The Business Continuity Planning Objective (Hint: It’s not to implement the BCP Methodology)

So, I was recently helping a colleague prepare a management presentation to discuss her plans for advancing the business continuity program in her company.  Maybe it’s just a matter of semantics, but we had a lengthy discussion over “objectives”, “goals” and “tasks”.

If you have read any of my recent blogs you might recognize a pattern in which I think business continuity planners have become victims of our own methodology.  This discussion helped me to emphasize that point.  When I suggested to my colleague that she should first succinctly define her objective, she merely listed the steps of the methodology.  I strongly disagree.

A business continuity planner’s objective is not to complete the BCP methodology.  The methodology is simply a recipe towards achieving an end.  What is that “end” you hope to achieve?  That “end” is your ultimate objective.

So, we started with: “To provide the company a means in which they can recover from (or continue operations through) any business interruption event that impacts their operations, facilities, employees or workflow.”  I am sure you can improve on this sentence, but, it is a good start – and, it helps set the right mind frame.  Regardless of what any auditor thinks or what any other professional has led you to believe (especially those with a vested interest in having you follow a given methodology), the business continuity planner’s job is not to execute the BCP methodology; your job is to prepare your organization to successfully respond to, continue critical operations through, and recover from a business interruption event.

Now, it just so happens that one of the best ways to achieve that objective is to follow the standard methodology, but, with this understanding of our ultimate objective we can better assess what components of the methodology are needed for our situation and determine what, if any, adjustments to the methodology we need to make to achieve this objective for our particular company.  We simply need to ask ourselves – about each component in the methodology – is this needed and how is it best used to achieve our objective?

With this thought in mind, I like to reorganize the standard methodology a bit and divide the components of the methodology into the Strategic Planning Components and the Tactical Planning Components.  Strategic Planning Components of the methodology help us define “what” our program should accomplish and the Tactical Planning Components help us describe “how” we accomplish these strategic goals.  The diagram here depicts this re-organization of the methodology.  (Click on the diagram for a better view.)

Methodology

If you think about the BCP methodology as a recipe for baking a cake, the Strategic Planning Components are needed to decide what kind of cake we should bake, how big it should be, what ingredients are needed to bake it and how long it should take to bake it.  The Tactical Planning Components are needed to ensure we have access to everything we need when the time comes to bake the cake, and, have the instructions for actually baking the cake when it is required.  The methodology also suggests we practice baking this cake a time or two before having to serve it for real – a good idea if you have never baked a cake before – and, making whatever adjustments are needed to constantly improve the cake and the baking process.

Now we get to a question that is becoming a topic of conversation for many business continuity planners: if the Strategic Planning Components of the methodology help us define what kind and how much cake we should bake, are they necessary if this is told to us by our management team?

This is where I think we often fall victim to our methodology.  I think we must ask ourselves – who is our customer?  Who are we designing business continuity programs for?  The methodology is not our customer.  The auditors are not our customers.  The CEO and/or Board of Directors are our customers.  In my mind, the key phrase in every BCP/Disaster Recovery/Emergency Response regulatory requirement is the one that states these plans/programs must be consistent with management expectations and approved by the Board of Directors.

I think that if Senior Management dictates the strategy to the business continuity planner and then approves the solutions put in place to achieve those strategic objectives, it is less important that you can tick off having performed every task within the BCP Methodology – even if not being able to do so upsets the auditors.  Furthermore, the business continuity planner who follows every step of the methodology to the letter and implements a solution that is not consistent with management’s expectations – has not done their job.

At the end of the day, the business continuity planner must ensure that their organization is in position to effectively and efficiently respond to and recover from any business interruption that impacts their organization.  I say, if you can achieve that – you have done your job, with or without having completed the entire BCP methodology.  Now, some will challenge and say that short of actually experiencing a disaster, the only real way to ensure that you have achieved this objective is to complete every step of the methodology.  I believe that the real proof is in the design and execution of the exercises and tests you perform.  That, to me, is the real challenge – good, complete and verifiable exercises.

But, my real objective for writing this blog is not to convince anyone that they shouldn’t follow the BCP methodology.  I think, in almost every case, even following my theory here, you will eventually determine that the standard BCP methodology is the best means for getting your job done.  I just wish to get business continuity planners to understand what their ultimate objective is and not to simply follow the methodology because they think they have to but to understand why they are following the methodology and help ensure that everything they do – every step they follow in the methodology – can be tied back to achieving this ultimate objective.  In this way, I believe, you can design your implementation of the methodology in a way that does not waste anyone’s time and effort in gathering information or conducting analyses that do not contribute to the final objective.

I think my colleague got the point and her management presentation was well received.  So, I think, I can count at least one practitioner that now sees my point.

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