Beautiful and unique snowflakes: dealing with complex requirements
The struggle against complexity
Trying to keep your retention schedule simple is an ongoing battle against the forces of complexity. And one of the major things that will hinder your plans to simplify your retention schedule will be your retention schedule stakeholders. People really do complicate things. Sometimes legitimately, sometimes not so much.
Valuing subject matter expertise…
Generally your stakeholders are the best people to talk to about how long records should be kept, especially for those record types whose retention is determined by business need over legal or regulatory requirements. Stakeholders are a great source of information about how the business works and what records are produced. But their insights shouldn’t be taken as law when it comes to the retention schedule. Stakeholders are not records managers and do not have the expertise to classify and manage records – that is where we add value.
…and records management.
When consulting with your organisation on the retention schedule you will encounter users who are keen to press upon you the vital importance of their records. They will explain the, to their minds, dire consequences if incorrect retention is applied to the records they produce. You can trust stakeholder direction a lot of the time, they will often identify those exceptional record types that need to be kept longer because their early destruction will significantly impact the organisation. But occasionally people make distinctions that don’t really matter from a retention management perspective.
Challenging conversations about values
When responding to the above concerns there’s a need to tread carefully. This is a challenging conversation to have. No one will respond well to the argument that they are not beautiful and unique snowflakes. Everyone needs to know that their contribution to an organisation is important. But the difference is that the retention value you place on the outputs of the activity is not a reflection of the value of the activity to the organisation.
Dealing with complex requests
For some, simply acknowledging the complexity of business functions and activities is enough. This can be done verbally or incorporated into documentation. Appropriate places to capture this knowledge might be Retention Schedule class descriptions, Information Asset Registers, user guides or retention implementation plans.
Some things you can counteract, some you have to accept. There’s are some common concerns or misconceptions you can head off at the pass if you’re prepared for them. Here’s a list of some common issues I have encountered:
- Over-retention of records arising from poor internal processes which need to be amended
- Concerns about technical or practical application of retention, for example where records have insufficient metadata
- An over-estimation of the importance of their function and the records they produce within the organisation as a whole;
- Lack of understanding of evidential requirements and/or personal data requirements; or even
- Belief that retention will prevent uncommon or unlikely events which would cause problems for the organisation
A matter of perspective
The small differences that people see in their work are important to ensure the job is done well. However it’s not always important from a retention perspective, your job is to weight user expectations within the broader context for the organisation so you can create a simpler retention schedule.
Next time we look at the dreaded “just in case” requirement that often arises when having these conversations with stakeholders.
If you want to know more about how to develop and manage retention schedules, or have any questions about records management, use the contact form on the right, or contact us via email firstname.lastname@example.org.