RM101 - Module 2: The Planning and Design of a Records Management Program



The following lessons focus on the role of a Business Analyst or a Records Manager who would analyze and design a Records Management or RM Program for an organization or company and eventually build a File Plan based on the requirements identified. The scope of these lessons are to outline the analysis and essential criteria to consider before implementing a Records Management application such as Alfresco Records Management.

In this module, we will cover the following:

The Structure of a Record As It Relates to the Hierarchy of a File Plan

Overview of File Plans and Records Hierarchy

The structure of a record (as it is referred to in the File Plan) is important to understand and sets the foundation for the entire File Plan. In this lesson, we are focusing on an Electronics Records Management (ERM) File Plan. However, substitutions can be made for a mixed-records environment.

In the table on screen, review the definition for each predefined level of a File Plan, or click the narration control bar to listen to the definition as appropriate.

Predefined Level Definition


Material which is filed in a record folder.

Record Folder

A record folder may be created within a record category. The record folder is also considered to be under the control of the record category. Once the record folder is created, and a disposition schedule is defined, restrictions apply.

Record Series / Category

A record series is a container that holds record categories. In Alfresco these series are referred to as record categories. So you can think of a "series" as being synonymous with "categories" in this case. The record category contains the retention and disposition instructions for its folders and records stored in those folders.

Vital Record

A vital record is considered to be essential to the operation of an organization or company. Remember we previously discussed in the RM Primer lessons about business continuity. This is where a record would be tagged as a vital record. A vital record must be reviewed on a periodic basis, and that period is defined in the File Plan. The review schedule is separate from the Disposition Schedule. The review schedule is defined at the record category or folder level so that all records in the category will be under review at the same interval.


How does this relate to a File Plan (or what is a "File Plan Hierarchy")?

Record folders are a gathering of records, and a file plan is a gathering of record folders. The folders, categories, and designations all determine the File Plan-- and the File Plan determines the design of the the Records Management Program and how Alfresco RM is set up.

Knowledge Check - Matching Exercise: Records Hierarchy

Match the Predefined Record Label with its Description.
  • Record
    Material which is filed in a record folder.
  • Record Folder
    May be created within a record category. Also considered to be under the control of the record category. Restrictions may apply.
  • Record Series
    Contains the retention and disposition instructions for its folders, and records stored in those folders. These have a special name in Alfresco ("categories").
  • Vital Record
    Considered essential to the successful operation of an organization or company. Must be reviewed on a periodic basis, and that period is defined in the File Plan.

Considerations When Designing an RM Program


Records Management programs and implementation do not have to be enterprise-wide in scope. They can be regional, or by branch or unit as well. However, because even at that level it is likely that company materials interact with another branch or unit, it is recommended that you consider an enterprise-wide analysis. An enterprise-wide analysis ensures that there is scalability of the program in the event it is later adopted by the entire company.

Phase One: Determine the Scope of the RM Program

Whether the intent is to deploy an RM program enterprise-wide or localized to a specific part of your business, the scope of an RM Program is primarily dictated by the materials or records that you wish to maintain.

First, review all available records policies and standards. Companies and departments within a company may have unique paper-based RM policies that will likely apply to an ERM application strategy. There are possibilities that a detailed paper-based RM policy will not work with an ERM strategy due to system limitations but those issues will be apparent once an analysis is performed. Some suggested items that can be reviewed to identify these criteria are:

A thorough understanding of current policies can mitigate the duplication of work when developing an ERM Program.

Knowledge Check - Matching Exercise: Elements of an RM Policy

Colt Automotive is our Scenario Company.

Provide the student with various examples of a RM Scope statement and have them build one.

Provide a solution document that shows the RM Scope statement that we will use.

Level Of Effort and Lab Objectives:

1. Create three to four scope documents narrowing them down to a minimum.

2. Create a solutions Colt Automotive RM Scope Statement.

Phase Two: Collect and Analyze Data in Preparation of File Plan Development

If an RM Program already exists and is geared toward a paper-based system, then much of the work towards designing a new program is likely done. The types of records are probably defined appropriately in the strategy, and all that needs to be accomplished is validation and updating to make the program current prior to deployment of an ERM application. In either case, “paper-based program defined” or “paper-based not defined,” the same steps listed below should be accomplished to identify a new program or the necessity for validation and updating of a current program. Below is a list of steps that we will be covering in this phase:

Step 1 – Physically inspect all department or company files:

Physically inspect or conduct an inventory of what records are in each location. You may choose to create a data collection form in order to collect essential data for those records. In the table below there are descriptions of the the typical data collected:

Since records come in various formats, the list of formats below should be considered:

Step 2 – Identify Duplicate, Fragmented, and Related Records:

Once the inventory is complete, the analysis begins. There will be an abundance of duplicate record formats, and record data to sift through. Review and sort the data collection forms by asking three primary questions in the table below:

At this point, you are prepared to create a “File Inventory Matrix” that can be cross-referenced in many ways by criteria, location, format, etc. This matrix is a culmination of the inventory analysis and will eventually be the criteria from which the File Plan is developed.

Step 3 – Match the Records to the Disposition Schedules (if they exist):


The next step is to match the inventory results in the File Inventory Matrix to the Disposition Schedules.

In an ERM application such as Alfresco RM, if unscheduled records are found, they will be labeled as “incomplete” and the application requires the Records Manager to apply a Disposition Schedule to that record. Keep in mind these incomplete records will have to be scheduled by a Records Manager or Records Proprietor which compounded by a large number of records loaded each day by a large number of employees, imagine the manual intervention required. For this reason, it is important to define the Disposition Schedule for each type or category of record.

There may also be specific industry, governmental, or worldwide standards that need to be considered in addition to company-wide or department standards when considering records retention and destruction. Although these standards may not apply to each department, they represent proven ideas and best practices within the industry and by other organizations in addressing an ERM system implementation.

Below are suggested standards. Take a few moments to review these references:

The product of this step is a new or updated records matrix outlining the record title, type, use, department, and disposition or record lifecycle.

Step 4 - Stakeholder Review:

It is important to give the stakeholders of the project an opportunity to review additional, agency-unique record requirements after they have been drafted. Several methods are available in order to facilitate this exercise:

  • Walk through with stakeholders how records requirements map directly to identified goals.

  • Ask stakeholders to rank the impact and risk of each organizational process, then use the mapping between record requirements and business processes to rank critical requirements.

  • Ask stakeholders to identify their "Most Wanted" and/or "Least Wanted" record requirements in the context of organizational value and risk.

  • Ask stakeholders to rank record requirements, in terms of importance on a sliding scale.

  • Present the stakeholders with a picture of the File Plan as it could be built from the record requirements and request that they critique it.

  • Arrange a stakeholder meeting to assess the record requirements either in detail or as a whole.

  • Publish the draft record requirements and request written comments.

Once stakeholder comments or opinions are known, it is possible to broaden the mandatory record requirements to include those requirements of most use to stakeholders, to re-write requirements as needed, and to prioritize optional requirements according to their usefulness.

Depending on the extent and substance of stakeholder comments, the record requirements may be rewritten and resubmitted for stakeholder evaluation. In the event of the previous existence of legacy paper-based RM program, this may be an especially important step for the owners and operators who have intimate knowledge of that program.

Where there are many competing voices to be heard, an iterative process or re-write, re-prioritizing, and review is needed to sufficiently refine the requirements.

Lab Exercise - Section 1: Create a File Inventory Matrix

You have begun building a File Plan. In this Lab section, you will analyze Records Management Inventory forms uploaded by Records Management Custodians at Colt Automotive. You will then determine the Hierarchy for Records Management at Colt Automotive and then record your findings in a Colt Automotive File Inventory Matrix.

All example forms and completed forms are contained in your Virtual Machine and in Alfresco Share in your VM.

This is a progressive lab and is the foundation of the Colt Automotive File Plan.

Enjoy this Lab Exercise!

Lab Exercise  - Section 2: Create a Vital Records and Disposition Schedules List

You continuing to gather data to compile into a File Plan. In this Lab section, you will analyze Records Management Inventory forms uploaded by Records Management Custodians at Colt Automotive. You will determine which records have associated Vital Records information and Disposition Instructions. You will need to record this data as well as the Disposition Authority in a list or spreadsheet.

All example forms and completed forms are contained in your Virtual Machine and in Alfresco Share in your VM.

This is a progressive lab and is an integral part of the next Lab Section where you build the final Colt Automotive File Plan.

Enjoy this Lab Exercise!

Knowledge Check: Phase Two - Step 1

  • You should start your process by conducting an inventory of any existing records.
  • Some criteria to consider in a data collection form include: office, location, medium, and geography.
  • You should also consider the various record formats: email, forms, web content, papers, and others.
Please answer "True" or "False" to the following statements.

Knowledge Check: Phase Two - Step 2

Please match the questions to their explanations.
  • Do the records duplicate each other or overlap?
    This means a complete file should be created and the duplicates eliminated where feasible.
  • Are the records fragmented and divided amongst various entities in the company?
    The fragments should be physically united, if at all possible. At a minimum, the organization needs to understand where all the pieces are and who is responsible for them, and then standardize the way they are arranged and maintained.
  • Are the records related to one another?
    By understanding the relationships, you will be able to better determine the best retention for each piece. For example: drafts and finals, chronological and subject files, or final reports and working papers.

Knowledge Check: Phase Two - Step 3

After you create your , you should match your  to your  if they exist. If unscheduled records are found, they will be labeled as , which requires the Records Manager to apply a disposition schedule to that record.

Knowledge Check: Phase Two - Step 4

Please write-in your answer to the following question: why are stakeholder reviews necessary?

Creating a File Plan

Building the File Plan

Many people think a file plan is simply a listing of the file folders currently in their file cabinets. A real file plan is only one component of an overall RM program, which is a set of policies and procedures for organizing and identifying files or documents to speed their retrieval, use, and disposition.

Let’s go over some of the documentation that the file plan is derived from.

The first document in the filing system is the "File Inventory Matrix" that you developed as part of the "Phase Two: The File Inventory" step. The matrix shows what files the program maintains, who maintains them, and where they are maintained.

The second document is the "Disposition Schedule"  you developed as part of the "Phase Two: Matching Records to Disposition Schedules" step that gives the retention and disposition of records, and describes the record series.

The third document is the File Plan, which is the focus of this lesson.

Knowledge Check: Building the File Plan

  • Document your program's activities effectively
  • Cooperate with other departments
  • Excel at running meetings
  • Identify and retrieve records consistently
  • Retire records easily

Please select all answers that complete the following sentence:

"File Plans are important, because they allow you to..."

The Subject File Folder Trap

As a Records Manager, How often do you receive the request to make a new Subject File folder for a particular subject and then add the file to the folder you just created? The office "Subject File Folder" is one of the biggest records management problems.

Subject File Folders can work, and at lower organizational levels they often make sense. Here are some tips to making a good “Subject File Folder” work:

File Plans operate on two levels. They guide you in identifying and arranging the records series in the filing application, and they guide you in arranging the document or file folders in the records series.

Although the two are related, there are some differences. Let’s go through some!

Identifying and Arranging Series (or Categories)

As you completed Step 1 and Step 2 in Phase Two of Designing an RM Program, you identified and separated out the non-record materials in your file cabinets or electronic application, and then identified the records series and matched them to the records schedules.

The Series is the fundamental building block of the File Plan. Identifying records by series makes it easy to determine what should be filed in the series and what the retention is. To work most effectively, the Series, Disposition Schedules, and File Plan must be integrated into an overall file plan structure.

Next, let’s go over some arrangement schemes that can be used to organize a series of records.


Knowledge Check: Identifying and Arranging Series

  • Record
  • Series
  • Record Folder
  • Vital Record

Fill in the blank with the correct response:

The _________ is the fundamental building block of the File Plan.

Arrangement Schemes

There is no one arrangement scheme that is best for all records management programs. What we mean by "Arrangement Schemes" are methods of ordering records either chronologically, numerically, alphabetically, alpha-numerically, or by file codes.

This is something that as the designer of the program, you will need to determine before moving forward with File Plan development. Below are some basic suggestions on the major schemes. For more information, consult any records management text book or articles.


Arranged by date




Arranged by number




Arranged in alphabetical order from A to Z




Arranged according an identifier



File Codes

Similar to Office Codes





Choosing the Arrangement

The obvious question is which arrangement scheme to choose for each series of records. You need to think about how the records will be used, what characteristics the staff use to identify the records, how the records are requested, and whether they will be indexed. Let’s look at this as a sort of scenario.

Perhaps you have a correspondence series of outgoing letters with different characteristics. There are a number of ways to arrange the outgoing letters.  Ask yourself these questions when assessing how you would file a letter:

  • “If I wrote the letter..." maybe the series should be arranged by author or signer.

  • “If the letter was written about three weeks ago..." chronological may be the best bet.

  • “If the letter I sent was sent to a specific person or company..." the arrangement should be by addressee.

  • Finally, “If I wrote the letter about a particular subject..." then a subject file might be best.

Pick the arrangement that will enable you to respond to the most requests most easily. If the series is an important one, you should think about indexing it to simplify searching in multiple ways. By the way, Alfresco’s Records Management application which is modified from Alfresco Share, does a very good job of indexing and can be configured in many ways to accommodate specific indexing criteria, which leads us to our next topic, records indexing.

Records Indexing

If the records will be indexed, the questions in the previous scenario are a lot simpler. Generally, modern automated indexes offer a number of search fields, and the physical arrangement of the records is less important. If the records will be indexed, the series should be physically arranged in whatever way makes the filing simplest, usually chronologically or numerically, depending upon the type of records. There is no magic to indexing and indexing is usually a common sense approach.

Lab Exercise - Section 3: Building a File Plan


Combine the Inventory List and the VR and Dispo List into a file plan.

Stretch goal:

Provide Rules relative to the sub-categories and sub-sub categories to control individual disposition schedules. Have them try and define sub and sub-subs then they can review it in the Colt Automotive Complete File Plan.

Final Tips

We’re going to end this lesson with some final tips or advice:

  1. Keep the file plan simple. Let the records "structure themselves" when at all possible. For example, don't make up an alpha-numeric filing scheme for invoices that already have a number naturally assigned.

  2. Consider using color coding for files or special folders to make filing simpler. Obviously this won’t work for an ERM but this will likely work for paper-based files that are still maintained but recorded in an ERM application.

  3. Have program staff assist in developing the file plan. They will have useful suggestions, and they will feel more positive about using the file plan if they had a hand in developing it.

  4. Don't reinvent the wheel - contact your CIO, Regions, or the various unit specific Records Manager for assistance.

  5. Contractors can assist Records Managers in developing file plans, but no amount of contractor support can eliminate the need for staff involvement in the process. The most critical steps in developing a file plan is determining the requirements by analyzing how and why the files are created, how and why they are accessed, what needs to be included in the files, how long files need to be retained and why. These are company decisions based on company knowledge and company needs. Once these questions are answered, a contractor can take these answers and create a file plan to meet these requirements. Bottom line — contract out if you want, but realize that developing a workable file plan will still require lots of staff time and involvement.

This concludes our lesson on Developing a File Plan. Thank you for taking this module, presented by Alfresco University!

RM101 Course Wrap-up