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Readiness Best Practices: The Importance of Drills

It’s a fact, business continuity management (BCM) programs that consistently perform well-orchestrated drills get better results when dealing with real crisis situations.

Practice Makes Perfect

Running practice drills is a key role for any business continuity program leader.  Drafting BCM plans and making sure they work effectively in a true emergency are two wildly different things. Planned testing is critical from a number of standpoints:

Team Building: Unlike many teams, business continuity teams frequently consist of cross-functional representation including a variety of individuals who do not typically collaborate outside their BCM roles.  Most of these team members do not have formal training in business continuity, and they are not accustomed to working with each other.  Practice drills help team members get to know each other better to build relationships and trust.  The more you know and work with colleagues, the more likely you are to take your role on the team seriously.

Team Training: As stated above, most BCM functional team members have little or no formal training.  They are communications specialists, customer service managers, operations directors, IT program managers and more.  These team members are selected for their functional expertise and need to be trained on the requirements of the business continuity role.  Team training should cover the end-to-end incident management process, including; risk assessment, impact assessment, response planning, recovery and post event evaluation.

Plan ValidationPractice drills fulfill an important role in validating the effectiveness of the plan.  Are the templates and task lists clear?  Have all the critical steps been identified?  Are the pre-populated messages valid?  Have all the right team members been identified? What about their alternates, have they been identified and trained?  Practices drills frequently identify gaps that, once filled, make event resolution run more smoothly.

Support Tool Configuration: Every BCM program uses some form of support tools.  Whether these include fully featured emergency notification and incident management systems or simply shared drives and conference bridges, the tools need to be tested and trained so that when a real crisis occurs, technology will help speed resolution vs. hinder team effectiveness.

How to Run a Successful Practice Drill

Successful BCM programs have an ongoing practice drill calendar throughout the year.  Each event type that an organization prepares for is likely to have different team members, task lists and success criteria.  Every event team should do a minimum of one practice drill per year and potentially more based on the complexity of the issue and outcome of the drills.

BCM team leadership typically orchestrates the overall practice drill calendar and creates the test scenarios for each individual drill.  The diagram below outlines the process for executing a successful practice drill:

Creating the Test Scenario: Scenarios should be as realistic and detailed as possible to best simulate an actual emergency situation.  When drafting the test scenario, the BCM team lead should have a clear vision of the expected response and KPI’s.

Pre-Test Review: The BCM team needs to take practice drills seriously — it helps when there is a steering committee in place to make sure drills occur and to monitor results.  At the pre-test review, the drill leader will share enough information about the scenario to prepare team members, but not provide full disclosure to information that can only be learned as the event unfolds.

Test Simulation: Once the test simulation begins, the team lead will begin disclosing scenario facts so that the team can do risk and impact assessment.  Then the team will develop and implement a response plan to the extent possible in a test scenario.

Post Test Evaluation: A critical part of each practice drill is the post test evaluation where team members review each step of the process to determine:

  • How effective were you at collecting risk assessment information?
  • Did the team get to an impact assessment – go/no go decision in an appropriate timeframe?
  • Did each team member provide clear and appropriate response plans with identified task lists?
  • Were the pre-populated templates and plans well aligned for the required response?
  • Did we deliver the right communications to the right audiences at the right times?
  • Were our recovery steps implemented quickly?
  • Overall, what could we have done differently to address this incident more effectively?

Plan Optimization: Based on the answers to the questions above, plan templates need to be updated to address gaps and opportunities uncovered during the test drill.

How to Use This Information

Practice drills one of the largest drivers of business continuity management program success.  Companies that do them on a consistent basis have stronger teams and better program results.  If you are looking for ways to improve your business continuity program effectiveness MissionMode can help with best practices tips and collaboration tools that speed communications and simplify incident management.  Contact us today at 877-833-7763 to schedule a demonstration and learn more about our Situation Center™ Suite.

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