Sounds Like a Plan: The Elements of a Modern Recovery Plan

In the 25 years I’ve been in this business, one thing that has changed a lot is our ideas on what makes a good recovery plan. In today’s post, we’re going to run through the key elements of a recovery plan according to the most up-to-date practice and concepts.

 

 

Three Outmoded Recovery Plan Ideas

In the quarter century that I’ve been working in the field of business continuity, a few things have definitely not changed. Leaders back then were not exactly eager to invest in business continuity and it’s the same today.

Many things in our field have changed, however.

The majority of these changes have to do with technology, but not all. An example of a non-technology change is the need to cope with the extreme weather caused by climate change.

One area that has seen its fair share of change is our ideas on what constitutes a good recovery plan.

In the old days, we had three ideas that now strike me as nuts.

We thought a recovery plan should be written with sufficient detail. So much detail, that if Joe Schmoe off the street got called in to restore the business in an emergency, he would find everything he needed to do so documented in the recovery plan.

We saw the error of ways on this point when we realized the plans being produced were so voluminous, they were almost impossible to use, whether you were Joe Schmoe or a twenty-year veteran of the company.

Another idea we used to have was that it was sufficient to plan to recover from one disaster at a time. That seems quaint at a time when, as happened to one of our clients last year, it’s possible for a company to be grappling simultaneously with a pandemic, a fire threatening a building of theirs in California, and a hurricane threatening a facility in Florida.

The third outmoded idea that was prevalent in the early part of my career was we used to have an all-hazards approach to recovery planning. Nowadays we recognize that what matters is not the nature of the disruption but the nature of the impact, so we keep our recovery planning event neutral.

This concludes our tour of memory lane.

Let’s move on to the core elements of a good recovery plan, according to the best contemporary practice and concepts.

 

Elements of a Modern Recovery Plan

What are the key elements of a good recovery plan, according to the most up-to-date thinking?

In my view, there are five:

  1. A recovery plan should be written with the expectation that the recovery will be performed by someone with expert knowledge of the relevant field. It should include material a seasoned professional might forget and information unique to that particular organization, but it doesn’t have to spell out every little detail of the required tasks.
  2. The recovery plan should be tailored to fit the culture of the organization. As a consultant, I wouldn’t write a recovery plan the same way for a Hartford insurance firm and a Silicon Valley tech company. Chances are the two organizations would have vastly different needs, expectations, and levels of patience in terms of background information and policy.
  3. In today’s world you need to make sure your plan is designed to address more than one disruption at a time. The world has gotten more volatile and also more interconnected. Many companies are more far-flung in their footprint and supply chains than they were twenty-five years ago. Meanwhile, the tempo of life has increased dramatically. All of these changes mean that contemporary planners need to prepare their organizations to handle multiple disruptions simultaneously. (For tips on how, see “Double Trouble: How to Handle Multiple Business Disruptions.”)
  4. Write the plan to the “Goldilocks standard.” Your plan should not be so detailed as to be impenetrable. Neither should it be so casually (or lazily) put together that even a knowledgeable person is at a loss what to do. Focus on providing just the right level of detail. For guidance, see “The 4-3-3 Rule for Writing Business Recovery Checklists” and specifically the section Checklist Qualities. As that post explains, your recovery checklist items should be relevant, easy to understand, and comprehensive yet concise.
  5. Keep the plan event neutral. Don’t write plans that discuss what to do in the event of hurricanes or power outages or whatever. We now understand that’s taking the shovel from the wrong end. Write your plans based on the impact to the organization. There are four relevant scenarios: 1) loss of facility, 2) loss of technology, 3) loss of people, 4) loss of a critical supplier. Write plans to enable you to recover from these scenarios.

Those are the five key strategic elements of writing effective and modern recovery plans according to the best modern thinking. But they aren’t all you need to sort out to write a good plan.

 

Key Ancillary Elements

In addition to the main strategic considerations, there are a few critical ancillary elements. Here are the main ones you should think about:

  • Determine ahead of time what triggers, trip wires, or benchmarks will result in your activating the plan.
  • Establish what steps will be followed to activate the plan.
  • Work out how you will mobilize your people.
  • Determine what steps the organization will follow to return to normal operations once the disruption is over.

If you don’t give sufficient thought to these ancillary elements, they have a way of making even the most strategically sound plans fall apart.

 

Stay Tuned

A lot has changed since I started in business continuity, including our thinking on how to write a modern recovery plan.

These days we understand the key strategic elements of writing such plans to be: target the plan to the level of a knowledgeable person, tailor it to fit the culture of the organization, make sure it can handle more than one disruption at a time, provide a moderate level of detail, and make the plan event-neutral.

To find out how our ideas about business continuity evolve over the next 25 years, stay tuned.

 

Further Reading

For more information on writing modern recovery plans and other hot topics in BCM and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:

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