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A Better Partnership


Apr 2012
April 13, 2012

Your Schedule Should be like a Duck

A key component of any document management policy is its record retention schedule. Even if legally defensible, the way a schedule is structured affects how often, if at all, it is used, and whether it is used properly.

Record management creates the schedule, and the user puts it into practice.  A successful schedule is one that meets the needs of the company, legally and operationally, and makes sense to the user. In reality, a schedule is like a duck – paddling away underneath the water while calm and collected on the surface.  Drafting a schedule can be tedious and demanding, but the user never needs to see this or be daunted by an overly wrought schedule.

The solution begins with understanding the types of schedules:
  1. Departmental:  Lists every record type by company department even if this creates duplicate or triplicate record entries.
  2. Functional: Lists every record type by function.  These schedules are shorter than departmental schedules because there is no duplication.
  3. Process-Based:  Lists record types by process.  In order to use this type of schedule, the company must identify and document its core processes and call out the relevant records in each process.
  4. Bucket:  A bucket schedule arranges groups of records into buckets or groupings.  For each bucket there is a general description of what’s in the bucket and examples of the records that belong in this bucket. Records placed in the same bucket are retained for the same amount of time. The retention period is set at the higher end of the scale to make sure all records within the bucket are kept for the required period of time. 

Which one is the most beneficial? In most cases, we recommend a hybrid of the bucket and functional schedules.  In the last several years, records managers have touted the bucket schedule on the basis that it is user-friendly.  But the bucket schedule’s limited list of example records is both the beauty of this schedule and its downside because, in reality, a company should have a complete and accurate inventory of all its record types. What the bucket schedule lacks in substance, the functional schedule has in abundance – detail.

All that said, there’s a reason the bucket schedules is so popular – it works for the user.  On the other hand, the functional schedule works to promote the proper management of records.  The solution? Combine the two.  Start with a functional schedule based on a complete and accurate list of the company’s record types, then begin creating buckets as needed.  If it’s not practical to combine records, don’t.  If it is, do.  In essence, don’t force your schedule to be one type of schedule or another – let the record types drive what goes into a bucket and what doesn’t.  In the end, what you want is a schedule that is both legally reliable and user-friendly.

Dawn Ward’s article appears in the current edition of the ARMA West Michigan newsletter.

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