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Building a File Plan Part 3: Creating Classification

This is Part 3 in a series of 6 posts around creating and executing an effective file plan for your organization. Click the following links to read the previous posts: Part 1, Part 2

As we move through this blog series focused on creating a usable, automated and simple file plan we will build the "house" in steps until there is a finished and beautiful looking building. With that in mind, today's post will cover creating the classification. Creating the classification lays down an organizational framework that will determine the actions on all of our records.

One of the most important principles in records management is classifying information into its appropriate bucket so that it can be properly managed and disposed of. As we create a solid file plan, we must understand the types of record categories that may exist.

Primary Classification

Classification is a tool of analysis. It is a method of sorting records into similar groups. Identifying primary classifications within each department and sorting records into those primary classifications is an important step in the development of a file plan.

Primary classification describes the broadest and most basic distinctions to be made between the records of an organization. All records are created as the result of functions which reflect purpose, mission, projects, activities, and programs.

Keeping in mind that since RecordLion recommends a functional versus departmental file plan, we would want the primary classifications to be the highest level of a function. For instance, this could be Financial, Legal, Administration, or maybe even Customer Relationship. For reference, if you look at our own file plan you can see how we setup our primary levels of classification.

Since we are trying to focus on function, single department's records may have primary classifications that differ. In the reverse, it is not unusual for administrative and organizational files to fall into the same primary classification.

Some offices will have program files but not case files, while for others the reverse may be true. Primary file classifications should be based on the function of the office. Remember, identifying primary classifications is only a tool, not the final goal.

Secondary Classification

Now that the primary classifications have been organized into what we tend to call Record Classes, we need to determine a more granular classification scheme, which is often called a record series. Identifying appropriate record series is the second and most important step in developing a solid classification system.

A record series is a group of records that are created, used and archived or disposed of as a unit because they relate to a particular subject or function or result from the same activity.

Pasted_image_at_2016_09_21_02_05_PM.pngThis is a screenshot from RecordLion Information Lifecycle, showing the hierarchical file plan and the respective record classes.

All files must be classified by record series. A file plan is managed on the basis of its record series, not by individual folders. Examples of common record series are: Personnel Files, Payroll Records, Accounts Payable, Purchase Records, and Planning Files.

Tertiary Classification

Although we would like to keep our classification as simplistic as possible while remaining functionally sufficient, it is not necessarily invalid to have an additional group dividing your functions into three levels of the hierarchy.

This is a more granular division of certain functions to accommodate some policy differences between records. As with other topics around the file plan that we have discussed so far in this series, this will be dependent on your organization's structure and preference.


As we have discussed in our previous posts, reviewing each step is crucial. The review process is the next step and should not be underestimated. Complete buy-in from the entire organization is the only way for a classification system to be effective. Let all of your stakeholders review the classifications and offer notes and changes. Give a firm deadline for when these reviews need to be conducted to ensure the project stays on track.

Once the first round of review is complete, the records manager should set up a detailed review with the inside counsel or compliance team. This confirms that the classifications are compliant and ready for the final review at the executive level. Who exactly is in this meeting will of course vary from company to company, but C-level approval will be crucial going forward, especially since this project (and the file plan overall) will involve the allocation of resources.

Next Steps

Next week we will discuss the next step in the overall file plan process: determining record types, specifically case versus administrative records.

As we move through this process and add layers, we must still keep in mind the general principles we rely on: automation, simplicity and completeness. This mindset will certify your information governance program is truly effective and providing value to the business.

Click here to read Part 4

Posted by Andrew Borgschulte

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