Top tips for improving your business continuity exercises

Published: Friday, 06 March 2015 10:08

By Duncan Ford MBCI.

Could you get more out of your business continuity exercises? Do you have an inner concern that last year’s exercise programme didn’t demonstrate as much as you would have liked, or that there may be alternative ways of delivering the exercise that would be more cost effective and less effort?

Guidance from the various business continuity institutes and regulators, also included in recognised standards, puts a strong emphasis, quite correctly, on the essential requirement to exercise plans and recovery procedures. However, how do you assess the quality of the exercises, as opposed to the quantity?  Are different types and styles of exercises being used, within an integrated programme, to meet different business needs?
Take a couple of seconds to consider whether:

Reviewing your current exercise programme

Revisit last year’s exercise programme and identify areas where the actual delivery was not as effective as it could have been. There are many reasons for this, many of which may seem to be outside your span of control.

Examples below are some of the constraining factors heard in the last 24 months of exercise design and delivery for clients:

This isn’t a tick list nor an assessment but if you recognise some of these concerns, or have others of your own, then perhaps a new approach would be worth considering.

Setting the improvement objective

It’s not sensible to change everything at once; so concentrate on what can be influenced, starting with an improvement objective for 2015 that has the aim of getting the maximum benefit from the exercise programme.

Use the list above, or be honest about the comments you would (or have) received, and identify those areas where you can make changes quickly and easily; it could be about:

It’s your choice but past experience shows that the results can be amazing. Changing the approach leads to greater engagement and involvement from everyone.

Using exercises to embed business continuity programmes

Communicating about the exercises creates an opportunity to engage right across the organization and to encourage individual involvement and responsibility. This is both internal communication and external to a range of stakeholders. Get the messaging right and you not only raise awareness of business continuity but you start to build bridges and improve engagement.

Success of the crisis and continuity management exercise programme is about building and then demonstrating:

Exercises are powerful tools for engaging people

The nature of emerging threats and major disruptions to business take many forms. The single factor which connects every instance is that it is people who must respond, sometimes late at night or under stress. In every case they have to deal with challenges which are outside the norm. When this also puts them too far outside their individual comfort zone you are heading rapidly towards crisis and potential business failure.
Capable people, who have been trained in their role, taken part in exercises which have relevant scenarios, been allowed through open discussion to identify shortcomings and the changes required to solve these problems and recognise the importance of continuity to the organization, will be confident in their capability to respond whatever the problem.
Selecting the most appropriate style of exercise, will maximise the engagement of the target audience and using different delivery styles and relevant scenarios create opportunities for embedding the business continuity message.

Together this feels like crisis and continuity management is working.

Making the exercises real

It is important that the exercise creates the right environment for learning the right lessons. Who knows, tomorrow you could be faced with a very similar set of circumstances and problems and the last thing you want is a response based on false lessons gained from ineffective past exercises.

Let’s consider ways to freshen the exercise programme to deliver the improvement objective:

Exercise design

Every exercise begins with discussion of the exercise objectives, assessment of how success will be measured, identifying the target audience and selection of an appropriate scenario. From this we can design the most appropriate exercise format.

Of these parameters the most important are the objectives:

Why we are doing this exercise? And identifying the target audience: Who is taking part?

How can you build reality into delivery?

In the end the exercise is only limited by the planner’s imagination.

The exercise improvement resolution

Commit this year to review the effectiveness of your exercise programme and to incorporate new techniques of exercise design considering alternative styles and making it real. Foster greater awareness of your business continuity message and ensure your people are engaged, trained and confident.

The author:
Duncan Ford MBCI is a Partner in Corpress LLP. He has practised for many years as a crisis and continuity consultant helping a wide range of organisations to become more resilient. He is also an active member of the BSI Business Continuity and Risk Management panels responsible for development of British and International standards in these subject areas. Contact at duncan.ford@corpress.uk

To help deliver these objectives check out the Corpress Exercise Checklist which can be downloaded after registration here.