Where's that file again?
January 24, 2012 4:52 PM   Subscribe

Are there best practices for cataloging/storing files on a shared drive within an office environment?

I work in a department with about 15 people in a huge institution. For our Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint files (general office stuff), we all store documents on a central drive, accessible to all of us through the standard Windows Explorer arrangement.

Each of us has projects that are specific to our role but we also collaborate on some projects and they can be projects with a life of anywhere from 2 weeks to 20+ years. Each of us has a folder at the top level of the central drive and we all have total control over the structure and contents of the subfolders within our own folder. Although there are a few things that get stored under a central top-level folder that we all contribute to, the vast majority of our work is stored in our own folders on the central drive even if it's something that more than one of us works on.

Our central drive is called J:\ So for example Kate and I work on Project A. She maintains a file for Project A under J:\Kate\Project A but I may store my stuff under J:\OWG\ProjectA and my folders within ProjectA may be of a totally different structure than hers under Project A.

I believe that the drive is backed up nightly but I really don't know much more about the back end or the technical infrastructure.

Obviously, I find this kind of maddening and it makes it really hard to maintain continuity if Kate is out and I need something that she worked on related to Project A. And then if Kate leaves the institution, it's nearly impossible to go back and find stuff even a year later when no one remembers who did what.

The question of how to name files is a different matter. Version control isn't a concern and we need to keep things simple so no SharePoint or other file management stuff. We do have central physical/paper files and they use an entirely different classification scheme that some consultant developed for us years ago and it doesn't really work either and needs to be entirely scrapped so that it mirrors, to the extent possible, the digital files.

For now, I'm trying to convince people to let go of some of the control over how "their" files are stored so that workflow isn't brought to standstill whenever anyone goes on vacation and institutional memory is preserved. How do other offices do this?
posted by otherwordlyglow to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
We have a similar set up with the server but we keep all files in project folders at the root. We name them [Client Name] [Project #] [Project Name] and it works really well. Project folders are archive as jobs are completed.

I don't think it makes any sense to have folders with people's names at the top but I think it will be a huge battle for you to get them to change it, IMHO.
posted by dawkins_7 at 5:00 PM on January 24, 2012

Response by poster: I wish it were that simple but we don't really have clients or project #s but geographic distinctions might work.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:03 PM on January 24, 2012

Obviously, I find this kind of maddening and it makes it really hard to maintain continuity if Kate is out and I need something that she worked on related to Project A.

Who is your sysadmin? This is _utterly_ solved; the term you're looking for is "domain-local security group", and it's a bog-standard tool for managing permissions on a windows network.

You go to your network administrator, whoever manages file permissions and backups on the server, and you say, "This group of people is working on Our_Project together: our data is in j:\this\folder." And then the sysadmin goes and creates a security group on the domain (You do have a domain controller, right? Because if not, um, Jesus) called "Our_Project_SecGrp" and adds everyone in your group to it.

Then they grant that security group read and write permissions on the appropriate folder, and then everyone in that security group can access all the files in j:\this\folder.
posted by mhoye at 5:08 PM on January 24, 2012

Response by poster: mhoye- I don't understand 90% of what you wrote but it isn't really a permissions thing. It's about office procedures and best practices and personalities. There are approx 20,000 people employed in the institution but this is meant only to apply to the 15 or so that are in my department. I'm sure there are sysadmins, probably hundreds of them. There's one guy in our dept who manages the day to day tech support, a guy who is assigned to us by central IT and an IT Infrastructure of immense proportions but they don't care what we do with our files.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 6:01 PM on January 24, 2012

Changing how people store their 'own' files is a huge battle. Can you bypass this by creating a second set of top-level folders for each project (so you now have :\Kate, J:\Tom, J:\ProjectA, J:\ProjectB) and encouraging people to set up a shortcut under J:\ProjectA to their own subfolder?

To do this, they find their own subfolder and copy the address ("J:\Kate\OMG\March\other\2\ProjectA"), then go into J:\ProjectA, right click, select 'New', select 'Shortcut' and then paste in the address they have ready. Now when anyone wants to see all the documents on ProjectA, they are linked from J:\ProjectA
posted by jacalata at 6:08 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I doubt it's a best practice, but in my office, for any project that is being worked on by more than one person, we store all of the files in one shared folder on our server ex: J/Program Name/whatever project. For tasks or projects that don't require sharing, we each keep our own folders with whatever naming conventions we prefer.

If we're working on one big project (3 of us are working on an event right now) we each keep an alias pointing to the shared folder on our desktops.

We still have the occasional "do you have the something file?" but it's a lot less since we all have gotten used to looking on the server first. You could try spending a few hours making some blank project folders together, and then move your nonshared files into them. If you embark on it as a team it;s much likelier to work.
posted by nerdcore at 6:12 PM on January 24, 2012

You need a group folder to which everybody has permissions, and this is a normal thing for companies. It may even be so that if one of you is high enough up (or whatever policies might govern these things), you could be given a limited admin permissions on the J: drive to create toplevel directories. Or at least within some departmental unit to which all project members belong.
posted by rhizome at 6:56 PM on January 24, 2012

When I first started where I work, it was exactly like that - everything all jumbled up, no common file structures, no agreement on where things were supposed to be stored. It was a complete mess. Nobody really wanted to change it, but I got my boss' buy-in to at least try to tame the beast. We started with a file naming convention, with files appropriately dated and file names that reflected the file contents. Just that helped a lot, because even if you had to dig through someone's personal folder looking for files, it was relatively easy to see what was what.

Later, once everyone got used to that, we sat down and came up with a few joint folders for storing projects more than one person was working on, in addition to our personal folders. The list of joint folders has expanded and changed since, as we figured out what categories worked best, but it only took a few months for people to realize the benefit of having a common file structure and folder/file naming standards. Allowing people to keep individual files separate was also a good idea, in addition to the joint folders, so that it wasn't a huge burden to sort out every single file all the time.

In my experience, I think the key points would be:
- Management buy-in would be best, so that there is pressure on everyone to work together to organize the joint files.
- Don't even try to deal with existing files. Just start fresh and go forward. If old files are needed for a project folder (one of those 25+ year projects), move them there when you need them, and rename them then. Nobody has time to reorganize old things, and it could easily overwhelm people into inaction.
- Take it slow. It will take a while for everyone to see the benefits of having a good file structure, and to get used to working together on it.
- It really is worth it. We have saved lots of time and effort because of the joint system. In my office, we have all gotten used to having things organized, and it's easier to just use the existing system for everything. I can't remember the last time I had to really go looking for a file I needed, or the last time I put a file in my personal folder.
-Once it has been working well for some time, that's when you can tackle the paper files to match the digital ones, not before.

Feel free to MeFi Mail me if you want more details. Good luck!
posted by gemmy at 7:18 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are any number of software solutions that do not require that you change the physical location or the hierarchical structure of the files that are created and stored. Instead the people working on a project have a shared repository of project "sheets", for lack of a better word, which in turn link to individual files. A review of several weeks of postings at GigaOM will reveal many such tools.
posted by megatherium at 2:19 AM on January 25, 2012

gemmy's description of how to do this is perfect.

mhoye's suggestion is talking about how you would execute against the second paragraph in gemmy's response. Once everyone is on board with putting all the things in one file structure, you would request (from whoever you get tech support from) that they create a folder for your group in the existing folder. Then all the people who need to get files for your group could be added to a list to access that folder, and no one who was not on that list could not access it.

So once everyone is on board, instead of files being in j:/bob/project, j:/rita/project, they would all be in j:/project. Because everything would be in that one folder, it would be easier for someone to manage the file structure in that folder. You could have j:/project/data, j:/project/reports, j:/project/documentation and so on.

That makes it way easier to manage, although then you have to make sure that the permissions on the folder for who can do things to the contents of that folder remain updated, usually by asking the tech support staff to add or drop people from the list as required.

But that needs to come after you walk everyone through the process of wanting it to happen, which is where gemmy's great advice comes in. I would also recommend doing some quick numbers studies to determine how long it takes to find things currently based on everyone having different file structures or other productivity measure evaluations. This is good for two reasons: it gives you concrete reasons for everyone to change what they're doing, and it will be nice for your performance review to indicate that you saved x number of hours per week due to your efficiency gain!
posted by winna at 9:20 AM on January 25, 2012

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