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Tuesday, 28 February 2012 20:40

Cookie cutter vs. custom plans

Written by  John Glenn

Cookie cutter plans defined

"COOKIE CUTTER" (or "template") plans where all the planner has to do is fill in the blanks. Names change; contact numbers change, but the basic plan is the same for everyone, no matter what organization and no matter where the organization is located.

Cookie cutter benefits

There are a number of obvious benefits to cookie cutter plans, especially when one organization -- for example a rental truck company -- has locations scattered all over the country.

I confess I have not created plans for a rental truck company and I have no specific company in mind. The industry simply lends itself nicely to this effort.

Trucks and trailers are pretty much the same wherever you rent them. I rented a diesel truck the other day that had an Arizona license plate and an electrical cord hanging from the front grill. The cord - standard on all of this company's diesel-engine units - connects to a low-wattage heater used to keep the engine warm for easier starting in cold climates such as found in Gillette, Wyoming.

The company's computer connections are basic; nothing unique or bleeding edge, so rental contracts are transferred without a problem 98 percent of the time.

To write a business continuity plan for each of the company's owned or franchised locations would be, after the first plan, almost a no-brainer.


The cookie cutter would be ideal providing -- and this is the proviso -- a professional planner was creating the plan versus someone with little or no planning experience or desire.

Of course each of the local plans needs to be rolled up into a regional plan, but the regions can pretty much be cookie cutter plans as well.

Finally, the regional plans will be rolled up into the corporate plan.

I know some "name" consulting organizations that would even try to squeeze the corporate plan into a template as well.

There are at least two obvious benefits of using the cookie cutter approach.

  1. The planner can expedite the planning process. That's good for the company footing the bill.
  2. As people move from location to location, they know what the standard business continuity plan involves. Put "XYZ" into place to avoid or mitigate a known, common risk and if the risk occurs, do "ABC" to maintain a minimum level of service while doing "MNO" to restore the operation to business as usual.

Everyone, including this scrivener, likes efficiency, and portable knowledge is efficient.

Cookie cutter contra-indications

As I write this, I look out my window and watch as snow flakes, driven by the wind, pile up on the road in front of the office.

One year, working in Bloomington, Ill., this was "no big deal."

This year, working in Norfolk Va., it is a "big deal."

The difference, and the reason cookie cutter plans are never ideal when put together by amateurs, is that Bloomington had the infrastructure to clear and sand the roads; Norfolk, which rarely experiences snowfalls of any consequence, lacks the infrastructure.

There is an obvious difference between the communities.

I'm not "knocking" Norfolk - it's a great town and there is no reason it should have snowplow mounts on every truck in the garage; it simply doesn't snow that much that often this close to the North Carolina border and the Atlantic ocean.

If I was creating plans for the national truck rental company, I would start off with a basic cookie cutter template, but there would be enough "play" in the template to accommodate such local concerns as weather -- that means snow, floods, repairs, and "whatever."

I also would consider communications, "tele" and otherwise.

Heck, I'd even consider local customs and holidays. (Have you ever tried to return a 38-foot truck via a parade route?)

Moving up to the regionals, I have a different set of concerns, but while I may not be worried about 38-foot trucks and parades, I would be considering work actions, access to the facilities, back-up and alternate sites, and other routine and not-so-routine concerns.

Even if each regional facility were a mirror of the other, each is unique, if only in the local culture or personality.

On a snowy day in Bloomington people hitch up the sled dogs and mush to work. Here in Norfolk a high absentee ratio is SOP. On the other hand, a beautiful spring day in Illinois may infect workers with a severe case of "spring fever" curable only with a fishing pole or hammock in the back yard. The same weather in Norfolk is rather "ho-hum" and the locals head in to work and conditioned air.

Case for a professional planner

Cookie cutter plans are great if -- and only if -- they are monitored by someone who is able to think outside the box, to ask the "what if" questions that sometimes no one wants to hear.

Professional planners are paid to suggest the impossible -- planes crashing into buildings; unheard of, can't happen - but it does, even without terrorists at the controls. Professional planners are paid to recommend options to avoid or mitigate risks. Finally, professional planners are paid to rate risks by probability and by impact so that management can determine what avoidance or mitigation measures to implement.

The differences between a professional planner and a person tasked with creating a plan or "filling in the blanks" are basically two, sometimes just one. In all cases, the professional planner has experience; hopefully the planner apprenticed with an experienced planner and, perhaps, has an educational background as well. If the planner is "credentialed" (certified) there is an assumption that the planner's professional knowledge was tested by the planner's peers.

The other difference that usually is found between the professional and the person assigned to create a plan is enthusiasm for the profession; enthusiasm that translates into off-the-wall thoughts about "what if" scenarios.

Cookie cutter plans are fine, providing the baker is a professional.

John Glenn, MBCI, (JohnGlennMBCI.com) is an enterprise risk management/business continuity practitioner with more than 13 years experience. Glenn invites comments on this article and others at his Web site to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..