Business continuity is the ability of a business to get back to work after something has disrupted it: hurricane, fire, flood, pandemic, or whatever. Business continuity planning is all the planning you do to prepare for disasters before they happen, so you can get back to work smoothly afterwards.
I said in Part One that business continuity planning is a part of risk management in general. Specifically, business continuity planning means identifying all the risks that could interrupt your business, or some part of it, and then taking action to mitigate those risks or planning contingency actions in case they take place. The basic approach is exactly what I described in Part One , but a few features are unique.
In the first place, you have to start with your Executive Team. This is not a job you can delegate to the Safety Committee. The reason is that every entity inside the organization—every division, every department, every plant, every team—has to be engaged. They have to contribute to defining how to secure their work (because they know it better than anyone else); and they have to know what to do in case disaster strikes. So you start at the top.
When you start to identify business continuity risks, remember that you are looking for anything that can interrupt any aspect of your operations. This means you have to look not only at your direct operations, but at any support functions: billing, payroll, purchasing, and the rest. It also means you have to think about anything that can interrupt your customers or your supply chain. If you were unscathed by a disaster, but your main customers are out of commission and won’t be ordering for another year, you could have a problem. Likewise with your supply chain.
When you identify a risk, you cannot assign it to just one Owner. This is one of the big differences between business continuity planning and other kinds of risk management. If disaster strikes—hurricane, fire, flood, earthquake, or whatever it is—it’s probably going to strike everybody. So you can’t assign the whole problem to Fred or Max and ask him to figure out a solution for the entire company. Instead of that, each member of the Executive Team goes back to his people (or hers, of course) to determine how they have to secure their parts of the business. Depending on the size of your organization, some of them might have to go back to their people as well, to work out the details. Do whatever you have to do, but come back to the rest of the Executive Team with a plan for your area.
Then the Executive Team as a whole reviews the plans to make sure they are consistent. You can’t respond to a disaster by pulling in different directions: so while every team has to figure out what they specifically need, the plans still have to mesh together. As just a single example, if you are going to tell the office folks to work from home they should all be using the same communication platform to keep connected. If your team is the odd one out, you might have to change your plan a little to align with the rest of the company. Make sure you engage all the people you engaged before, so that everyone understands what’s changed.
Finally, when all the details have been worked out, document your plans in the simplest format possible, and store them somewhere that’s easy to find in an emergency. Remind people periodically where to look. (If you do regular fire or emergency drills, you might be able to incorporate pulling a copy of the emergency plan.) And mark a day on the Executive Team’s calendar—six months out, or maybe twelve—to do the exercise again.
Michael Mills has spent over 25 years managing quality and documentation systems for large companies and small ones. Now he does internal audits and consults on Quality projects, while regularly posting online. He publishes every week at the Pragmatic Quality Blog (pragmatic-quality.blogspot.com), and writes the Management Light column for the Organizational Excellence Specialists Group on LinkedIn. You can find him on LinkedIn at Michael Mills | LinkedIn.
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