When we design and deliver business solutions we aim to deliver optimum business value while working with the constraints imposed on us. For example: timeframe and budget.
Regardless of the technologies we leverage, it has become increasingly important for us to understand integration points and the potential long term goals and impacts of the solution we are building. Point solutions have their place and may achieve the immediate goal; however we should be cognisant of the potential longer term goals and objectives for the organisation as a whole.
From delivering contextual information, to designing for usability, to delivering business intelligence, to designing enterprise scale integrated solutions, naming contentions are crucial to delivering quality business solutions.
What’s in a name?
While many of us inherited our names from our parents (through choice or in some cases passed down through generations) our names help to identify us as individuals. Our name forms part of our identity.
As a child, our name is often one of the first words we learn to recognise and then go on to learn to spell.
Spelling or pronouncing names correctly helps to build a good first impression and in some cases can define the nature of our relationship. Do we really want to do business with someone who hasn’t taken the time to know our name?
Names, naming conventions and the context under which these names are used can have significant impact (particularly if they are misinterpreted).
Names should be understandable, relevant and meaningful to the information that they pertain to.
Naming your business solution
When delivering business solutions (such as intranets, business applications and document management solutions) we often find that choosing an appropriate name (or acronym) can help increase user adoption.
Choose a short, quirky or meaningful name that is easy to pronounce (and spell) and that can be used in day-to-day conversation. It should be a name that is easily recognisable that we can associate with the business solution.
To gain buy-in some organisations introduce competitions to come up with the name for the new solution, particularly for intranet solutions that are used by everyone within the business. By developing a communication strategy this may assist you to identify how you intend to promote the use of the new business solution and recognition of the name associated with the solution. Visual design and an engaging user experience are also part of the entire package of delivering a quality solution.
When delivering SharePoint-based solutions I would generally recommend referring to the solution by a name other than “SharePoint”. This helps to identify the solution as technology independent and reduces confusion for technical support staff that may refer to SharePoint as the platform rather than one of the many solutions that can be delivered on the SharePoint platform.
We often hear the words “taxonomy”, “metadata” and “information architecture” when we kick off a SharePoint project. These terms can mean different things to different people. The main aim should be to ensure that we (stakeholders, end users and the project team) have a common agreed understanding of:
- Who will be using the solution?
- What role the users will be performing?
- What data/content will be managed in the solution?
- What information will be delivered by the solution?
- How the users find the information?
- How quick and easy is it to find the information the user requires?
- How will the data/content be classified to ensure that it is discoverable?
- How quick and easy is it to classify new content?
- How will the users navigate to the information? E.g. via menu driven navigation, search criteria / results, contextual web parts.
- What names and naming conventions are currently in use that may impact or be relevant to our solution?
When designing an Information Architecture (IA), naming conventions and logical grouping of content are exceedingly important. Naming conventions aim to provide consistency and context for the content that can be stored and consumed under each content area. People can more easily understand the intent and context of a word, term or phrase where consistent naming conventions are used.
Before selecting your naming convention, ensure that you have a good understanding of existing terminology used within the business.
When defining naming conventions, ensure that the names are unique and meaningful, for example to avoid confusion where a name may have multiple meanings or is unclear as to the type of content the user can expect to find when they navigate to the content area.
Naming conventions will form part of your solution design including your site structure, navigation hierarchy, content types, columns, metadata values (including filter values) and file names.
Consider the impact of organisational change and where possible focus on functional classifications rather than team-based classifications (as these are more likely to be affected by organisational change that may occur in the future).
The Managed Metadata Term Store was introduced with SharePoint 2010 and offers the ability to centrally manage an organisation’s metadata. This has now been extended to provide metadata-driven navigation capabilities in SharePoint 2013.
The Managed Metadata Term Store provides support for acronyms or related terms by defining them as labels against the term. It has the capability to define a term and reuse it in different contexts (term sets), if required.
SharePoint provides search refinement that allows users to drill down through their search results. The names used in the search refinement panel can have a direct relationship to the columns and metadata assigned to a document or item.
The Content Search Web Part (CSWP) is new to SharePoint 2013 and provides a mechanism for surfacing filtered information based on indexed search results.
Where a term can have more than one meaning, or where it may be ambiguous, we need to take care to identify and rationalise terms. Where possible avoid defining terms such as “other” or “miscellaneous” as these may not provide meaningful classifications or filtering should we choose to use filtered views or content search web parts.
Plan your names and naming conventions
An important aspect of designing a SharePoint-based solution is to ensure that you understand and plan your names and naming conventions both from a physical and logical perspective. From the site structure to navigation structure, content types, columns, column values (e.g. managed metadata term sets/terms, choice values, look-up list values) to the refinement of our search results and integrated data from other systems, we need to be conscious of and plan the names and naming conventions we use.
Delivering quality is more than just delivering the latest and greatest with all the bells and whistles; it’s often other aspects (such as names and the use of them) that can have the biggest impact. The quality of our enterprise scale solutions can be enhanced by the choice of names and use of consistent naming conventions.
In this post I’ve identified a few areas where naming conventions are important in SharePoint-based solutions. Other areas where naming conventions are important are in development coding standards (i.e. where we decide to extend SharePoint through custom code) or where we want to integrate with other business solutions or back-end databases. When delivering enterprise scale solutions we need to have a clear understanding of the names and naming conventions used within our business, our applications and back-end systems including industry standards and our interactions with external parties.
It is definitely worthwhile taking the time up-front to identify and plan your naming conventions, both for the new/revised business solution you are working to deliver and for potential integration points that may arise in the foreseeable future.