5 Secrets to Manage Project Documents like a Pro

5 Secrets to Manage Project Documents like a Pro

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Monday, 13 March 2017 03:56

In a world where communication travels at the speed we can type, it becomes more and more difficult to keep up with the demands for fast answers. Today more than ever, having "the last version" at hand is of major importance.
On top of that, documents are created so easily that we often end up (really quickly) with multiple versions of the same thing...

How do you cope with that???

1. Establish a System

There is no way around it: you cannot really afford to be messy and you cannot really afford to have people messing with your filing system.
Everyone on your Team must be on the same page when it comes to files and everyone must know where to look for any specific document. So you need a clear system.
There is no magic pill when it comes to the structure of a filing system... it really depends on the details of your process, so it is something you have to develop with time and you have to revise and improve continuously.

As a general rule, you always want to keep separate the documents you receive from Clients... so make a folder for that.
You also want to have folders for every step of the Project. You might end up with a structure like this:

  • 01. Received
  • 02. Offer
  • 03. Preliminary Design
  • 04. Approved Design
  • 05. Implementation
  • 06. Orders
  • 07. Photos

folders like "Other" or "Misc" because they will get filled with clutter and you won't have any idea what is gonna be in there (hence you'd waste time trying to figure that out).

Have all the folders on a cloud server. This gives you the opportunity to access the files at any time and from anywhere. Today there are countless solutions for storing files remotely and there is no reason why you should not do it.
Google Drive and Dropbox are the obvious choices. You might look around for something more specific to your type of business.

Keep the same folder structure for all projects!
This is very important. The more you stick to a well-defined and strict format, the more people will become familiar with it and the easier will be for everyone to navigate into folders to find documents.

Spend time thinking and planning the best folder structure for your particular case. Involve people from all departments in your organization and discuss with them which would be the best choice.
Once agreed on the basic layout, take some time to think it through and to finalize it. Make the folder structure available on a separate document (Word or Excel) and have everyone reviewing it. Then approve it and make it official.

Create a template folder with the structure you agreed with the Team. Keep this folder in a safe place so that you can quickly find it and reuse it for a new Project.

Last, appoint one person (Controller) to make sure the folder structure is not altered and that rules of filing (see also following tips) are followed.
This person can be a Quality Manager, a Project Assistant, a Secretary... or, in the worse case, yourself.


2. Name your Files

Naming conventions are important. Agree with your Team to use a set of rules (model) for naming files. This will save you tons of time.
Correct naming is important for multiple reasons:

  • to make sure anyone on the Team can understand at a glance what the file contains. This alone will save to your company hundreds of hours by the end of the year!
  • to avoid ending up with silly or embarrassing names (1st_try.dwg, Plan_FINAL_7.dwg, ...).
  • to avoid wasting time renaming the silly stuff from the point above.

Agree on the naming convention. The sooner the better.
The Controller (the same person you appointed before to watch over the folder system) shall also keep on eye on file names and notify any improper naming.
Note when I say "notify" and not "punish or humiliate people for their eventual mistakes". It is important that these controlling actions are taken with a creative and collaborative spirit and in full respect of every member your Team.
If your controller gets too pushy... change Controller.

Example naming convention for files:


this would translate to something like this:


...even if you are a total outsider, you would have no trouble to guess what you can find in that file.
Note that this kind of naming convention will save time also to every stakeholder working with you.

Note also the inverted date in the beginning of the name: this is a good naming habit used to have proper sorting of versions on just about every filesystem.

3. Move Outdated Versions

Speaking of sorting... Versioning your files properly guarantees nobody wastes time working on an outdated copy.
Last thing you want happening is the classic: Working Off an Outdated Plan Because You Don’t Know There’s a Newer One.

Proper versioning reduces the risk of ending up in that situation.

Here is how to version files like a pro:

  • start by using the inverted date in the beginning of the file. Stick with the date of creation, so you don't have to change it every time you edit;
  • add revision number at the end of the file name. The number shall be the very last character in the name. This will guarantee proper sorting.

In the folders that get shared, make sure you always have ONE version of any file... the LAST one!
Have a folder in the Project folder's structure where to move outdated versions. This folder generally gets the name of "_OLD"... or something like that :)
Have the Controller keeping an eye on this.


4. Do NOT Keep your Own Copy

Avoid making changes to a shared document in secret.
If the document is there for everyone to see, you don't want to make a copy for yourself and work on that.

The reason is simple... 10 other people could do the same in the very same time!
Good luck putting the versions together then...

The best way to implement changes is this: 

  • make a shared copy of the file you want to edit (in the very same folder where the file is);
  • rename the file as revision following the rules described above;
  • add a postfix like "_EDITING";
  • modify the file;
  • remove the postfix from the file name;
  • move the outdated version to the archive/old folder.

While you are working on the file your colleagues will see something like this:


This will immediately tell them 2 things:

  • revision 2 is not current anymore;
  • the current version is revision 3... but someone is working on it right now;
  • they should wait till the revision 3 is ready before they can put their hands on this particular document.

This simple way to work guarantees there is no mistakes with versions.


5. Train your Team 

All the tips described above are pretty useless if your people are not aware of the rules.
The key principle at play here is that everyone should know where to look for any info/document. When the 4 guidelines above are implemented correctly, it should not take more than a few seconds to find the CURRENT version of any particular document.
Multiply this time by all the members of your organization and by dozens of searches per day... you start to see the real convenience of having this system working properly.

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Published in Discussions and Files/

Read 514 times Last modified on Tuesday, 14 March 2017 05:26

Andrea Bronzini

Brilliant and committed professional.
Andrea has been working in construction industry since 2004 and he was certified as Passivhaus Consultant in 2010.
Among other skills, Andrea specialises in Sales and Marketing and collaborates with Leansite in quality of Marketing Consultant.

Website: andreabronzini.com