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Drive organization – practical implementation

Posted by Andrea Kaden in Continous improvement, Folder structure and file plan, Office organisation, Paperless office 15 Jul 2012

Drive organization – practical implementation

Regardless of size, in many companies staff complain about the lack of organized drives, widespread chaos, having to search endlessly for the information they require, being constantly unsure that the file in question is the updated version and frequently running the risk of foundering in a flood of different file versions. The call for organized electronic data files is getting ever louder. In many quarters, a general recognition now prevails that things cannot continue in this vein given the immense amount of time that is lost searching. Distraught staff are beginning to ponder the possibilities of finding a solution. After numerous internal projects to improve the situation have failed, personnel start googling for external help. Search terms that people who land on our website often use are: ‚chaos on hard drives‘, ‚folder labeling‘ and ‚file naming‘.


I have rarely come across a member of staff who is opposed to the idea of organizing file-related chaos. On the contrary, I am sometimes received like some kind of fairy godmother of organization, who has arrived to put everything right. All in all, staff want to see their daily routine in dealing with the often overwhelming flood of electronic information finally made easier. A simple and logical file structure can go a long way to simplifying things.

Structure analysis

As a first step, we examine the structures of the respective data file directories at your location and, based on the outcome, can then form an idea of how comprehensive the project file restructuring or reorganization needs to be. During initial talks with a few of the staff, we then learn more about information flows and organizational bottlenecks within the company. Main issues that constantly arise are the previous attempts to bring clarity to the file structure and/or the reasons that such initiatives failed. Particularly in the case of large companies, incorporating the IT department in the file structuring project is an important aspect, as IT staff are indispensable when it comes to drive organization and access rights and can also be extremely helpful during practical implementation.


Following the initial meeting at the company, we draw up a concept/offer regarding how to proceed with cleaning up the chaos on the drives, what to do to prevent chaos in future as well as the duration of the project and how much it will cost.

Implementation in workshops

1. Drafting a new file plan
Generally, we run the project in the form of workshops with groups of employees. We then proceed to develop the ideal file plan within these workshops. Step by step, a new structure will emerge either on a large whiteboard or on large writeable transparencies on the wall. What at first sounds like a very simple process actually involves hard work and negotiation. This becomes exponentially harder the greater the number of employees that participate. Notwithstanding, it makes a great deal of sense to involve numerous employees (entire departments or one person from each department) in the development process given that various perspectives and different usage help to clearly define what is required.


2. Important issues
In the course of these workshops, major uncertainty in terms of file and folder allocation repeatedly arises as a result of, for example, a failure to clarify and communicate the following questions:

  • Who is responsible for folder structure?
  • Is there a pertinent reference file plan or list of rules that are available somewhere to read?
  • Who uses the respective folder and in what form?
  • What access rights are or can be allocated?
  • Are archiving rules in place, and if so, what are they?

The workshops provide answers to all these questions as well as logical and practical solutions.
Even though every file plan has its own character in line with the respective company or department, a number of basic folder structure and labeling rules apply that are passed on to staff during the workshop. Additionally, we also establish the pertinent file designation rules.

Drive organisation
Folder structure within PowerPoint.

Together we develop a project schedule and assign specific responsibilities for organizing the new structure.

A practical move at this stage is to visualize a file plan in PowerPoint, Excel, Visio or even as a ’shell‘ and present this once more to the staff. The next step involves transferring this to Explorer and perhaps presenting it again to staff. A date is then set for when the new plan will become effective.


On no account should an attempt be made to transfer all the old files or folders into the new system. Such a move would involve a disproportionate amount of effort and the whole idea of creating a new structure is ultimately to get rid of ‚junk files‘.

Working with the new data structure

The most efficient and elegant solution is to retrieve only the currently required files from the old system on day ‚X‘ and deposit them according to the new rules. The functionality of this measure can be enhanced if the IT department furnishes the old drive with read-only access. No doubt one or two employees may not agree with implementing the measure, but experience has shown that some employees will always prefer to work in the old structure due to time restraints or purely out of convenience.


On the four top levels, responsibilities and rights should also be allocated to those who are permitted to create and delete folders.

If every employee is allowed to freely create folders, then bedlam is only just around the corner. This is because some employees that are not sure what to do with a file will have the tendency to create a new folder, which of course will only cause confusion for the next member of staff.


Depending on the size of the company, the planning and implementation of the ‚drive organization‘ project can encompass between 3 and 10 workshops and take between one and six months to complete.

Parallel to the workshops, corresponding documentation regarding the relevant agreements and rules is provided in all cases, which can sometimes lead to a follow-up project: namely, the organization manual.

Risks during implementation

In principle, creating a new file plan is not witchcraft; however, there are a number of reasons why such projects constantly fail without external help:

  • Restructuring is totally underestimated from both a functional and temporal perspective
  • Unsatisfactory knowledge of rules and technical options
  • No capacity made available in terms of time
  • A single employee is assigned a project that is far too big
  • Completion of this extremely complex task is expected to happen ‚on the side‘
  • Too few staff that work with the data participate in the process
  • Those assigned are targeted with a lot of criticism by those not participating, which creates frustration
  • No schedule drafted
  • Where workshops are held, loud and impatient employees will rapidly drown out the quieter, more organizationally competent staff
  • Prophets are seldom heard in their own land
  • In general, getting rid of old filing habits and getting used to new structures within a hectic working environment is not easy

External consulting

For all the above reasons, it makes sense to get advice from an external source. External consultants offer professional input, presentation, compromise and also tend to ask the less comfortable questions. They constantly focus on the objective and can ‚adamantly‘ monitor completion of the process sub-phases.

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