6 Construction File Management Tips Every Team Should Know

construction file and document management organization

How Do I Organize My Construction Files? 

Picture this: you're a contractor about to have a detailed discussion with one of your team members when you realize you're missing some plans for the project you're working on. You recall seeing the files during the last site visit, but they seem to have vanished amidst a sea of documents. A hasty search ensues, disrupting the day's workflow. 

Sound familiar? 

Construction projects are complex and hectic enough without the added chaos of messy files. That's why it's essential to create processes that enable team members to save and retrieve documents efficiently. Doing so can take some effort on the front end, but it'll certainly pay off when implemented properly.  

With a solid file and document management system in place, you can prevent scenarios like the above, saving yourself time and unnecessary stress from having to dig up project documents.  

Proper document management also leads to cost savings. A study by FMI and Autodesk found that bad data may have caused 16% of all construction rework globally, which means that for a contractor bringing in $1 billion in revenue, the cost of bad data could be as high as $165 million.  

Reigning in your files goes a long way in preventing data issues, and this article will discuss how you can do just that. We'll shed light on best practices for construction file management, along with tools and techniques to help you go from chaotic stacks to streamlined systems.   

Step 1: Centralize documents and files 

Keeping your construction documents and files in a single, accessible location streamlines the retrieval process. When everyone knows where project files are stored, they can collaborate more efficiently—something that's becoming increasingly important as more people are brought into a project.  

Feel overwhelmed trying to stay ahead of changes and decisions when countless project documents are all over the place? Watch our webinar, Document Management 101: How to Align Teams & Simplify File Sharing.

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So, when an architect needs feedback from an engineer or a site supervisor requires the latest safety protocols, stakeholders won't have to search multiple databases or request files from different team members. Everything is in one place, ensuring that communication flows smoothly and decisions are made promptly. 

The best way to centralize your files is to leverage document management software. Digitizing your file management means everything is just a click away, so folks get the info they need faster.  

Plus, document management software introduces advanced features like version control, access permissions, and real-time collaboration. Another big benefit of using cloud-based platforms is that they enable you to sync and download docs to your devices so everyone has the latest version wherever they are.  

For example, Autodesk Docs' Files tool centrally stores all your project files; project members can work on the same files from any of the Docs, Build, or Takeoff Files tools. That way, everyone on the team can access the latest updates. This reduces the risk of working on outdated files and allows for swift searches and retrievals. 

Step 2: Determine your folder structure and hierarchy 

Already have a digital file management system? Great start. The next step is to figure out how to structure and store your folders. It's best to keep your folder structure consistent across different projects so that team members can quickly familiarize themselves with the system and know exactly where to find or store a specific file—regardless of what project they're working on.  

A consistent hierarchy reduces confusion and can even streamline onboarding for new team members, ensuring they hit the ground running and kickstart projects with ease.  

What should your folder structure look like? That depends on your company's needs and projects. Some of the most common folder types include: 

  • Project 
  • Reports 
  • Meeting Minutes 
  • Drawings 
  • Permits 
  • Contracts 
  • Change Orders 
  • Purchase Orders   

Standardizing your folder systems can seem daunting if you're starting from scratch. Fortunately, certain document management systems— like Autodesk Docsoffer project templates to set up folders in the Files tool when the project is created. 

Step 3: Establish your file naming standards 

Standardizing your file names promotes consistency and clarity when saving or retrieving documents. This lessens confusion, reduces duplicate or overwritten files, and makes things easier to find overall. 

To that end, here are a few pointers to help you craft the proper file naming conventions. 

Be descriptive. Names should clearly explain the file's content. In construction, this means creating file names with components describing what the file pertains to, including: 

  • Project name 
  • Document type 
  • File type 
  • Version 
  • Date 

In some cases, teams may want to add the department or creator initials, which can be useful in large projects. 

Be mindful of version control. If there are multiple versions of a document, include a version number or a last-edited date. The last thing you want is for teams to work on outdated files. Having the latest version or date in your file name helps you sidestep this issue, so team members know which files to use or collaborate on. 

Avoid spaces and special characters. Spaces and special characters like: /, <, >, :, *, ?, and others can cause issues in certain systems. When naming files, stick to underscores (_) or hyphens (-) to assure compatibility across different platforms. 

Whatever your approach, always adhere to a consistent naming logic. In doing so, any team member—at any project stage—can intuitively find what they need. 

Step 4: Control permissions 

Security is critical to document control; no one wants files and information to end up in the wrong hands. See to it that you have a system that ensures only authorized individuals can access, modify, or delete specific files. By regulating who can do what, you prevent inadvertent changes and security breaches. 

That being said, your security and permission settings shouldn't be too rigid that it prevents people from doing their job. The key is to use a solution that offers some flexibility with user permissions.  

Autodesk Docs, for example, allows you to grant and restrict access for specific team members or set permissions based on their roles and responsibilities. 

It also allows you to configure the types of actions users can take when accessing files. Some roles may only require viewing permissions, while others may need to view, download files, and create issues. Whatever the case, administrators are always in control and can tailor these settings to suit the unique requirements of every team or project.  

Step 5: Stay ahead 

So, you moved your documents to the cloud, organized your folders and file names, and set the right user permissions. What's next? 

If you want to get even more value out of your file management system, consider setting up notifications about file and folder updates. That way, you're alerted whenever important files are updated and can quickly take steps to move the project forward.  

The right document management software makes it easy to stay ahead. You can choose to get notifications when files are uploaded to the folder you specify. This includes getting alerts when someone uploads a new file or a new version of a file that already exists in the folder. 

Whether it's a new upload or a new review that needs your attention, staying on top of project changes is a breeze. 

Step 6: Create archive standards 

Just because a project ends doesn't mean its documentation becomes irrelevant. 

You should still keep those documents accessible in case the team needs them for future reference or even an expansion.  

One of the best ways to keep files organized post-project is to create archive standards and store those project files in a centralized location. From there, implementing a clear retention policy and doing periodic reviews ensures that data remains relevant, helping you maintain a clean and efficient archive. 

Get your construction files under control once and for all 

Projects can be complex, and you don't always have control over their many moving parts. But if there's one thing you can get a handle on, it's your construction files. A robust and efficient file management system ensures that every stakeholder, from architects to site supervisors, has access to the right information at the right time. 

So while external challenges and unexpected variables may arise during the construction process, you can still keep teams on the same page and empower them with consistent, organized, and easily accessible documentation. 

Ready to take your project file management to the next level? Check out what Autodesk Docs can do, and discover how the software can help you stay on top of all your project files.  

Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.