, standards, and parameters.