To the frustration of information architects and managers, end users have a habit of spoiling their hardwork the moment they start using the system. The symptoms are many and varied: carefully designedfolder structures devolve into chaos over time; despite training on document version control, copies ofthe same file keep appearing with version numbers, dates, and initials in the file name (e.g., “Proposalv.2 MP Comments.doc”); templates are used inconsistently or even ignored; automated workflows spawn undocumented manual workarounds… Aren’t these precisely the kinds of things that ourexpensive, carefully planned ECM system was supposed to eliminate?
Yet in all of the apparent chaos, your users are giving you clues on better ways to organize information.For instance, when users ignore your folder hierarchy, they’re telling you something important aboutit: maybe it doesn’t make sense to them? Maybe they don’t understand the semantic cues because thesystem’s vocabulary doesn’t jibe with theirs, or perhaps there is ambiguity that forces them to makedecisions they didn’t bargain for (e.g., Does an Employee Non-Disclosure Agreement go under Contractsor under HR?).
Instead of treating users’ behavior as a collection of bad habits to be trained away, another approachis to learn from them: let your users’ self-organizing behaviors teach you about what is meaningful tothem, what their semantic cues are, how they really think about their content. When users find waysto work around structures you’ve provided for them, they are saying it doesn’t work for them. How yourespond will depend on your organization, the rigidity of your rules and regulations, and your willingnessto let the crowd help to steer the ship.
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