Project reference material

chaos

Registered
Hi all, this is one of my biggest headaches, the sheer amount of project reference material and how to organise it in such a way that i can then refer to it in a moment
I'm really curious as to how others overcome this

I work on really large and complex projects and often with many people on my team. I break down the projects to logical chunks and delegate this work amongst the team. as work come in, i dont track the task itself, thats in the project plan. but my waiting for list will include the subproject which say @tom is working on. I need Tom to complete his part or else the overall project is then at risk

as part of the work Tom is doing i get all his stuff. I will of course be CCd to email he is getting, along with project reference material such as files relevant to the part of the project Tom is working on. equally, this could apply to my own part of the project im possibly responsible for
emails containing information, spreadsheets , presentations, word documents attached to the email that i need to act on or Tom has received.
the action, will often need to refer to the original material, or more likely we've taken the material and now made it our own.

my question is..what do others do with all this project reference material?
do you keep the email in a folder structure within outlook?
do you save the attachments to a folder structure according to the name of the project?
what about the people where its delegated? when i next speak to Tom, or where im invited to a meeting to discuss this material, i need it at hand. i may have delegated it, but i am ultimately responsible for the project and often the subject matter expert which tom might be working on.

My next action i think is clear. i have to do XYZ by next week. but in order to do that action i often need all the relevant information behind it
currently, i have everything in email and im getting lost. as the email is just often relentless and trying to find it, regardless of how outlooks search is, which has got worse recently, is inadeqate.

what do others do? what tools do you guys use. i've tried all different tools. onenote, evernote, roam. i dont think its the tool, its got be my workflow thats at fault

many thanks for listening thus far, and any nuggets you may wish to share, wont go amiss!
 

TruthWK

Registered
The way I think about the email question is that attachments can easily get lost and are usually better saved to your file system. In my case, I put them in a synced cloud storage so that they are also available on all devices. For the text of emails, it depends on how correspondence heavy something is. You don't want to have to keep duplicating email text into your notes app but if correspondence has generally ceased on a particular thread, it will be helpful to move it to your notes app for reference material and reorganize the information to where it needs to go. In large projects, it will rarely be the case that organizing just the emails into folders will be enough to stay on top of things. However, you will still need some folders in your email to handle things in process. This can be done with the @Action and @Waiting For folders that David Allen suggests or even subfolders of those if you have a tremendous amount of active correspondence. The key is that you know these folders represent next actions or waiting for items and not just reference.

I have not yet found that I can use a notes app to fully replace also having some sort of file system organization in folders. For PDFs, documents, spreadsheets, images, etc, they still feel more natural in their own file based reference system. You can create folder for the project and subdivide as needed. The key for me is that anything that I would consider a subproject (whether delegated or not) should be available in the top level of your project support or in a project plan item. It can easily get lost with other notes. The key is that you separate any actionable items like subprojects and waiting for from your notes. If stuff gets buried 2 or 3 or more levels down in notes hierarchy, then it will get lost and you won't be able to track it. If it helps you can just have a list in your list manager that is Project A - Subprojects and another list that is Project A - Delegated Projects.

As for organizing project notes, the question will be whether you are more likely to need it sorted by Delegated Project so that it is readily available when you meet with Tom, etc or by Topic. If you find that both ways are needed quite frequently, using a tagging or linking feature in your reference app may be necessary to see it both ways. However, I would caution that I have tricked myself into thinking I needed this many times only to find that picking one way was actually simpler so I would try it the way that seems best and adjust if you are having trouble locating stuff.

Let me know if that sparks anything or if I can answer any specifics on stuff further. I've totally had some struggles in this area as well.
 

chaos

Registered
@TruthWK. Thank you. it sparks quite a few things
you mention "text of emails". I am religiously saving to onenote an email related to a topic, then another, another. whereas really, i am likely to want to refer to a very few key things. when Tom tells me the status of something, i only need its status, and refer to the email via link. I dont need all of the Hi, how are you noise within the email. in addition, the key aspect is the conclusion, a copy of the text that says, we're good. one page in onenote or evernote could easily accomodate this along with its final file
The objective, its current status, most relevant file links, quick links. one page of evernote, onenote and i then begin to see its finer parts and flow of time

you also mention, when its ceased. i am very correspondence heavy, as the project will involve client contact, architects, other subject matter experts. again, i am capturing this, but when the noise dies down, really there is ever likely to be half a dozen or so really key bits of information. the final file, presentation etc. I am trying to capture everything, so my notes app could be perhaps be updated weekly or even towards the end. i need the noise as it happens, not to find it later on

then there is the folder structure. My problem i think is potentially exacerbated with a folder structure that is too high level. had i broken down the filing to a much finer level, my notes app could also mimic this. and then my history is easier to review afterwards, and correspondence can be contained when its noisy, and i just pull out the relevant text, links to documents and can happily delete all the rest at the end
I need to review chapter 3 again. i can flesh out the project, i know all its steps, but i'm failing to capture the reference material at that step. design, build, test etc are just too high level.

thanks again TruthWK. certainly ideas to incorporate.
 

ianfh10

Registered
I agree that trying to use outlook as a place to manage project support material isn't great, and I've often run into the issue you mention with search. Like others have mentioned I've found it useful to have somewhere else to story key documents and information. I save attachments in a project support folder in onedrive, and have a corresponding OneNote tab for a project where I'll store my own notes, plans, progress, meeting notes etc.

However, I don't occupy the same position as you, and often the 'delegation' part of my workflow is waiting on answers to queries from other teams; I don't manage people. Thus my workflow is much simpler.

However, this might be a slightly contentious opinion and feel free to call me out since I obviously can't understand the nuances and culture of your work, but could it be that you don't really need to be CC'd into all emails that Tom is sending and receiving with these attachments and documents? Could you have a projects - delegated list that triggers you to capture things about Tom's projects that have your attention?

That being said, my manager has a OneNote page for each member in our team, where he records what we're currently working on, and which he references when we have our weekly catch up. I have an agenda list of things I want to raise and discuss with him, both related to these projects and more generally.
 

chaos

Registered
@ianfh10, thanks for your reply. you raise a couple of points.
project support folder. this often is where im letting myself down. I also have a project support folder, which is where i get lost :(
breaking the folder structure down, to much much smaller components seems to be a general consensus. this would help limit the amount of files within the folder and finding things therefore much easier.
I also use one drive, but my folder structure is clearly woefully inadequate.
a much better folder structure whereby each smaller task needs its own folder. Workshop 1 prep, workshop 1 minutes and outcome. would make it much much easier to file and therefore find.
This is just for my own work.
email, what i hate most is that there are so many "chains" and voices that to save them in a folder, makes it nigh on impossible to get those out of the same folder structure when i need them. In other words, for every one attachment, you have 10x as many emails.
As soon as put these into a folder, I have then lost the chain..who sent the email for example, is not possible without going through each one. or naming every single email for the sender, you can imagine the overhead.
One suggestion was to not file the email until the conversation is almost closed. I like that idea, but then im left with lots of email in my outlook inbox or i need to break down the outlook email in the same manner as supporting folders? Hope im making myself clear..regardless of Tom, haven't even got to him..this is just my own.

these email, even though may not need an action, all form a part of the task. getting them down to zero, is relatively easy, just stick them in a folder...but then i still need to refer to them in order to complete the task.
is my answer to duplicate everything? the same folder structure as one drive replicated in outlook..got to be a better way :mad:
Just wondering what others do here.
 

Gardener

Registered
One suggestion was to not file the email until the conversation is almost closed. I like that idea, but then im left with lots of email in my outlook inbox or i need to break down the outlook email in the same manner as supporting folders?
Maybe is a middle ground of putting those into a Short Term Reference (or, as I call it, Deal With This) folder?

I don't know if this would work, because I don't do any long-term filing of my email at all--every single email ends up in a single folder for the current year.

However, I do have a Deal With This folder for email that I want out of my Inbox but that I'm not going to finish dealing with immediately. I go to that folder to transform emails into actions in my actions lists (sometimes adding enough information to the action to allow me to find the email again), or deal with them on the spot.
 

chaos

Registered
@Gardener, thanks. I do like that suggestion. A folder where i know i have something to do, and another folder for reference which may or may not be relevant.

Last night, i went through about 1000 emails covering one project i've been working on. Previously everything was in this one project folder.
So I decided to "simulate" what a more detailed level may have looked like, had i created folders for the various subprojects over the course of time. and i went about filing these emails into these folders.
as David Allen in the book says
Gardening: Pots
Gardening: Ideas

In an earlier post i was perhaps concerned about creating loads of folders and duplicating these over the various storage files. My concern is unfounded. I ended up getting an enormous amount of benefit in the exercise.

a folder for each subproject, or even sub sub is definitely worthwhile to be able to refer to the material when i need it. which is when its happening. however, once that part is done, as was mentioned at the beginning by @TruthWK all of the project reference email is largely now irrelevant.
what i came away with is
1) a timeline of what has occurred, and when
2) how much time and resources and costs were incurred
3) what the problem was and its resolution and any mitigating circumstances
4) deviations from the plan
I dont need those 1000 emails now, all i need is a table with the core information above, and where i can find the supporting spreadsheets etc.
Its just about time. I need to let time go by, trust in the system of folders, recognise its importance in the moment, but that its noise in a few months time
All project material is relevant (it all has legal consequences if things dont go according to plan), so folders and filing is really useful but only after its finished can it be summarised and consumed and referenced easily.

everything else non project general reference email @Gardener you mentioned, can certainly just be filed in one folder. I wont need that same level of information as i do for projects. I can largely archive all of those in the moment.

really, i can only thank everyone for the responses, as its cleared my own thought process and potential workflow
 

Jared Caron

Nursing leader; GTD enthusiast
Hi all, this is one of my biggest headaches, the sheer amount of project reference material and how to organise it in such a way that i can then refer to it in a moment
I'm really curious as to how others overcome this

I work on really large and complex projects and often with many people on my team. I break down the projects to logical chunks and delegate this work amongst the team. as work come in, i dont track the task itself, thats in the project plan. but my waiting for list will include the subproject which say @tom is working on. I need Tom to complete his part or else the overall project is then at risk

as part of the work Tom is doing i get all his stuff. I will of course be CCd to email he is getting, along with project reference material such as files relevant to the part of the project Tom is working on. equally, this could apply to my own part of the project im possibly responsible for
emails containing information, spreadsheets , presentations, word documents attached to the email that i need to act on or Tom has received.
the action, will often need to refer to the original material, or more likely we've taken the material and now made it our own.

my question is..what do others do with all this project reference material?
do you keep the email in a folder structure within outlook?
do you save the attachments to a folder structure according to the name of the project?
what about the people where its delegated? when i next speak to Tom, or where im invited to a meeting to discuss this material, i need it at hand. i may have delegated it, but i am ultimately responsible for the project and often the subject matter expert which tom might be working on.

My next action i think is clear. i have to do XYZ by next week. but in order to do that action i often need all the relevant information behind it
currently, i have everything in email and im getting lost. as the email is just often relentless and trying to find it, regardless of how outlooks search is, which has got worse recently, is inadeqate.

what do others do? what tools do you guys use. i've tried all different tools. onenote, evernote, roam. i dont think its the tool, its got be my workflow thats at fault

many thanks for listening thus far, and any nuggets you may wish to share, wont go amiss!
This was a big hurdle for me as well. I had the opportunity to work with one is the coaches, Meg. I asked her "Meg, I can't figure out where to put project support?". She was like "well, that's because it's not ones place; project support is everywhere!" She helped me see that project support is a broad category and not just a specific place you put something. Often where you keep it has to match what the item is and how you'll use it.

Since then I've found project support typically falls in one of a few categories for me:
1. Emails - the vast majority of these I keep in an outlook folder for the project. Typically this is to refer to as an archive or record of communication, and you may even need to reply or forward later, so keeping it in the email system makes sense
2. Files - this typically goes into a folder for the project; in the work in doing now that's typically a shared folder on Microsoft teams or my one drive.
3. Information, planning, meeting notes - I have found one note to be an excellent repository for this type of material. I can just as easily have a project with one little outline or dozens of pages of plans and meeting notes and brainstorming, etc. You mentioned the ability to save emails to one note, which is nice when the email has important reference information in it and i don't want to dig for that in outlook.
4. More sophisticated plans - this often involves more specialized databases and project planning tools, and is managed within them

The important thing is, for any given project I can have all of the above. I just make sure I handled those categories consistently so I don't confuse myself with what goes where.
 

bishblaize

Registered
We use SharePoint for this. When a new project is started we create a folder in SharePoint and I ask all staff to save all their files and documents into that folder (with appropriate sub-folders to keep it neat). Since we all have access to the same shared folder, everything goes into it.

If a staff member wants to send a file to someone else for checking, they send a link to the file, not the file itself. In SharePoint, when you click a link like this it opens straight into Word/Excel/etc and lets you edit it and save changes. We use tracking changes to ensure that we can see what changes and additions people have made. Also SharePoint has a version history, so if we really need to roll back to an earlier version we can do, so there's no need for multiple versions of to be files knocking around.

SharePoint also has the advantage of granular permissions. So if one sub-folder is confidential only to management, you can set it so that folder can only be seen by managers, with the rest viewable by all.

When the project is over, we can then simply zip and encrypt the entire folder and put in an Archive site that we keep.

Other services, like Dropbox or Google Drive, will have most or all of the same features, but Im not as familiar with those.
 

mcogilvie

Registered
My experiences with the various services of the Dropbox/Box type is mixed. Without going into lots of anecdotes, they work well only when everyone understands the feature set, applies common sense, and respects the efforts of others. It’s an uphill battle sometimes to get all three. Most new features are slowly adopted if at all.
 

schmeggahead

Registered
The important thing is, for any given project I can have all of the above. I just make sure I handled those categories consistently so I don't confuse myself with what goes where.
I usually create a quick reference of where everything is for a project. It might be repetitive to do it each time, but I find there is clarity and validation that the strategy I'm using for project materials is valid for this project. Additional storage areas can be added easily when I consistently add this reference.

Clayton.
Season that to tase. - Robert Peake (in response to the description of a concept)
 

chaos

Registered
I usually create a quick reference of where everything is for a project. It might be repetitive to do it each time, but I find there is clarity and validation that the strategy I'm using for project materials is valid for this project. Additional storage areas can be added easily when I consistently add this reference.

Clayton.
Season that to tase. - Robert Peake (in response to the description of a concept)
love this response. my workflow indeed now consists of one page in one note (currently) for each new project which gives me the quick links to the MS teams (sharepoint) sites, as well as where (via link) or if a folder exists within onedrive, and the email folder. This way, rather than duplicating folder structures unnecessarily i know if its there or not
anything that i keep referring to, becomes a link to the file rather than folder on the quick links
So far, its working a dream. Its my go to place for the project
with regard to email, and as has been suggested, and indeed within the book, keep email where it belongs, in email. but with a much more granular level of folders. there will probably be dozens and dozens of folders for any one larger project. but it doesnt cost anything to create a folder in outlook!
again, loving it right now
Its been a month, having written my original angst, but its certainly working for me. no doubt i'll have a few teething problems, like where should i file x,y or z, but the major headache of where to file things for projects has become much easier. and ultimately being able to find it later.
when the project is done, i can just sift through the noise and delete or archive anything which didnt end up adding value to the end result.
lastly, another thing i found, again its noted in the book, but its implication wasn't quite clear was writing down not just why i was doing the project, it was the intended outcome, my end result. what will i need to get from this part of the project when its finished. allows me to condense only the few things that define that element of the project.
its cost, time and resources utilised. again all on the onenote page. i wont need all the email later. it can often be summarised in a few words
 

GTDengineer

Registered
Any project information which shall be considered actionable or reference such as project plans, open point lists , meeting minutes, decisions, requirements, problem reports, change requests and other reference information should be provided using “official” documents from templates or database systems created for these purposes, which are stored in pre-determined locations, ideally on a shared file storage system with user access controls, tracked on lists, and reviewed periodically so the state of each topic can be updated.

In a business environment, emails, like conversations, should be considered temporary in nature, and not stored for posterity. My advice is to work with the assumption that nothing written in an email is legal binding. My company email system actually adds a disclaimer to the bottom of each email to this effect.

The impact of failures such as lost emails, or court cases where troves of emails have to be provided as evidence and the content of these emails contains a mixture of private conversations and business documents can range from expensive to embarrassing. Such failures have lead to accusations of misconduct and even jail time for the people involved.

I’d go as far as to suggest a policy of auto-deletion of emails more than a few months old.
 
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chaos

Registered
Any project information which shall be considered actionable or reference such as project plans, open point lists , meeting minutes, decisions, requirements, problem reports, change requests and other reference information should be provided using “official” documents from templates or database systems created for these purposes, which are stored in pre-determined locations, ideally on a shared file storage system with user access controls, tracked on lists, and reviewed periodically so the state of each topic can be updated.

In a business environment, emails, like conversations, should be considered temporary in nature, and not stored for posterity. My advice is to work with the assumption that nothing written in an email is legal binding. My company email system actually adds a disclaimer to the bottom of each email to this effect.

The impact of failures such as lost emails, or court cases where troves of emails have to be provided as evidence and the content of these emails contains a mixture of private conversations and business documents can range from expensive to embarrassing. Such failures have lead to accusations of misconduct and even jail time for the people involved.

I’d go as far as to suggest a policy of auto-deletion of emails more than a few months old.
I hear you, but i can state categorically that email, alas, is legally binding.
Its not the first time i've been in court, having to justify the action of individuals based on email chains. Granted of course the vast majority is nothing but noise. however, an email that clearly outlines the scope of a project, and the project team misinterpret that email...millions of pounds are at stake. I'm sure situations can be different, but i've honestly been there.
in addition, it wasnt long ago i went through the conveyancing of a sale of a property.
solicitor to me (via email) "are you willing to exchange under these terms". my response via email, "yes". is also legally binding
i can go on, but there's little need. I keep all relevant email and will, often, have to refer to what is written word for word
 

GTDengineer

Registered
I’m not saying that email cannot be legally binding. I’m saying it’s a bad habit to use email for business, and you would do well to work towards a system that is independent of email.
 
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