Why testing and exercising are essential for an effective business continuity plan

Business Continutity Plans are often created in the spirit of compliance and obligation, rather than a desire for real organisational readiness. They sit in the filing cabinet gathering dust along with the insurance policy and that warranty for the printer your company bought back in 2007.

In order for Business Continuity Plans to be effective when the ground starts shaking (literally or figuratively) they need to be well thought out documents, but more importantly, they need to be practiced as a living strategy. Stress testing plans is important to both ensure plans are adequate but also to make sure staff are practiced and ready to face a crisis when it occurs. Plans are not particularly valuable if staff do not know how to implement them, or worse, do not even know they exist!

But stress testing plans can seem like just another burden. Fire drills stopped being fun after primary school! So what are some ways that your organisation can start engaging staff members in business continuity planning that won't feel like another time-consuming compliance exercise?

9 Ideas for Stress Testing Your Plans that Don't Feel like Homework on a Saturday
  1. Plan a morning tea or Friday drinks crisis scenario session with staff. Put some simple scenarios to your staff and see what kinds of responses and questions they come up with.
  2. Organise a half-day workshop for all new staff to welcome them to the organisation and introduce them to the plan.  This could be designed, through interactive scenario based training, to introduce new staff to the region, the hazards, the organisations involved and dependencies between the organisations. This will help new staff learn about the organisation and start building partnerships.
  3. Develop a series of small 15-30 minute crisis scenarios for the group to share. Choose one scenario each month for different teams to carry out each month. Observations from the exercises can then be shared at regular staff meetings.
  4. Get staff out of the office.  Have a day or two a year where staff exercise remote operations (e.g. working from home).
  5. Get staff together over lunch one week and brainstorm possible approaches to service restoration and rapid impact assessment.  The following week, give them a crisis scenario to test these approaches. Divide into groups and challenge them to see who can come up with the most effective restoration strategy.
  6. Have staff swap roles (perhaps even desks and literal hats) during planning exercises or while discussing crisis scenarios.  This will help break down silos in the organisation.
  7. Hold a workshop with other organisations to discuss opportunities for site and resource sharing. This will build valuable partnerships for your business during non-crisis times too.
  8. Make sure people know how to get in touch if the regular communication systems are down. Compile a list; make multiple copies in both electronic (mobile phone, USB stick or in the cloud) and paper format and diary a reminder to check that it is up to date periodically. Make sure it's up to date every few months by having everyone call the next person down on the list to invite them to a company lunch or coffee date.
  9. Practice the ultimate computer crash scenario to find out what data is critical and where it's stored.  Check in with everyone about where their backup data is stored? Brainstorm about what kind of disaster would destroy backup data too? How do you reduce this risk? Does anyone else in your organisation know where to find and retieve this information if you were not there?
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