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Bringing clarity to your Business Continuity exercise 

Andy Marshall says that in planning an exercise, people often tend to confuse what they are trying to achieve.

Today we’re going to do a test. Actually it’s a simulation. Or it might even be a drill? Confused? Well quite often so is your Business Continuity Team (BCT) when its members sitting in front of you, ready to be led into an artificial world of challenge and uncertainty, and then they hear something like this. 

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Setting the right intentions for a BC exercise is as simple as following a recipe, but beware of too many cooks (Image: 123rf)

In planning an exercise, we tend to confuse what it is we’re trying to achieve. Even though we think we know what we want our people to do or to experience, we seem to have a habit of making it far less clear than we should. So, aprons on and let’s see how setting the right intentions for a BC exercise is as simple as following the recipe for your favourite cake.  

When you make a cake, there is a certain space for creative expression, but in the main the ingredients tend to do very specific things and they also tend to need to enter the mix in a certain order. Following this formula helps you to achieve the look, smell and taste of your culinary delight and, ultimately, puts a smile on the faces of those who are about to consume it. Putting in your ingredients in the wrong order or trying to get them to do things that they’re not supposed to do can spell disaster; despite your best intentions, your cake will simply not turn out how you or your recipe intend it to.

Start with the Cake
So, let’s extend this logic to your requirement to bring BC to life. First and foremost, you need to be very clear what an exercise actually is; this is your ‘cake’, the thing that your ingredients will make when you combine them in the right order. For me, an exercise is the single, overarching term for immersing your BCT in a positive learning environment, which impacts one or more of your Critical Functions through the lens of a plausible situation or scenario. 
Confirm your ingredients

Yet we often call an exercise a variety of other things like a drill, a simulation, a test, a stress-test or a practice. These are your ingredients and they shouldn’t be confused with your cake. For example an exercise shouldn’t be badged up-front as a ‘test’ as this all too often generates fear, suspicion and mis-trust as your positive learning environment is seen as a pass-fail ‘trial by clipboard’. By all means you can use an exercise to test something (a skill, a plan, a process etc.) but the exercise is the learning environment that you’ll create to achieve this.

In some cases we also confuse the concepts of training and exercises, mixing the two to create a hybrid known as the ‘training exercise’. In reality, these typically end up being neither a training session nor an exercise as the requirements of each are so unique and distinct. Wherever possible, training should precede exercising as a separate and discrete activity. Give your BCT the skills, knowledge and awareness, then allow them to apply these in the context of an exercise; this generates learning.  

Follow the recipe
So I’m now going to propose a simple approach for you to use to get your thoughts in order and to be able to set out clearly what your intentions are for your BC exercise in a single statement. Remember, think of a cake as your ‘exercise’, the learning environment that you want to create by combining your key ingredients in the right order. These ingredients can be split into four separate bowls:
Bowl #1: This contains the target audience for your exercise (you can add your own to suit):

  • Emergency Response Team
  • Business Continuity Team
  • Incident Management Team
  • ‘x’ Department
  • ‘x’ Division
  • ‘x’ Region
Bowl #2: This contains what you want your exercise to do:
  • To test
  • To simulate
  • To practise
  • To drill
  • To wargame
  • To model

Bowl #3: This contains what skill you’re looking for participants to apply:

  • (its/their) response to 
  • (its/their) awareness of
  • (its/their) recovery from
  • (its/their) preparedness for
  • (its/their) familiarisation with
  • (its/their) activation of
  • (its/their) mobilisation of 

Bowl #4: This contains the event or contingency plan that you want to focus on and which your exercise scenario will be based on, for example (you can add your own to suit):

  • A fire
  • The Pandemic Plan
  • A flood
  • A flu outbreak
  • A power outage
  • A cyber attack
  • The country evacuation plan
  • The department BCP

You can now combine one ingredient in sequence from each dish to make your cake – or your intended BC exercise. All you do to complete the process is to fill in the following statement:

To exercise the (insert ingredient from Bowl 1) in order to (insert ingredient from Bowl 2) (insert ingredient from Bowl 3) (insert ingredient from Bowl 4).

Using this approach, examples could be:

  • To exercise the Business Continuity Team in order to practise its ability to recover from a power outage.
  • To exercise the Operations Division in order to model its recovery from a cyber attack.

Ok so it’s a bit of fun. However, setting your ingredients out like this is a simple yet effective way of being very clear about who, what and why you’re going to exercise. It doesn’t actually provide you with a detailed plan for running a BC exercise – you’ll need to do this separately. What it does do is allow you to order your thinking, be clear in what you communicate to participants and prevent the common confusion about what a BC exercise is. Happy baking! 

Andy Marshall is an experienced resilience practitioner and member of the CRJ Editorial Advisory Panel.

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