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Three principles for organizing documentation

Arnstein Teigene
16-Jun-2020 12:24:02

Why is useful information often so hard to find in a company?

On our journey towards creating the best solution for records management, we have interviewed more than 100 companies to try to understand why information management is so hard. What are their main challenges and how can we solve them? Based on these talks we discovered a common set of challenges, and even though the companies varied in size and industry, it turned out they faced the same problems.

So, what are the challenges:

In summary we observed three reasons why the organization of documents often ends up with chaos, and staff not finding the documentation they need.

  1. Changes, both in terms of people and processes. Documentation is often structured in a way that makes sense at the time, but with time and as new people joins, it gets out of control. As time passes you find yourself in a state of classification backlog. The folders and categories that once made sense,  expand and change according to the immediate needs of the business. Your documentation is missing valuable information and tags that can make them useful and possible to find and reuse. Your structure becomes inconsistent over time.
  2. Tools are too complicated
    Enterprise tools for documentation are often too complicated, and employees end up using them wrongly, or altogether avoiding them.
  3. Folders
    One of the main reasons documents go missing is because of folders. Folders are so commonly used that people take them for granted. But they are not a good way of organizing documentation. There are many reasons for this. One being that anyone can add a folder at any time. The result is that over time an organization will have thousands of folders that do not make sense and adds chaos. Many files end up in different folders. Where is the latest presentation? Is it in the Sales folder, in the Presentation folder, or maybe I put it in the Customer folder? This is because the folder structure is limited to one dimension. You can only choose one folder for your document.

Another issue is how a folder structure scales. How do you use folders to organize information when you need to control important assets? Take for example a telecom company with 10 000 base stations; How do you organize that?

Based on these observations we recommend three principles for organizing documentation:

  1. Simplicity
    If you rely on people to organise documentation correctly, make it simple and easy for people. Otherwise, when folder hierarchies are deep and choices are many, or the process is time-consuming, people tend to misunderstand, cheat or not bother. 
  2. Organize by functions
    The second principle we recommend is to create categories (folders/sections) that reflect important functions and processes in the organisation. Pick things that are unlikely to change, even if the organisation itself is reorganized.  For example, if you are a shipping company it is very likely that you will continue to do docking and maintenance on your ships, even as people come and go and the organization chart changes
  3. Centralize classification
    Make sure people don’t change any structure without alignment within the organisation. For example, if anyone can create a folder at any given time, you will end up with a complicated structure. Unfortunately, this is how folders usually work, and we do not consider them a good alternative in a professional environment.

Curious to how we solved it? Take a look at this short video

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