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Following on from his previous Continuity Central article, Andy Osborne shares further business continuity advice from the 101 tips included in his new book 'Practical Business Continuity Management 2'. Here he chooses his favourite three tips from the book...

Mind your language

It’s fair to say that business continuity practitioners inhabit a slightly different world to most ‘normal’ business people. It’s a world of threats and impacts and recovery objectives; of incidents and interruptions, crises and disasters; of backups and restores and contingencies and workarounds; of recovery strategies and teams and plans. And when someone lives somewhere for any length of time, it’s only natural to pick up some of the local lingo. Which is  all well and good when we’re talking to other locals who understand it.

But there can be a tendency to assume that the rest of the world speaks the same language. And the fact is that many ‘normal’ business people don’t get particularly excited by ‘business continuity speak’. So a better approach might be to avoid it altogether and use language and terminology that the whole business actually understands.

For instance, if the audience isn’t excited by words like ‘business impact’ or ‘recovery time objective’, why not simply talk about what’s critical to the success of their part of the business, what they depend upon to deliver it and how long they could be without it before it really started to hurt? If business continuity doesn’t particularly float their boat you could try not using those two words  in the same sentence – or at all for that matter. And as they probably have more than enough acronyms, abbreviations and buzzwords of their own to keep them amused (or confused), they might actually appreciate not hearing any of ours.

At the end of the day, it’s far more important that the people on the receiving end of our attention understand what we’re on about and buy in to it than us being precious about our industry jargon, no matter how much we might like to use it.

Perfuming the pig!

Anyone can write a business continuity plan. In fact that’s the easy bit. And it’s very easy to make the business continuity plan look very convincing. Names and contact details, a few checklists and a bit of blurb at the start about how seriously we take business continuity within our organization can work wonders.

But it’s also very easy to write a business continuity plan with no substance to it. One that essentially says ‘we’ll get a few key people together at the time and make it up as we go along’! There are any number of plans in existence that basically say this.

But what about the underpinning strategy and solutions? What’s in place to ensure that we can actually meet our objectives in the event that we have to invoke our plans for real?

The plan is one thing but the strategy and solutions (not to mention the testing and exercising and awareness and education and ongoing review and maintenance) that turn a plan into a capability are quite another.

You can make the plan look as pretty as you like, but if the underlying strategy and solutions or assumptions are flawed it’s just a cosmetic exercise.

As a former colleague of the author, an experienced business continuity practitioner with an interesting turn of phrase, was fond of saying, ‘It doesn’t matter how much perfume you put on a pig, at the end of the day it’s still a pig!’

The magnificent seven

Theory has it that the ideal size for a team or a working group is seven people. Above that, the group will tend to split into smaller groups – a phenomenon that can be readily observed wherever there’s a gathering of more than seven friends, associates or team-mates, whether it’s in a social or a work situation.

It’s also been said that, in a meeting or work group, each additional member above seven reduces the likelihood  of making good, quick, executable decisions by ten per cent. Once you hit 16 or 17 people, therefore, the team’s potential for effective decision-making is close to zero.

It stands to reason then, that a crisis or incident management team with more than seven members is likely to be less effective, from a decision-making perspective, than one with seven members or fewer. So it would seem to make sense to limit the membership of such a team, or at least the core, decision-making element of it.

That doesn’t, however, mean that other key people should be ignored. By all means include subject matter experts or other interested parties in meetings intended to disseminate information or engender discussion or feedback. When it comes to the knottier issue of decision-making, though – particularly in a crisis situation, where critical decisions may have to be made quickly – seven may well be the magic number.

Perhaps there’s a reason why the Magnificent Seven got their name. The Average Eight or the Ineffective Eleven doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!

The author

Andy Osborne is Consultancy Director (business continuity, risk & crisis management) at Acumen. His new book, 'Practical Business Continuity Management 2', is now available from Amazon as a print or Kindle version.

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