Late to the party as always, I recently read the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Maria Kondo, after watching her hit Netflix series where she comes into people’s homes to sort out their messy tendencies using her “KonMari” method and, in doing so, sorts out their lives. This popular phenomenon has even birthed a brand new verb, “to konmari”, as in “I konmari’d my wardrobe”.

While I haven’t fully “konmari’d” by home and, in all honesty, probably never will (who has the time for all that folding?), I did take a few learnings away from this book. It helped me question more which possessions I keep, but it also reminded me of just how important tidiness can be to our own sense of calm and wellbeing. There are few people who can fully relax in a chaotic environment, and yet, when things get stressful, tidiness is often the first thing to go. Being in a messy environment then compounds the stress and it can be a slippery slope from there.

So, what can we do in our working lives to ensure that, when things get stressful, we don’t make things worse by letting organisation slip away? And how can we use tidiness and order to increase our productivity, and the success of our projects? For me, good filing is the answer. I’ve devised a system for maintaining project files based on the M-Powered Project Management Handbook.

As project managers, organisation is key to what we do. And yet, I have seen many project managers, and even whole organisations, that have no uniform system for managing project files. Each project manager usually has their own obscure method, which is impossible for anyone else to navigate and includes dozens if not hundreds of outdated or duplicated files. Even more problematic is when a project manager creates no proper record of their project and keeps all knowledge of the project in their head. This is surprisingly common, but what happens if someone gets sick, or leaves their job suddenly? Organisations are left scrambling to figure out at what point in development a project is, what needs to be done to fulfil commitments, and where key documents are.

Ideally, every organisation would have a clear and transparent project management system that every staff member would follow so that no unforeseen circumstances could interfere with project delivery and put success in jeopardy. However, it can be a long process to develop and implement such a system. What you can do quite easily though is start by introducing a standard filing system that all project managers in an organisation must follow. This means that no matter what happens, anyone can theoretically take over a project when necessary and at least navigate the basics easily.

Using such a system also encourages good practice in project management. It categorises the often-overlooked work that must be done (e.g. stakeholder management, dissemination, risk management) and acts as a prompt for project managers to undertake these tasks, while providing them with tools to help.

The table below outlines the filing system I use for my projects, the key documents I create or use for each project, and a description of them:

Folder

Key contents

Description

Project Info

Project Management Guide

This should be created at the very beginning of the project and should outline exactly what needs to be done for project delivery. It should be kept updated throughout so that if anyone else needs to step in to take over the project, they can be brought up to speed easily.

Timeline

This is usually created in the application stage but, if not, it can be created during project kick-off to mark key dates and should be kept updated throughout.

Team structure

A list of key contacts. This is especially important when collaborating with external partners.

Internal Communications & Meetings

Agenda template

This encourages consistent record keeping and good practice for organising meetings.

Minutes template

Meeting minutes are vital project management tools. Providing a quality template encourages good practice in recording and following up on minutes.

Meeting schedule

A list of key meeting dates, including regular check ins with the team leader to review project progress.

Agreed communication methods

For projects with external partners, it can be necessary to establish how you will communicate with one another, e.g. are you using project management software?

Conflict management strategy

For projects with external partners, it can be useful to hold a conflict management session in your first meeting to establish ground rules for your collaboration and a clear chain of communication for flagging any issues or problems that could lead to conflict.

Risks and Opportunities

Risk and Opportunities Register

When initiating a project, it is good practice to create a register of project risks and opportunities to monitor throughout the project. Check out this blog by Marzena about risk management.

Stakeholders

Power/Interest Grid for Stakeholder Prioritization

We use this tool all the time at M-Powered to categorise stakeholders and how to communicate with them. Carry out this exercise first at project kick-off but update it throughout the project as new stakeholders emerge.

Summary of stakeholders identified in application and evidence to collect

Maintaining a list can ensure that no key contacts get lost if there is a change in project managers.

Public Communications and Dissemination

Dissemination monitoring tool

Monitoring dissemination is often a project requirement in order to measure impact. Create an excel sheet to log and calculate the reach of all dissemination activities.

Summary of targets promised in application and evidence to collect

Make it clear exactly what the dissemination targets for a project are by keeping a summary document that can be referred to when necessary to monitor progress.

Events and Multipliers

Summary of targets promised in application and evidence to collect

If events are necessary in your project, ensure a summary of key requirements is easily accessible in this folder.

Outputs

Individual summary of each output, targets promised, key dates, evidence to collect, etc,

Depending on the size and complexity of the project, this might contain multiple subfolders to further categories outputs but each one should include a basic summary documents of the output.

Impact

Impact monitoring tool

Like the dissemination monitoring tool, creating an excel sheet outlining all the key impacts promised in an application and reviewing them regularly can help ensure you are meeting key project targets and collecting the relevant evidence for reporting. 

Summary of targets promised in application and evidence to collect

Make sure the key impacts and reporting requirements are easily accessible in this folder.

As the project unfolds, documents are added to the relevant folders and additional folders are added only if absolutely necessary. Internal project reviews should take place around the file system. The team leader can go through each folder to revisit the summary document for each topic, and then discuss with the project manager how the project is progressing, and see for themselves the evidence collected and filed. In doing so, it ensures that folders are kept neat and up to date with only relevant files.

Not only does this system mean that anyone can access important project information easily, it also encourages order and tidiness, which is vital to helping employees feel more relaxed and in control of their work, allowing them to focus on their tasks. People love structure, even if they may resist it at first. Providing this structure for your team can – as Maria Kondo would say – “spark joy” and increase efficiency, productivity, and wellbeing in your team. Maybe this is why Kondo calls tidying a “life changing magic”!