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Is it Time to Revisit Your Folder Structure?

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 11, 2016 8:30:00 AM / by Colin Kennedy

Colin Kennedy


Shelf's Ask the Expert interview series explores a variety issues that impact workplace productivity. In this interview with Patrick Clapp, Information Research Specialist at Harvard Business School, Shelf Founder Colin Kennedy asks Patrick about reviewing and improving upon an organization's folder structure. Topics discussed include: how you know it's time to revisit your approach for folder naming and file saving, and practical tips on how to create a folder architecture that makes sense to users but doesn't take a ton of time to implement.

One of the most frequently asked questions we get from our customers has to do with their information architecture. Typically, it comes out as "We aren't happy with how our folders are set up. Do you have any recommendations how we can improve them?" So I asked Patrick Clapp, who is an Information Research Specialist at Harvard Business School. He's truly an expert at finding information...and to be an expert at finding information, you need to have a strong structure and process for doing so. 

Here are my takeaways after listening to what Patrick had to say about reviewing and improving an organization's folder structure:

  • Don't worry about coming up with the perfect system on the first try. What matters is creating a repeatable process where you: 1) review your current structure, 2) identify what is working well and what isn't, and 3) iterate based upon that review.
  • A little proactive maintenance will go a long way. My favorite sound byte from the interview was when Patrick said "The worst thing you can do is let a Miscellaneous folder fester." This underscores the importance of having a repeatable process, because it will catch issues before they become wide-scale problems.
  • Start from the "average user" perspective when thinking about how you want to rename folders. A system that makes sense to these people will have a much greater chance of succeeding than a system that might be more elegant/accurate but is tedious for the people who need to use it on a day-to-day basis. 
  • Identify a least a few Champions who buy into the vision of what better knowledge sharing will mean for the health, productivity, and impact of the organization over the long-term. These individuals should be capable of helping you make incremental improvements and identify user pain-points quickly.
  • Documentation doesn't need to be extensive, but it needs to exist and it needs to be accessible. Patrick's suggestion of adding a Change Log to process documents is a simple yet effective way to document without requiring tons of time and energy.

I hope that these cliff notes are useful, but I highly recommend taking 8 minutes to watch the video. Patrick does a great job of taking something that is daunting to many (myself included) and making it actionable and accessible.



Topics: Productivity, Group Content Sharing, Ask The Expert

Colin Kennedy

Written by Colin Kennedy

Colin is the Founder and COO of and 2x software entrepreneur. He also serves as an informal advisor to early-stage tech companies and can be reached at

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