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From the author of Create a File Hierarchy

Create a File Hierarchy

It is important to engage employees in the process of designing a file structure on the shared drive. This not only helps to create an effective system but encourages employees to actually use it. The first step is to determine a team that will develop the initial file hierarchy and guidelines. Depending on the size of the company, there could be file teams assigned per each department or, if a smaller organization, it could be one team for the entire company. It is important to have each area within a company and/or department represented. It is also important to have on the file team an employee who has been with the organization for a long time and has knowledge of past and historical records.

Once a team is formed, it should begin the process of developing a file hierarchy outline. The first level of the file hierarchy should relate to the company’s organization chart—essentially a file folder for each major department and area of the company. If the organization has decided to have a drive mapped for each primary department, then the first level of files under that department would be those divisions or branches within that department.

The second level of folders can be sub-divisions of a department, primary areas of responsibility, or major projects of that department. Ideally, it is best not to have the first or second lines be longer than a screen page view in a standard monitor screen—usually between 30-40 file folders. Users can see the structure quickly without having to scroll down. Once these levels are established, it is recommended that the first and second line folders cannot be changed or added to without management consent. This forces users to think clearly and logically as to where a new folder should be located before arbitrarily just creating it.

The next step is determining sub-categorization for the third, fourth, etc. line folders. When determining how to subcategorize, consider first how users want to access information (see Figure 1). Which topic, name, or word is thought of when looking for that piece of data? For example, assume there is a primary category called Clients that contains all client information. Clients could be sub-filed by client name or by state or geographical region. It will depend on how the sales department is structured and how that information is accessed by the organization or the department. That could be alphabetically by name or it could be by state or region where Client Company is located.

Here are standard ways in which to sub-categorize:

  • By subject. Documents are arranged by subject name or category, similar to topics in phone directories and in libraries.
  • By name/alphabetical. Documents are alphabetically arranged by names. For example, this could be names of clients, suppliers, or employees.
  • Geographically. Documents are arranged by geographic location, such as by continent, regional area, country, state, county, or city.
  • Numerically. Documents are arranged by numerical order. This could be by an assigned job number, contract number, invoice number, project number, or an employee ID number.
  • Chronologically. Documents are arranged by date order. This can be done by annual or fiscal year, by month, by quarter, or by date.

Figure 1 An example of file hierarchy structure and ways to sub-categorize for a shared drive network.

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