Creating a Records Retention Schedule

Topics: Govern Information

Putting together the records retention schedule — the cornerstone of the records management program — is not an easy task. Just how complicated it is depends on numerous factors, including organization size and complexity and the resources available to the records staff. The steps outlined below apply to all records retention scheduling initiatives.


The first thing that records management staff must do is thoroughly plan for the initiative. This requires getting to know the organization and how it works. The records management professional should become familiar with the different departments and request a representative or coordinator who will assist with the work required for that area. The records management professional and the representative will plan how they will conduct the records inventory and the methods they will use. They will establish the different roles and decide who is responsible for what — for example, legal research, timelines and the approval process. The records management professional must also determine whether to evaluate the entire organization at once or to use a phased approach and what the scope will be. The pair will also establish the retention schedule. Typically, a functional retention schedule works best.

Records Inventory

The records inventory is the part that is most dependent on the business users. The records management professional should explain to the business area representative exactly what the expectations are, what the purpose of the initiative is and what are considered "records." The records management professional will also ensure that the business area representative has a good grasp of the scope of the inventory. The representative usually receives copies of a records inventory worksheet, which the representative can work with their teams to complete. Information to be captured on the worksheet includes the title of the type of document (otherwise known as a records series), description, the business value, the business need to keep for a particular period to fulfill the business activity, suggested historical value, legal requirements to keep, media and format, usage statistics and volume growth. Representatives also receive instructions for filling out the worksheet. Once the worksheet has been completed, the business representative will send it back to the records management professional.

Analysis, Sorting and Research

During this step, the records management professional must analyze the findings and get clarification and further information as needed from the business area about the operational requirements to keep the records. When the schedule is for a government institution, records management staff may have to determine what other government bodies are doing with similar records. The staff must also know what the regulations or statute of limitations requirements are for the specific records. In some cases, it will be someone in the legal department and not the records management professional doing that work. The records management professional may also contact the internal or external archives when there is an identified need to retain some records for their historical value once they have reached their full retention.

Draft and Review

Once the records managers have all the information they need, they can create the draft retention schedule and review the different records series with the corresponding business area representative. In some cases, certain items may be revised.


The approval process differs for each organization and is created in the planning stage. Once the records retention schedule has been completed, the records series and the final records retention schedule will be approved. In some cases, the records series will be approved by the business representatives or their managers, and the final schedule will be approved by the records management staff, a representative from legal and a representative from privacy.

Ongoing Maintenance

As soon as the records retention schedule has been approved, it should be implemented. This consists of ongoing communication, education and training for the end users. The work does not end with the creation of the records retention schedule. Records management staff must regularly review, supplement, and modify it as required by the business or regulatory obligations. Staff must ensure that the retention rules are being applied consistently across all areas.

Do you have questions about records and information management? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain's Information Management team. You'll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.


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