Why do you need a project management folder structure to keep your files organised?
When you start running projects of any size and complexity you will understand the importance of keeping your project files well organised. As a busy Project Manager, you need a filing system which will help you be as productive as possible. The best practice is to create a template directory structure and use the same arrangement of directories and sub-directories for each of your projects. In this article, I present my Template project management folder structure and provide a free zip file download of this directory structure to get you started.
Ideally, any filing system should be specific enough that when faced with storing any specific file there is only one obvious home for it. This has to be balanced with creating a folder structure which is too large and complex for people to understand and adopt.
From time-to-time projects may be subject to audit or legal review. Having a well-structured project filing system will help to demonstrate that the project is being professionally managed using industry best practices. As a Project Manager, keep in mind that part of your job is to plan for the worse as well as the best outcome. If the project goes badly the filing system and documents, you have stored will be a vital trail of evidence that you followed best practices and allow people to see why the project failed. On the other hand, if the project is successful you will leave behind a well-structured file of information for others to refer to in the future.
While simple, the free zip file download presented in this article is quite possibly the best free project management tool available to get fast results across your team.
Template Folder Structure for Project Management Office (PMO)
As explained above, for a single Project Manager to be productive they will need a well-organised filing system. The same is true of the Project Management Office where you will be tracking multiple simultaneous projects across several Project Managers. Knowing where all your projects are documented is essential. Equally, however, having a project folder, and having each of your Project Managers follow a standard filing structure, greatly helps you check the status of a project.
Many PMO’s provide Project Support in the form of Project Administrators to assist busy Project Managers. If you have staff working across multiple projects, having a standard folder structure will greatly help them be productive.
Over time as a business, you will be able to see which project file structures work best for your business. It’s best not to change the standard all the time, otherwise, you will cause more confusion and just annoy all you project managers. However, holding an annual review, or lessons learnt and tweaking the standard template your business use each year is not a bad idea. Business, staff, and compliance change all the time, so changing your template on an annual basis isn’t a criticism of the previous version but just an acknowledgement that change is really the only constant.
In summary, your project management folder structure should incorporate all previous learning and best practices from your business, address any compliance requirements and be well documented so that you can onboard new Project Managers and make them productive from day one.
Getting started with our project folder structure
Step 1: Download
Download this zip file containing the template project file structure. Once you have this on your PC or Mac you can unzip it. On a Mac just double click the zip file to unzip it. You will then see the project folder templates shown here. Click here to download the template zip file.
Step 2: Document Management Decision
If you are working on your own, you may want to keep this folder structure on your own PC. A better choice is to place it on a cloud storage provider’s server and use something like OneDrive, iCloud, Google drive, or DropBox. This has the advantage of making sure your files are backed up into the cloud and available from anywhere. This sets you up nicely as your business scales to allow you to add more collaborators on the project.
If you are working on your own, create a top-level main folder called something like “My Projects” and drop the template structure into that folder.
If you are working in a company with Microsoft Office365 then you might want to create this folder structure on SharePoint or OneDrive as these will make it easier to share documents and benefits from additional services such as versioning and collaborative editing.
If you are working as part of a larger company then create a top-level folder named something like “Project Management Office” or “Company Projects” and drop the template structure into that folder.
Step 3: Review the top-level folder structure
At the highest level, we have a folder for each year, for example, “Year-2022”. You will create a new top-level year folder at the start of each year. The year represents the year in which a project started. This means if you started a 6-month project in December 2021 your project files would be under the “Year-2021” folder even though most of the work will have been performed in 2022. This convention helps people know where to look for projects. Don’t be tempted to move ongoing projects at the end of the year, that would just cause confusion and probably break links and bookmarks.
I have provided a template project folder called “000-Template-Project”. Look through this and see if you need to add or remove any standard folders for your business.
When people start a new project, they will be instructed to copy this template folder.
Step 3: Starting a new project: Creating the Project Folder
Now it is time to think about what you want to call the project. I recommend coming up with a project file naming convention which incorporates the start date, the project number and a brief descriptive project name. Try year-month-projectNumber-Descriptive Name, for example:
I recommend establishing a top-level PMO Project tracker with a row for each project number. You can do this in Excel and keep it in your top-level Projects or PMO Folder.
To start a new project you need to create a new folder. To do this simply copy the 000-Template-Project folder. On a Mac, you can right-click and select Duplicate. You then rename the duplicate and give it a folder name of the project name we worked through above.
Step 4: Start using your new project folders.
The names and sequence of the folders are loosely based on PRINCE2 and best practices from many different project management methodologies and projects I have worked on.
This folder contains two subfolders (also known as subdirectories). As a project manager, you should have been given a copy of the Business Case and the Project Brief. Normally these will be things like a high-level Profit and Loss statement setting out the business case for a project. The Project Sponsor will have had to present documents and make a case to the board or at least the PMO to secure funding and support to have the project run. Try and obtain copies of these pre-project documents and make sure they are filed in the pre-project folders.
These folders may be set-up by the PMO (Project Management Office) before a Project Manager is appointed and before the project has received final approval.
Often the first task for the project manager is to raise the Project Initiation Document (also sometimes known as the Project Charter). This should set out who the project is being sponsored by, the goals of the project, and projects constraints such as timescales, budgets, quality, and key success criteria.
I recommend creating this document, socialising it to make sure it’s right and to head off any surprised and then call the first Project Board Meeting to get this formally signed off by the Project Board.
Within this folder, we have separate folders for the PID and Success Criteria. Generally, try and keep all the details on the PID and only create a separate Success Criteria document if the project is of sufficient size and complexity.
These documents are the foundation of which successful projects are built. Once these have been signed off at the first Project Board, they should not be changed without going through the Change Control Request Process. Any late additions to the project’s success criteria are likely to affect the cost and timescale.
020-RFI (Request for Information)
Many projects can’t start until you have done some research and contacted potential suppliers, seen presentations, and received indicative quotes. Although you should go into this stage with a high-level view of the requirements it is acceptable for the requirements to be written after this research stage.
All projects should have a clearly defined set of deliverables otherwise known as requirements.
The requirements should be drawn from the outline given in the PID, research from the RFI stage, and business systems analysis conducted with the project stakeholders.
Many projects, especially website design, and software development are likely to fail if you don’t have well-documented requirements. Requirements themselves can be broken down into Functional and Non-Functional Requirements. For example, “Customers will be able to download invoices in Excel and PDF formats” is a functional requirement, whereas “The supplier will provide a 2 year warranty on the website” is a non-functional requirement.
Also see our Web Browser Compatibility Requirements policy document, which you may find helpful when developing requirements for your own online projects.
040-ITT (Invitation to Tender)
If you need to create an ITT (Invitation to Tender) document. This will need to be sent to the potential suppliers. Some organisations are highly regulated and RFI’s and ITT’s must be conducted following strict processes. In these businesses, it is not uncommon for unsuccessful suppliers to appeal the decision and look for breaches of due process.
Even if your business is not highly regulated, make sure you treat all suppliers the same in all respects. Capture a copy of all correspondence with suppliers into these folders.
The Project Manager is responsible for tracking the budget on the project. What has been committed, what has been invoiced by suppliers and forecasting the cost to complete the project. On large projects this also involves tracking the spend based on the phase or stage of the project, as too higher spend early in the project can be a red flag, indicating that the project will go over budget before the end.
Within this folder, I have provided sub-folders for Budget, Purchase Orders and Supplier Invoices.
Within the budget sub-folder there is a sub-folder to hold achieved copies of the budget. It is always good to keep copies as they are signed off and approved by the Project Board. These become baseline documents against which change can be measured. If there are any Change Control Requests which affect the cost of the project, an update to the budget should be issued showing the deviation then from the baseline.
When I manage projects, I insist on approving all Purchase Orders before they are sent to suppliers, otherwise, it is difficult to control costs. I keep a copy of all the Purchase Orders I have approved in the Purchase Orders sub-folder. I know many companies will have great financial systems which let you do project accounting, but I’ve seen these go wrong, or go offline just when you need them for an important meeting, so really there’s no substitute for keeping you own copy of these important documents.
Likewise I insist on suppliers sending their invoices to me, so that I can match them off against the Purchase Orders (PO’s) that I have approved. You would be surprised how often suppliers make mistakes on their invoices. Letting them know you are on the ball and watching, and picking up on unexpected discrepancies helps ensure success.
You will want to create yourself a Project budget tracker spreadsheet in the top-level 030-Project-Financial-Accounting folder.
Once the ITT has been conducted one or more suppliers will be contracted to build the project for you or to supply goods & services to enable someone else to do the build. Copies of all the contracts should be stored in this folder. If you have more than one supplier I recommend creating a sub-folder for each supplier and storing a copy of each individual contract for that supplier in this one location.
The Project Manager is responsible for creating a time-based plan, to show when the project will be delivered and the key activities. They will usually be required to also produce a budget plan as well to show when major project costs will be incurred. After these documents have been presented to the Project Board and signed off, keep a baseline copy of these in the Archive sub-folders.
Even if your project plans to follow the Agile methodology, senior management will want to see a high-level time-based plan. This is not incompatible with Agile, as it can show the timeboxed sprints.
For most simple to moderate projects, you can develop a simple Gantt chart in Excel or use the Action Review Meeting (ARM) Template approach to drive progress.
The project plan should be broken down into individual work packages known as a work breakdown structure (WBS)
The Project Manager is responsible for dividing the project into sensible sized Work Packages. These can be thought of as mini-projects. Each work package may be contracted to a different supplier and allocated to a different manager or team in house.
I recommend that you create a subfolders for each work package and follow the file name convention WBS-year-month-projectNumber-workPackageNumber-Descriptive Name, for example:
WBS-2022-04-002-099-Deliver to end-users
Treat each work package like a mini project and make sure the requirements are clearly captured and managed through a change management process. The work package should include success criteria and QA for example.
Assuming each work package has been delivered to specification the project manager needs to ensure that all the packages are integrated and work as a whole. For this reason, while we like to treat work packages as mini-projects, it is important that Work Package managers communicate with each other to ensure that what they are doing is what the other package managers are expecting.
When I run projects, I like to arrange what I call a smoke test, to test the integration of all the work packages as early as possible. This is often possible before all the detailed work on individual packages has been completed. Generally, in project management, the earlier in a project you know about a problem, the cheaper it will be to fix.
Change is a constant factor, but it can derail projects if not carefully managed. On one hand, if a requirement needs to be changed or a new one added to make the project a success then it would probably be silly to refuse it. On the other hand, many projects have failed due to excessive or late change requests. For this reason, you need to establish a procedure for receiving Change Control Requests (CR’s) and a process for getting these approved or rejected.
Generally, all changes should be reviewed by the Project Manager and the Project Steering Group. If this group of people agree with a change or the person requesting the change disagrees with their decision it will be taken to the Project Board for their final approval.
Stakeholders’ sub-folder. This contains a subfolder for Directory, in which you should just store an Excel document detailing all the stakeholders, their role and their contact details. The other subfolder is for a RACI Matrix. You won’t need a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) on every project, but always consider this on sensitive projects or those with more than 7 to 10 stakeholders.
We have a helpful free downloadable Project Summary on a Page Template – click here. We also have a free downloadable weekly / monthly project status report template for Microsoft Word – click here.
You should record the minutes of the Project Board and Project Steering Group meetings. We have a minutes template here.
This folder is used to store any documents which relate to the handover from the Project Team to the Business as Usual Operations Team or Customer. These may be things like user guides, maintenance schedules, support diagrams etc.
The project manager will be responsible for maintaining the Issues Log and Risk Management Log and any other logs mandated by your methodology or organisation. Please note that we choose to have Change Management as a top-level folder rather than as a sub-folder under Project Logs; we did this to emphasise the important nature of Change Management to the success of your project.
Also see our blog on project risk management – click here
At the end of the project, the project manager is responsible for compiling a lesson learnt report and listing any recommendations for future projects. There will often be forward commitments at the end of the project such as deferred change control requests for a phase two project.
The final set of contracts for any ongoing support with the suppliers should be included in this sub-folder.
Step 5: Train the project managers and project teams.
I recommend running a Project Documentation training session when you get together all the team members and explain the new folder structure template to them. Pick a few key project documents and make sure they all know which specific folder the document should be filed in.
Frequently Asked Question
How do I organize folders in project management?
In this article, I have provided a project folder template and explained the purpose of each folder and many of the subfolders. These simple folder structures will greatly improve your productivity as a project manager.
How do I create a project folder structure?
I recommend that you don’t try and create your own project folder structure. while no file management silver bullet, I do think the template I provide here is the best folder structure for many projects.
What are project folders?
Typically you will have a parent folder for each project. This folder contains a series of sub-folders representing the stages in the project lifecycle. This article provides a free project management folder structure to get you started.
Can your project directory structure template be used with existing projects?
Yes, if your starting point is a project with an existing folder structure you may benefit from creating the new project directory (folder) as described above and then move each of the existing files into that structure. I probably would not do this if the project is nearing completion but if it’s nearer the start than the end I would do this. In real life it’s not unusual for a project manager to pick up an existing project which has hit hard times. I’ve certainly picked up projects and been handed a laptop where all the files are just in the default windows documents folder.