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Electronic file organization

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  • Electronic file organization

    My boss learned about my use of GTD. Now he thinks I'm a wizard at organization and has assigned an ugly little project to me.

    In my workgroup, we have a shared network drive. It is a mess.

    People have been storing files out there for a few years with no real standard of what should be filed or how things should be filed. Over time, natural staff changes have happened and files have been orhpaned out there.

    The result is that we have a lot of disorganized files. Nobody wants to delete them and start over, but it has become a black hole. This must be a common problem.

    I know how I organize my own local drive, but that isn't necessarily right for everyone.

    I can create a folder structure that makes sense, but the challege will be getting people to actually understand it and use it.

    Somebody must have published something helpful on this topic. Thanks for any pointers you might be able to give.

  • #2
    I am pretty sure this has been discussed before in different incarnations at least. Some people will advocate some structure, others will suggest the A-Z approach, while others may say, don't bother with folders and just Google desktop it LOL.

    I understand your point though, about having one person set up the system and then others having to have to adapt to it. I am in the having to adapt mode right now and it just boggles me what the person setting up the system was really thinking at times, with in some cases 1, 2 or 3 locations where I could put the same file.

    I would suggest having a "focus group" of all the interested parties to see if you can identify a common structure.

    A more out of the box idea (which may be crazy) comes from the question - why can't we all have our own front end interfaces to the info on the server? I am sure a software solution could develop this - i.e. a local folder structure that is configured by the user maps to what could be a very different structure on the server. But in simple terms, people could just copy the file onto the server (with no folders) and then put a short cut in the folder structure they want on their local machine. Hence everyone can file as they need to (as it works best for them) and nothing is lost because it's all in one place.

    Paul

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    • #3
      I'm gradually moving into the "use a flat structure and let Google sort it out" column. Unless the folder structure is (a) blindingly obvious and (b) rigorously enforced, people are always going to file documents in the way that makes sense to them. Whether or not it makes sense for anyone else. Rather than fight the trend, my suggestion would be to provide tools that work in that environment, which primarily means tools for tagging and searching. Depending on the files, you might also need some sort of revision control system, or you might not.

      Katherine

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      • #4
        To complicate things , sometimes users have links to files from within, say,
        excel.

        I had a similar thing to do a while back, but more to create space on the server so I was more interested in removing large duplicated/orphaned files.

        One thing [Of course , have backups first...] I did was rename eg

        umpteenth.mdb to

        PREDELETEumpteenth.mdb

        left it a while to see if anybody squealed "my link to umpteenth.mdb has stopped working"

        and after a couple of weeks just deleted them (dont forget to backup before deleteing).

        of course I just needed to do this with a few large files, may be harder for you.

        Just my 10 cents

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Bill
          The result is that we have a lot of disorganized files. Nobody wants to delete them and start over, but it has become a black hole. This must be a common problem.
          Hmm.... yes that is a nasty little task you've been set. There a number of little problems here, not least the fact that you've got to deal with everyone else's little ideas of how best to file stuff. You must have a really busy boss because in my experience bosses love to reorganise directory structures, usually without telling anyone else so you can't find the files you use regularly. There's a temptation to think that the directory structure can somehow help organise all kinds of things, when really it's just a method to store stuff so you can find it again. There are probably a lot more important things to do than this at the moment, but your boss set you the task so it's important to you.

          You have to keep it simple because a) everyone's going to use it and b) no-one is going to read a complicated instruction manual just to save a simple document more than once (if at all).

          My suggestion is that you set up one directory per employee with the name of that employee as the directory name. Then that person will be responsible for keeping their directory "tidy". The only instruction to give to everyone is they must review their directory files at least once a month. Any file that isn't used anymore can be put in an "archive" directory so that they can recover it in the unlikely event that it is needed after all.

          With the current "mess", I would try and determine who is most likely to have ownership of each and every file there and put it in their directory. Yes, every file is going to have to be reviewed! If you don't have time for this then why not organise a meeting with everyone and each person can be assigned a certain amount of files each to process. Just put equal amounts of files in their newly formed directories and they can move them to the person they think should own them.

          There may be issues where one group of people can't have access priviledges to another group's files (I'm thinking Personnel files for instance). In that case the structure would need a second tier with directories of peoples' names under each department or group directory.

          If Joe Bloggs leaves the company then Jane Doe takes over Joe's job then simply rename their directory from joe_bloggs to jane_doe or move it all into the existing (unfortunate) jane_doe. Yes it will cause hassle with broken shortcuts etc but at least everyone will find out that Joe's gone now. And the people in an organisation are way more important than how the files on its LAN are organised.

          The filing system will not organise itself which is why it needs people to do it. And when the directories do get "messed up" again well, it's not your fault because it means that othere people were not taking care of their responsibilities (make it clear to everyone including your boss how it's going to work now).

          If you set up a complicated system then you will be called upon every time it goes wrong. And then if your responsibilities change then you won't be there to fix things.

          Comment


          • #6
            Thanks for the comments, folks.

            You obviously understand why such a seemingly simple problem is so thorny.

            Thinking about this some more clarified that there are really two parts to the problem:

            (1) Create a structure for storage of new files
            (2) Find a way to search the old stuff

            I don't necessarily have sort out all the old files.

            Originally posted by treelike
            My suggestion is that you set up one directory per employee with the name of that employee as the directory name. Then that person will be responsible for keeping their directory "tidy".
            I've come to the same conclusion.

            Using people-named folders seems like the only solution with a reasonable chance of success. People will manage their own space with suggestions on how to name files descriptively so that they are easily searchable.

            Within the group, we all have our individual responsibilities. If the responsibilities are realigned or people change, the the file structure can easily be modified.

            Originally posted by treelike
            With the current "mess", I would try and determine who is most likely to have ownership of each and every file there and put it in their directory. Yes, every file is going to have to be reviewed! If you don't have time for this then why not organise a meeting with everyone and each person can be assigned a certain amount of files each to process.
            On the existing mess, my plan is to put all that old stuff into directory called ARCHIVE. I will tell people to look into the archive directory and move any active files or folders into their own directory.

            Some time in the future, that archived directory could be backed up and deleted.

            We need some higher techhology than just Windows search in order to find information. I'll have to get agreement from IT for this. Our PCs are locked down so that we cannot install any applications that require administrator access.

            I'm going to experiment with this one: Copernic desktop search

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            • #7
              Have come late to this topic!

              While I like the people focus; it's an obvious choice for a number of reasons. I would also put forward the suggestion of function/job description as a organizing structure. My feeling is that most of the information people create and store is function related. Therefore I see a number of advantages for this approach:

              1 If staff move within the firm, they don't need to "drag" around their old stuff. Old stuff in my experience gets deleted.
              2 New incumbent has a readily accessible knowledge base.
              3 Firm gets to build a depth of history related to a function/job. A situation that many firms could use.
              4 You don't need to change the "name" of the directory ... a nightmare in some firms given IT's tight control over the system.

              Comment


              • #8
                A lot of good answers here already. I'll give my recommendation which is not really different that what has been mentioned, but may give you a couple more things to consider.

                First and foremost it would be helpful to develop a written document that discusses a file naming convention to be followed by all the staff. I have no idea what kind of work you do, but often files relate to certain projects or clients or cases, etc. If it is clients that you are concerned about, for example, it is very helpful to have a client name or client number in the file name. If dates are relevant and to be used in filenames, use a date code like YYMMDD. That way they will automatically sort in date order in the directories, which is helpful. That will not happen if you use MMDDYY or AUG06 for instance. You will have to work out what makes sense for your situation. It may be that you will have some files of each type and will segregate these into different folders.

                Concerning a folder heirarchy, there should be a folder or drive for a given functional department, like Sales or Accounting, etc. Within that folder the second level should include a folder for each current employee. This is where each person will keep all the stuff they are responsible for and they can ortanize their folder as they see fit, but should follow the file naming convention. You will eventually have to set a size limit or guideline on these, so go ahead and do that now.

                There should also be a departmental common folder at this second level and this is for things that concern the whole department. This departmental folder is where your organizational genius will be most needed. You will have to decide on whether you want everything pretty flat and let the search function take care of the rest. I highly recommend that solution. You may be surprised at how the default Windows search function will handle this. It may also be helpful to have a few folders at the 3rd level for obvious categories that you want to be browsable. There should be a folder with training materials that someone can read through, for instance. There might be a folder with staff meeting minutes. Whatever. It depends on what you have out there. Don't go nuts with a lot of folders and sub-folders to categorize everything. Search is your friend and faster than clicking throught endless levels of folders. Keep it simple. To paraphrase DA, use as many as you need but as few as you can get away with. With any complexity at all, it will simply not make sense to everyone and they will just be using the search function anyway.

                Finally, at the second level alongside the current employee folders, you want a folder titled something like "former employees" and in there are the personal folders for people who have left. This keeps them from cluttering up the 2nd level and provides a place to park old stuff that didn't seem relevant enough to reassign when they left, but may be needed at some future date. You might also have a dumping ground in there for all the stuff that you think is outdated, but not related to a particular employee and something in there might be needed in the future.

                Permissions can be set up so one employee can't change or delete stuff from another employee's folder, but can open, read and copy stuff as needed for cross-coverage of responsibilities. You should also have someone in charge of keeping things organized and adding new folders when someone is hired, etc. This person should have the permission level to make the necessary changes.

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