File Plan, Key Step in Records Management

There are several steps in records management, each of them is very important and has its role. But the most important part in records management is the file plan. A file plan describes every type of records in the organization, the location where they should be stored, the rules applying to them, the retention schedule and timeline, manner of their disposition, and the person or persons responsible for their management.

A file plan is the original and required document used for records planning, and that document can differ from company to company, but it usually consists of:

  • Description of the kinds of documents identified to be records
  • The classification of the records into wide range of categories
  • Details about the location of the stored records
  • Description of the retention schedule and period
  • Making the distinction and assigning the responsibility for certain types of records

But before you start working on the file plan you first need to realize the basic difference between records, archived records and active documents.

  • Records are documents in your organization in physical or electronic forms that have a purpose of being an evidence of the activities of the organization. The records need to be kept a certain time period according to the retention schedule.
  • Active documents are documents that are in use like e-mail or specification of a printed product, documents in the library or archive, or any page on a website. Active documents are called active because in time they will change, maybe they will be shared, all in all they will travel some distance inside the organization.
  • Archived documents are documents no longer used but still can’t be considered as records, which can be because they were never identified as records or because there is no more need for them. Those records are mostly kept by some organization without legal reasons, mostly historical archives for preservation of the documents.

Once you know that and you determine what a record is, you can continue with the file plan. Start with the file structure, which is the first thing you need to do. File structure is essential since it is the core of any file plan. A basic file structure should be placed in order by record schedules, business functions and disposition. Every function has a code and every disposition has a title, both of them have a file code. A file code is used to represent lengthy titles.

  • function code (e.g., 102-007-03)
  • schedule number (e.g., 068)
  • disposition item (e.g., g)

The entire agency file code would be ‘102-007-03 068g’, where ‘102-007-03’ is the function, ‘068’ is the number and ‘g’ is the item. All of those numbers have a purpose.

  • 102-007-03, provides public information, education and outreach
  • 068, publications and promotional items
  • g, routine publications or promotional items

When you construct your file structure you continue with making the file plan. You need to make folders or levels for documents on various details for the records you posses, you also need to provide information on the level of their management and how are they managed. Your file plan needs to have the presented information for every document or folder:

Who?

  • Describing the person and the company that maintains the records

What?

  • File code of the agency
  • Title of each record
  • Medium (electronic, paper, digital media)
  • Restrictions of access
  • Status of the vital records

Where?

Where the records are located (everything from address of the storage to the number of the room where they are kept)

When?

  • Dates of the records (when were they archived and the current date)
  • All dates of the records, when were they retired, closed, destroyed or transferred
  • Disposition status (hold, inactive, active)

Other information may be included:

  • Records description
  • Records arrangements
  • Records schedule link tree
  • People, employees in charge of the file plan
  • The date when the file plan was last revised

During the process you will be in a position to decide how those records should be maintained.

  • Who has the responsibility for the “official record” and who is in possession of the copies?
  • Are the “drafts” of the records included?
  • Is the copy of the record kept in an electronic or paper system?
  • Deciding in the centralization of the record system?

Sample of a file plan:

Records: Shipping forms
Description: Configure the shipment of materials.
Media: Print
Record Category: Shipping Materials
Retention: X years
Disposition: Destroy
Contact: George Humphrey

Once you have created the file plan you have to make sure that your personnel becomes familiar with it. You may also need to update the file plan at the end of every month when the records schedules are changed. The file plan should be inspected at least once a year in order to ensure that all office functions are covered. A file plan is your best tool of efficiency if you plan it carefully and keep it up to date.

Description of a file plan, what are its uses, how it is used and a few examples for simple understanding.

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