How to Build a Records Program Step 1: Develop a Plan

on "October 01, 2019 10:20 am"

Steve Neilly, Certified Records Manager

Somewhere between the tenth and fifteenth year into my career in Records Management (this year is my twenty-eighth), new Records Managers were sharing that they really didn’t know where to start in order to build out their records programs. My response was to ask a question instead of giving advice. That question was “Do you have a strategic/master plan for your program?” The correct answer to the question of where to start is having a plan that lays out where your program stands now and where you want it to go.

The best way to enjoy a journey is to avoid feeling lost along the way. A strategic plan, master plan, road map, or whatever title, will go a long way to making your records journey more comfortable. Regardless of what you call it, your plan must be something that your organization’s management team can understand and will buy into.

In order to make the plan understandable, there are some very distinct components it should have and answering the following questions helps to develop each component:

  • Context – What is our current state, how did we get here, and what are the driving forces behind having a records program?
  • Consultation – How have we engaged the organization to ensure that staff desiring the program will back this plan?
  • Challenges – What are the challenges we are faced with rolling out a records program and how do we intend to address each identified challenge?
  • Vision – What does records management in the organization look like when the program is fully rolled out?
  • Program Execution – What will the services and products of the program include and how will they be delivered?
  • Implementation – What are the stages of implementation and when and how are these going to be executed?

Context section should provide background on what current records practices look like and an overview of any previous gap analysis. It should be representative of the records program history (or lack thereof). The section should also identify the drivers behind why the program isn’t just a ‘nice to have.’ That can include regulatory requirements or pointers to trouble points from the organization’s history that would be corrected by having a program in place.

Inform the executive about the engagement of staff in the plan development process. Outlining how the Consultation process was completed demonstrates the commitment that this is a company-wide program and that the staff were all given an opportunity to participate in the program’s development. 121217 access logo

The plan should also outline the Challenges you expect the program to face and how you’re going to address those challenges. Be realistic in your goals. For example, if the challenge is integration of software [with an Electronic Document and Records Management software] discuss the goal of identifying all electronic record storage systems, integrate those systems with the electronic RIM software and create alternative solutions for applying record retention periods when integration is not possible.

Vision statement should be included in the plan to give the executive the sense that you have considered the big picture of the program and its value to the organization.  For example, you might have a following Vision statement: [The organization] will have a compliant, effective and efficient Records and Information Management program. Expand on this statement with bullet points to clarify. As a support the following language may be used: The records program will (i) provide a high degree of information usability for staff; (ii) allow information to flow seamlessly within the organization with only necessary protective borders; etc. Related to the vision statement are the program’s guiding principles. The principles you can expand on are action words about how the program will operate (e.g.: responsive, accurate, consistent, flexible, innovative, collaborative, and safe).

Reviewing Program Execution will set out expectations for what services and products you intend to provide and how those are going to be provided. Depending on your organizational needs, you may want to offer services such as a Records Management Helpdesk and consultative and support offering), and an Information Access and Protection advisory service. Clearly define what the service will include. Don’t forget the products – offer the Records Governance Research and Development (this is policy, procedure, guideline and standards development).

Once products and services are outlined, define the Implementation phases in which the services and governance products will be implemented (since no one can do it all in one year). This might look something like a Baseline Phase (RM applied to record holdings and EDRM software introduced), followed by an Advanced Electronic Integration Phase (developing solutions to implement retention requirements for systems that couldn’t be linked to your EDRMS), and wrap up with the Perimeter Component Completion Phase (address the low impact records issues that couldn’t be completed during the previous phases). Also included in the implementation section should be your sub-plan for communication. The Communication Plan is a key component of change management and without it, the chances of program success are severely reduced. All your various audiences have different needs when it comes to being informed and so your Communication Plan should address what those needs are and how you are going to meet them.

Rounding out the plan will be sections such as an overview, glossary of terms and any appendices that will support the plan. Make sure the plan covers off all components of the records lifecycle and all the various media types and formats of records that the organization controls.

The plan for a Records Management Program involves many details that may not be covered in a newsletter article. That said, Access Information Protected, a League business partner since 2011, has a great deal of experience developing such plans and would be happy to aid in developing a customized plan for your organization.

Steve Neilly, CRM has been a Certified Records Manager (CRM) since 2005. He has experience in a wide variety of industries and has been involved in many aspects of Information Management and Governance, that span the entire Records Management Life-cycle. Steve has conducted work locally, nationally and internationally. Before consulting to both governments and private industry, Steve was a corporate Records Manager and Privacy Officer for 15 years. As an industry veteran, Steve has been a regular speaker at industry events across both Canada and the US.