Lesson 1, Topic 1
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2.9. Implementing a File Plan

ryanrori February 2, 2021

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The major steps in implementing a file plan in your office are:

  • identifying documentary material
  • creating the file structure
  • creating the file plan

Identifying documentary material

The first step in implementing a file plan for your office is identifying what you have. Whether you are updating an existing file plan or starting from scratch, you will need to do a survey of what documentary material you have, where it is located, and who is responsible for it. It is important to have an understanding of the functions performed in your office.

You need to identify:

  • Records – Company-owned documentary material created in the course of business, received for action, or needed to document the company’s activities (e.g., permits, leave requests)
  • Non-records – Company-owned documentary material that does not meet the definition of a record (e.g., reference materials, convenience copies)
  • Personal Papers – Documentary material of a private nature that does not relate to Company business (e.g., outside business pursuits)

There are several ways you can survey the documentary material in your office. A traditional records inventory requires a team of records managers to do a folder-by-folder inventory of all work and storage spaces. Several companies have hired contractors to do inventories. Other offices have used a shorter survey approach, enlisting the help of their network of records contacts and custodians.

Regardless of which method you choose, the final product should be a complete listing of all documentary material created, received and/or maintained by staff and contractors, matched to the appropriate records schedules and disposition items.  

Creating the file structure

Once you have identified what you have, the next step is creating the file structure, by arranging the records schedules and disposition items that apply to the records in your office in file code order.

FunctionNo.Title
301-093006Program Management Files
301-091082Response to Audit, Evaluation and Investigation
304-104-02145Program Development Files
304-104-06185Collections of Quality Assurance Project Plans (QAPPs)
301-093194Annual Headquarters Operating Guidance Paper and Plan
301-093195Program Plans Review Files
402673Activities Inventory Reform Act Records

Add the schedule number and disposition item to the function code to create the File Code. 

For example, 301-093 006a is the File Code for the record copy of program management files held by senior officials:

Function Code, Schedule Number, and Disposition Item in a records schedule

Once you have identified File Code’s, you can copy them from the File Structure spreadsheet and create your own office file plan spreadsheet. 

Creating the file plan

Once you have a file structure, the next step is creating the file plan, by adding folder- or document-level details about the records in your office, as well as information about how they are managed.

At a minimum, the file plan should include the following information for each folder or document:

Who?

  • Person and organisation responsible for maintaining the records (i.e., custodian)

What?

  • Company file code
  • Title of the records
  • Medium (e.g., paper, electronic, video)
  • Access restrictions
  • Vital records status

Where?

  • Location of the records (e.g., room number, storage location number)

When?

  • Date range of the records
  • Dates when the records are closed, retired, and transferred or destroyed
  • Disposition status of records (e.g., active, inactive, hold)

You may want to include other information, such as:

  • Description of the records
  • Arrangement of the records (e.g., alphabetically by site, chronologically)
  • Link to the records schedules
  • Person responsible for maintaining the file plan
  • Last revision date of the file plan

During this process, you may need to make decisions on how the records are maintained. For example, you may need to determine:

  • Who is responsible for the “official record” and who only has convenience copies?
  • Are “drafts” or “working files” included in the record?
  • Is the record copy maintained in a paper or electronic recordkeeping system?
  • Should reference materials be centralised?

It is important to include all stakeholders when making these decisions and to obtain management approval of your file plan.

Here is an excerpt from a sample file plan :

Now that you have a file plan, you need to train office staff on how to use it. And, remember that it is a “living” document that should reflect changes to your office (e.g., departing employees, office moves, and changes in business). It may need to be updated monthly when the records schedule changes are issued. It must also be reviewed at least annually, when the file structure is revised, to ensure it still covers all of your office functions. A file plan can be a very effective tool when it is carefully planned, documented, and kept up-to-date.