Benefits of Naming Conventions

Let’s play a little game. Instructions are simple enough:

  1. Remember the largest project you ever worked on.
  2. Find that projects’  folder on one of your backups.
  3. Right click on it  and go to properties (you Apple folks can wave your hands or whatever it is that you need to do)
  4. Read out the total number of files.
  5. The person with the most files wins. If the files numbers are the same, the person with less folders wins.

Now if someone asked you to navigate them to a specific file blind folded, or if they ask you in which file a particular line of code is, could you do it?

If your answer is yes, good for you. That probably means that you have some sort of a naming system. If not read closely.

Significance of a convention.

You might be able to go through your specific filing system. But, would others be able to? Did this ever happen to you: you hand off the folder to the next person on the assembly line and a couple of days later you get an email or a phone call requesting a missing file or an explanation for a CSS class that doesn’t do anything. You sigh, walk over to that persons office and tell them to pull up the folder and click here, click there, click everywhere and say to them: “There! You see…” It turns out that they just didn’t look hard enough. Actually, that is not the case, the fault is yours for not making it abundantly clear where they should look.

How can you organize your files in a way that can increase team productivity, eliminate unnecessary follow-up emails, and save time? By having a standardized naming convention.

Types of naming conventions.

Naming conventions can be broken down in two groups. First one is the conventions that people follow, the second one is a convention that no one apart from people handling the files cares about.

An organizational naming convention is the best approach. Everyone names their files in the same way. Which means that anyone can find any file they are looking for fairly easily. Here is an excellent example of how one of those should look like:  Alberta Government – Naming Conventions for Electronic Documents.

If you are working with an external organization for a short period of time such as a specific period of time, you can develop a naming convention / folder structure legend that clearly identifies where each file is located and how it is named (for searchabilitys’ sake)

How to implement a convention?

Keep in mind that every work environment has a unique set of needs.  No one template approach will fit your specific situation to a tee. Figuring out what convention style you will use by no means should be a closed discussion or forced upon someone by saying “This is how we name files now, didn’t you get the memo?” The goal of a convention is to have everyone benefit. So everyone should be included in a discussion of what the needs are. Talk with your co-workers about how they name their files and why they do it in a particular way. Have a conversation with someone about if they think a naming convention would be useful. You might be surprised by the answers.

If a need is actually there, take it up with your superior. Present to them the benefits, show them specific examples of how something could of been done faster if you had such guidelines in place. Be ready to present to them a plan of how you imagine the convention. Don’t make your proposal complicated. This is something that should ultimately make things more simple, so defining how every single name element should look and be capitalized can stray away from the goal. Those sort of decisions can evolve from the implementation process.

Even if you don’t have an opportunity or power to implement conventions at your organization, develop one of your own that others will easily recognize and possibly follow.