By Greg Marbais, Avalution Consulting
Article originally posted on Avalution Consulting’s Blog
Many business continuity professionals face shrinking budgets and, because of an expanding business continuity program scope and aggressive recovery objectives, lack the time necessary to “touch” all areas of the organization and optimally prepare for disruptive events. As a result, practitioners need a way to create repeatable processes to execute recurring planning activities in a decentralized manner while making efficient use of the organization’s personnel to comply with management’s expectations. One approach we often find useful in rolling out a standardized, thorough, efficient and repeatable process for business continuity activities is the creation of a business continuity program toolkit. A business continuity toolkit typically contains a set of instructional narratives, as well as templates, tools and examples to help dispersed personnel appropriately execute business continuity planning activities consistent with organizational standards.
The development of business continuity toolkit is an approach growing in popularity, with the end goal of implementing and executing repeatable, effective business continuity activities across larger, dispersed organizations in order to meet management’s performance objectives. Business continuity toolkits often include instructions that are easy for those charged with planning – especially those planning on a part-time basis – to follow and understand. This approach makes the most out of centralized business continuity professionals and provides part-time planners with the proper information to be effective in their planning role.
Preparing to develop and implement a business continuity toolkit should begin with a clear set of objectives, outcomes and how success will be measured, obtaining approval from management (as required by the organization) and establishing a timeline with key milestones.
What’s in a Business Continuity Toolkit?
The contents of a toolkit are necessarily unique to each organization; however, most contain the following:
- Governance materials that establish the expectations of the organization for business continuity planning.
- Written instructions and guidance to prepare for, execute and conclude each core business continuity activity, together with recommendations regarding how to select and engage the most appropriate resources.
- Templates that address common program elements.
Documents commonly included in a toolkit are shown in the following diagram:
The materials and application of the toolkit will vary from organization to organization; however, it’s important to ensure that the toolkit is written and designed at a high enough level so that every organizational element can utilize the content and apply it effectively. Instructions should include task detail, links to templates and examples, and the method to maintain and continually improve the outcome. Further, the instructions included in the toolkit should provide users with a structured process to execute a business continuity activity in alignment with organizational policy and program requirements.
As noted above, an effective toolkit will include templates and examples that help those charged with planning to perform the required activities and tasks listed in the instructions, all leading to an appropriate level of preparedness for disruptive events. Templates and examples included in most toolkits include interested party communications, meeting and planning session agendas, report structures and presentation files. Each template should be referenced in the instructions as to when it should be used. Templates often included in a toolkit are:
- Communications templates provide a structured method to convey expectations for all planning participants. An example email template used for a business impact analysis (BIA) kickoff meeting would explain that the department is implementing or reviewing a BIA, that the recipient has been identified as a person that should be involved in the process and what the recipient will be expected to do during the data gathering effort and throughout the BIA process.
- Agenda templates provide a basic structure to help planners carry out meetings designed to plan for or perform business continuity planning activities. An example agenda template used for a BIA kickoff meeting often includes an introduction to the BIA, a discussion of the scope of the BIA, a review of roles and responsibilities for all participants, an overview of the BIA process, and next steps in order to prepare for the BIA.
- Report templates provide a structure that enables planners to document the information necessary to enable preparedness for disruptive events. For example, a template used for summarizing BIA information would include a high-level summary of the information necessary to justify recovery objectives, a structure for reporting the detailed findings, and next steps.
- Presentation templates provide the basic structure and content used to convey findings, recommendations and enable management decision-making. For example, a BIA summary presentation would convey recommended recovery objectives, justification and perhaps even gaps between recommendations and current-state capabilities.
Before Building a Toolkit
A business continuity toolkit is only valuable when the basic process for conducting a business continuity activity is defined and expectations agreed upon. When developing a toolkit, it is important to first create the structure for the business continuity program and reflect this structure in a policy statement and standard operating procedures (SOP). The toolkit essentially translates the program into actionable activities and tasks for those required to perform business continuity activities. Since the toolkit is meant to make performing business continuity activities easier and the outcomes better, it may not be valuable early in a program’s maturity when frequent changes to the toolkit are likely needed. In addition, it may be helpful to “beta test” the toolkit prior to rolling it out throughout the organization.
Another important consideration is the effect of culture on the use toolkits. Large organizations with independent business units spread across multiple geographies could have significantly different corporate cultures. Different cultures could lead to differing approaches to executing business continuity activities, such as a BIA. The toolkit needs to be adapted to the local culture – and diverse regulatory requirements and customer expectations – which is more than translating it into the local language. In addition, the process described in the toolkit may need to be adapted. For example, an organization that uses workshops to elicit business continuity strategy options in the United States may run into difficulty using the same process in China. In China, a similar process would often generate few strategy ideas, especially if the workgroup includes personnel at multiple levels of the organization. There is a cultural factor in China that prevents employees from providing feedback which may harm the reputation of another member of the group. This cultural factor means that conducting a BIA or trying to obtain strategy options requires changing the approach to get valid information. Ultimately, culture plays a substantial role in the effectiveness of a business continuity program, so it’s important that the program is adapted to the culture.
A business continuity toolkit enables the execution of a decentralized program and the implementation of standardized, consistent and compliant business continuity activities in an efficient manner. Bottom-line, the benefits a toolkit provides to the business continuity professional and the organization as a whole are that it:
- Clarifies expectations for those performing planning activities and provides examples to illustrate expectations;
- Reduces the risk of non-compliance with regulatory requirements or other obligations; and
- Enables the business continuity professional’s transition from an advisor on all preparedness tasks to a consultant to the most important and complex tasks.
In the end, a business continuity toolkit helps optimize limited resources and appropriately engage personnel throughout the organization, thus mitigating risk and enabling effective recovery from disruptive events.
If you’re considering using a toolkit to roll out business continuity across your organization, please contact us to discuss how we can quickly establish a toolkit for your organization and aid you in deploying it.
Greg Marbais, Consultant
Avalution Consulting: Business Continuity Consulting
Our consulting team regularly publishes perspectives (shorter, independent articles) that touch on the trends currently affecting our profession and the strategic issues facing our clients. This is one of our most recent posts, but the full catalog of our perspectives – over 100 published since 2005 – can be accessed via our blog.