Like it or lump it. Classification for big bucket retention.
Splitters and lumpers
Two people look up at the sky and see a plane.
The first person points up and says: “Look it’s a jet plane”.
The second person responds: “Well actually it’s Boeing 737-900ER”.
Both are correct, but the first person is someone who defines things in broad categories, a lumper. The second person is a splitter, someone who defines things in smaller categories. Referring to people as splitters and lumpers is common in biological sciences, particularly evolutionary science where classification of species depends on the importance placed on minor differences between individual animals. In the fossil record this has led to some traps for splitters who have created numerous hominid classifications where we might be looking at differences in size, age, gender, health within a single species. Whereas lumpers are criticised for accepting too many variations and therefore lumping different species within one category as in the case of Homo habilis.
Classification for records management
This kind of problem in classification is not just the preserve of the sciences. It is something most records managers must consider when devising a retention schedule. Especially if they are aiming for “big bucket retention” for their schedule. On the face of it you might think that big bucket retention would lend itself well to those who are better at lumping categories of records together. But creating meaningful large categories requires a good understanding of the details that dictate which small differences are significant and which ones are not.
Learning to be lumpers
Records management as a profession tends to attract people who like detail. You’d think this means our work requires us to be splitters. But the nature of our work increasingly requires us to be lumpers, as the scale of records management means we cannot practically apply retention rules and business classifications at such a granular level. This does mean that we as a profession have a tendency to create schedules that are more complex. The very ambition of having a simple, big bucket schedule in our complex working environment is a bold one.
Compromise between simplicity and complexity
In the end it’s a constant process of compromise between the need for simplification and the need to ensure more complex records management requirements are accommodated.
Lumping records into “big buckets” does not mean we ignore the detail. In fact the detail must be understood to help us determine which records can be classed separately, and which can be safely lumped together.
This all sounds very challenging to do correctly, especially once you start to involve stakeholder who always make things complicated! To provide some advice I’ve reflected on the years of experience writing and implementing retention schedules and I hope you find these posts a much more practical approach to the real world issues you will encounter while creating or re-creating your retention schedule.
Of course if you have any questions about practical retention management please use the contact form on the right or email us firstname.lastname@example.org.