So you know what a file plan is and why having one makes sense...but where to start?
Defining how your organisation stores and manages its documents needn't be a mammoth task, in fact simplicity will serve you well.
The Three Golden Rules of a good file plan
The level of detailed you need consider in your filing plan will depend to some extent on the nature of your business - for example do you deal with highly technical subject matter? do you create particular types of documents, like medical records, that need to be handled specifically under your national privacy laws?
Whether your needs are simple or complex, accommodating a few hundred or many thousands of documents, designing an effective filing plan should observe these three golden rules:
- Simplicity. Your file plan must:
- reflect functions, activities and tasks that are easily recognisable by users;
- align itself with existing visions, policy statements, business plans, aims and objectives; and
make it obvious into which file or folder a document should be placed.
- Consistency. Your file plan must:
- have rules and guidelines that ensure all staff/users follow the same procedures;
address inconsistencies that cause problems such as duplicate files/folders, documents on the same activity being separated, and misnaming of documents.
- Flexibility. Your file plan must:
- be adaptable;
be designed so that new files and folders can be fitted in as required, while still adhering to the overall structure.
Structuring a file plan
A context based filing plan is about storing information in a structure that gives meaning according to the needs and activities of the business.
A good place to start will be your existing file directory structure, file lists, organisation chart and mission statement. To build a context based plan, consider how to identify:
- Functions – the high-level administrative or mission based undertakings of the organisation. A law firm for example may establish their firm around Family Law, Estate Planning and Conveyancing.
- Activities – the pieces of work undertaken across the organisation in order to achieve each function, such as client matters or projects.
- Classification – the tasks or processes undertaken in support of each activity, for example briefing, discovery or invoicing.
By choosing a filing structure that reflects the nature of your business, it should be easy for staff to use and understand, and give context to information retrieved at a future date. This avoids related documents being saved under different attributes by each individual involved, or constructing your entire file system around email attributes like Sent By, Received By or Subject.
Implementing a simple file plan
To implement your filing plan, create one central list of functions, activities and classifications. Create the supporting folder structure and ensure all staff file documents within this structure.
Choosing a document management systemto help enforce your filing plan and make it easy for staff to comply without adding to their workload can help achieve your goals of faster, more meaningful file management and retrieval.