However, all of the aforementioned documentation was indeed outdated! A complete re-validation was needed in order to effectively develop a business continuity plan that would reflect current technological policies and guidelines of the firm. This was the first hardship I encountered.
In order to effectively validate this information, meetings with various key users from the specific BC teams (e.g.: crisis management team, support team, administration team, etc.) had to be scheduled. Trying to do so within a limited time frame proved to be an arduous task. This was hardship No. 2.
Next, my immediate supervisor requested that I complete a scheduled plan outline (in MS Project) on the various activities that needed to be accomplished. Suffice to say, hardship No. 3 surfaced as quickly as a submarine detecting its enemy out of water.
Following this practically indefinable task (who knew it would be so difficult to summarize BC tasks and allocate set dates), the first true deliverable was requested: the VP of administrative services needed a PowerPoint presentation on what had been done in the project, what needed to be done, and a summarized timeframe of upcoming events. After my fifth attempt, everything was accepted and signed off by upper management. You guessed it … hardship No. 4.
Finally, contacting key members of the BC teams and requesting information such as their latest call trees, organizational charts, key contacts, and applications used was nonetheless a strenuous task: as friendly and cooperative as users were, getting each and every one of them to forward the required information within a required deadline proved to be a headache.
Hence, here are five hardships that were encountered within the first month of work:
1. Inundation of BC information
2. Scheduling meetings with key users
3. Detailed plan outline
4. Summary of accomplishments and upcoming milestones for upper management presentation
5. Request of information from team members.
It is incredible how much one can learn after one month of work in the field of business continuity:
1. Take everything one step at a time
The first and ultimate lesson learned is to take each task one step at a time. Do not attack multiple deliverables at once. Upon receiving all of the documentation described previously from the external consultant, one cannot help but think, “I need to complete all of this stuff as soon as possible if I want to develop a plan shortly.” That would be wrong. Take the time and effort to read through what has already been completed in order to effectively understand what is correct and valid, what needs to be updated and what is erroneous. An iterative approach is best upon acquiring new information and analyzing information needed for upcoming steps.
2. Don’t ever assume, because …
Well, you know how the rest of the sentence goes. … Assuming that certain tasks have been done correctly since they have been documented in an orderly and well written way does not mean that the information is accurate and valid. An effective business continuity planner must review all received information from the field before making a decision. Assumptions are not welcomed in this field.
3. ALWAYS incorporate extra time
Thinking that tasks will be completed on time and not assigning any extra contingency factor is definitely a lesson learned from this BC coordinator. Coming straight out of college, essays, assignments and term papers are given strict deadlines and deviating from those will result in penalties. Hence, a student has to manage their time accordingly. Not so in the professional field. Users have many other deadlines and the lesson learned is that what you have requested is not always on the top of their list. Incorporate a little leeway in your project deliverables so as to not restrain your time too much. After speaking to three project managers at the firm, 15 to 20 percent should be sufficient.
4. Be Patient
This should be the Golden Rule of business continuity. Whether it is acquiring information from users, requesting meetings, receiving feedback from upper management, or reading through previous documentation, the BC coordinator must possess a patient character to effectively accomplish his/her job. Asking for deadlines, pushing users to the limit and, God forbid, demanding information on the spot is to no avail. Politely and professionally requesting the information from the user and asking for a submission within a reasonable time is the efficient way of conducting business and maintaining a good image. Use proper terms such as “by day’s end” or “within a week” to effectively communicate your message across. A lesson learned is to avoid being too specific (e.g.; “by Thursday 5 p.m.”) or too vague (e.g.: “whenever you have the time”).
5. Be Clear
When communicating with any user in the corporation – from blue-collar employees to upper management – it is extremely important to be clear in your message. A very important lesson learned early on is to properly convey the sender’s intent by using the appropriate language with the recipient; no use of technical or business continuity jargon should be employed. For example, not all contacts knew what a “call tree” was. Many of them returned the e-mail message requesting further information. If an explanation was described in the e-mail message, this might have helped the reader to understand the information required a little more. Once again, don’t ever assume, because ….
6. And Finally … Be Precise
Time and time again, precision and explanation on what the BC coordinator requires from his intended recipient are key factors in communication. For instance, when asked several users to please define their critical business functions to validate the information given previously to the external consultant, very little knew what was meant by critical business functions. Are these functions IT related? How can we discern what is critical from what is not? What is the pinpointing factor? Money? Time? Effort? It is extremely important to be precise in one’s message upon communicating with any user.
Hence, patience, precision, clarity, iteration, and fact (not assumptions) are several lessons that I have definitely instilled in my professional work. You are at the hands of the user community. I have learned that an effective, professional, and non-forceful manner will help get your message across and receive a prompt and accurate reply.
What The Future Holds
With these mistakes made and lessons learned, I am truly looking forward to the future. The next steps of the BC process are to develop, document, and implement the first-level continuity plan for my corporation. Upon receiving upper management approval, education, training, testing, and maintenance of the plan will be required in the upcoming months. Updating the project timeline will be an arduous task and the day will eventually come when I will have to present my first draft of the BCP to upper management for final approval. I will keep you informed in a future issue of Disaster Recovery Journal.
Michael Barbara, CBCP, is the recently appointed business continuity coordinator at a law firm in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He has been employed there since March 2003. He has previously worked as a business analyst with and is a silent partner in a breakfast restaurant. He is currently pursuing a Master’s of Sciences in Administration degree in Management of Information Systems.