A version of this post originally appeared on CMSWire.
When I started in information management 16 years ago, I believed the biggest obstacle keeping organizations from success was doing too little. Inaction derailed the best-laid plans for information management: lack of funding, support, enthusiasm, and the willpower to see efforts through was what caused most firms to fail.
That was then.
Lately I’ve come to see the real information management problem as one of overachievement: trying to do too much.
Finding the Minimum Viable Effort for Information Management
If you do nothing, you accomplish nothing — that's true — but you also haven’t expended any time and resources in the process.
But if you set out to overachieve, and you fail (which is what’s most likely to happen when you bite off too much), you’ve not only accomplished nothing (or close to nothing), but you’ve also expended precious organizational time and resources doing so, which burns bridges and sours the organization on information management going forward — not to mention perhaps costing you and your team (and your consultants) their jobs.
As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom of doing just enough and no more — the-so called Goldilocks Principle. Sure, you won’t ever hit a home run by trying to do just enough, but you also won’t strike out. And at most firms these days, getting something done with singles and doubles counts for quite a bit.
So let’s look at how the Goldilocks Principle might play out in three areas for which managing information is critical:
- Information Architecture
- Information Governance
- Enterprise Content Management
Slimming Down Information Architecture
Information architecture (IA) is, in my opinion, one of the most fertile areas for overachievement.
IA easily falls into the academic, MLIS approach, which treats corporate data like books in a library: Every single document needs to be classified, top to bottom, with 100 percent accuracy. This makes sense if we're, say, doing an IA project for the American Dental Association to classify millions of their articles so that members can access them. In that case, every single one of those articles needs to be classified with high quality, along a dizzying array of facets.
But in the typical corporate context, where 60 to 90 percent of documents are either past their useful life or were junk to begin with? Why spend time classifying them (or making sure that our classification scheme accounts for them)?
The answer is: We wouldn't.
Instead, we’d focus on the much smaller percentage of valuable content and find the eight to ten tags that, applied consistently, make content more findable and manageable than it is today. And then, with the extra time we had, we'd engineer our document management systems to allow users to check in documents with minimal tagging and find them with minimal effort … and then we’d stop.
Even though we would have organized only a fraction of the total documents, we wouldn't care. We’d have accounted for the highest value, highest risk, highest use documents.
The alternative is to spend 18-plus months in card-sorting exercises and focus groups to determine how each and every document, irrespective of its value, is used, and then try to build a system to support that behemoth of a classification scheme. Good luck with that.
The result is either a never-ending bridge-painting project or a completed framework that no one understands and IT can’t apply, so it sits on the shelf in all its academic perfection, of no use to anyone.
Finding Focus with Information Governance
Information governance is another area where the perfect can easily become the enemy of the good.
Scads of overlapping policy frameworks; far-reaching policies that govern every bit of information in line with so-called industry best practices that no company that hopes to do business can possibly comply with; operational models that stretch the boundaries of believability, given on-the-ground realities—all this and more are the standard fare of most information governance programs at large organizations today.
Beyond simply being unrealistic (which is a big enough problem), these overreaching information governance efforts confirm what most folks at the organization already believe about info gov: It’s out of touch with operational realities, it creates unneeded administrative overhead, and its sole purpose appears to be instituting meaningless and frustrating bureaucracy into an organization already overburdened with more of the same.
Information governance should seek to find the most pressing business and operational problems, e.g. orphaned or abandoned sensitive data or overly permissive access, and address those problems with targeted, narrow policies and procedures that take action swiftly and that also produce results.
Information governance will never win any AIIM awards for best program with the latter approach, but it will actually achieve results on the ground and win support from the wider organization — no mean feat.
Start with the Simple in Enterprise Content Management
Enterprise content management (ECM) comprises a huge range of domains, from document management and collaboration, to web content management, electronic forms and workflow, to records management, rights management, security, and more. So it’s no surprise that, more often than not, ECM programs try to be everything to everyone and to do it all.
But this has been ECM’s undoing. Looking at a range of industry statistics over the last 15 years, on average, 50 percent of ECM deployments fail, and the number that deliver low value rather than failing outright is much higher. And no wonder: who can possibly deliver on all of the typical ECM domains with any success?
A better approach, and one we’ve seen deployed with great success, is to take the top one or two business problems and apply the relevant ECM domains to solving those problems. At your typical Fortune 1000 organization, these will be findability (getting the right document into the hands of the right end user at the right time) and knowledge management (taking individual knowledge as codified in siloed documents and turning it into corporate knowledge in documents readily accessible by anyone within the organization).
Addressing these two problems is fairly straightforward in theory: Find the right five to ten tags to put on documents, design a system that allows users to upload documents with minimal tagging, and find documents with a robust search interface that utilizes the latest features (e.g. faceted search) and, voilà: You’ve met the main need of your end users without buying one system to rule them all or creating complex workflows, forms management, etc.
Other domains are, of course, important, but if you can’t get the simple stuff right first, you’ll never get the support to tackle ECM’s more advanced aspects for those smaller user constituencies within your organization.
Forget the Pursuit of Perfection
Doing just enough is more than enough for IA, information governance, and ECM, but it doesn't stop there. Other domains—e.g. legal and data management—also suffer from a characteristic fixation on the perfect, to the detriment of the good.
Any discipline is susceptible to the pursuit of best practices rather than the quick and dirty gains that come from doing “just enough.” No matter the area, the gains to be had from adhering to the Goldilocks Principle are as powerful there, as for the three domains I’ve discussed above.
So eschew the pursuit of best practices and the perfect on your next initiative. Find the “just enough” that results in progress and ultimately a big win for the organization.