Exercising BCM Plans: A State of Mind

‘Test’ is not a positive word.  The word test comes with negative connotations.  With a test, you’re given only two possible outcomes pass or fail.  With options such as these, it’s not surprising many people don’t like them.  The difference between tests and exercises is that one will produce value and significant results and help motivate employees while the other will de-motivate employees, cause finger pointing and result in lower confidence levels in the overall program – and themselves. 

John Sensenich, in his essay, The Recovery Vendor’s Perspective, states that “…the purpose of exercising a plan is to determine its weaknesses and well as its strengths, and to look for ways to ensure a successful recovery in the face of disaster.  Exercising focuses attention on the positive not the punitive.”  What an organization must do is change its mind-set; change from the testing mentality to one of exercising. 

Exercising helps an organization work towards something; a goal to make itself and its employees better at what they do.  Exercising helps people actively build upon their skill sets and knowledge base, challenges assumptions – either to confirm or dispel them – and helps maintain a level of service that can be managed under any circumstance.  Like the obligatory New Year’s resolution, one trip to the gym won’t make a person fit and strong; it must be continuous with a positive outlook before the resolution sees any benefits.  Exercising is a mind-set and if structured effectively with the appropriate attitude and support, can continually return value.  How? 

Exercise has a more positive connotation rather than the negative connotation associated with a test.  Many BCM practitioners have had to deal with those who want their continuity strategies tested repeatedly until the initiative is proven successful and finally receives a passing grade.  The problem is the constant testing and re-testing utilizes the same scope and objectives and strategy, never moving the program forward.  It only provides confirmation that after numerous failures a passing grade is obtained.  Meanwhile, in the background, the business process or technology component supporting that process has changed or evolved to meet new needs. 

There’s no benefit or value here because many will not want to be part of further initiatives that set them up for failure.  Anything that has a connotation associated with it that can mean a person is a failure; the less likely they’re going to want to participate.  If during the test people find even just one issue, senior management are ‘howling in the boardroom,’ stating the strategies aren’t working and assume the participants have it all wrong.  This won’t move a program forward; it might actually move the program backwards because the test is still focusing on the scope and objectives originally agreed too from the first attempt, meaning they continually test the same strategy over and over again until they get it right; a strategy that may relate to the company as it was months earlier.  What happens when participants are told they failed and that they have to do it again and again until they get it right? 

What often occurs is that results will be ‘fudged’ or issues hidden so that they can get on with other activities – their day-to-day jobs.  This helps remove themselves from the cross-hairs of management who repeatedly send them back to the testing table once more. 

An exercising mindset supported by management, will actually get participants to want to find issues.  Those involved actively find the gaps and see this as a step forward for the program, making it more and more valuable because management – and others – would rather be able to find the deficiencies during controlled circumstances rather than discovering them during a real situation.  An organization can’t find fault in this strategy; its helping them move forward with BCM planning, awareness, training and process development.  This attitude actually shows value because management and employees – let alone those involved with the exercise – are seeing the program develop and they are becoming part of the ‘plan.’  The false sense of security that results from ‘fudged’ findings doesn’t exist when it comes to exercising.  It’s a positive approach to find gaps, gaffs, mistakes and inconsistencies.  This is a win-win situation because it’s finding mistakes, oversights and omissions before they occur.  Contribution and collaboration make exercises successful, no matter how many issues are uncovered. 

When an organization gets to this stage, team members are showing commitment not just to the organization and its clients, suppliers, vendors and customers but they are showing commitment to themselves.  This is much more positive than telling people they’ve failed in a role.  Exercising is positive.  Exercising is collaborative.  Exercising BCM programs can be fun, enlightening and revealing; not in a spiritual sense but in a sense of discovering ways on how to do things better.  There is no fear of failure with an exercise; in fact the very idea of challenging people to find gaps in processes and procedures is seen as empowering and encouraging.  It helps find components that are not fully developed or helps dispel assumptions that are used to build Business Continuity Plans and procedures.  No one is condemned for identifying gaps and no one is seen as a failure for helping find an issue that if not identified under controlled circumstances, could damage an organizations reputation and ability to respond to a disaster.


The new book by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3, “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.”  Available at www.stone-road.com **

One thought on “Exercising BCM Plans: A State of Mind

  1. On the money as always Alex.

    Could I take the issue a step further, with a mix of sporting and theatrical analogy.

    I coach Basketball, and in that context I will often be running players through various ‘set piece’ offence or defence. These require knowledge of the overall playbook (the plan) as well as some ability to fit into a team structure and to adapt when required.

    But all these skills need to be learned and built up progressively, even before they can even be exercised.

    In theatre we get the concept of rehearsal. We go through the motions, with some element of coaching and prompting when we forget our lines.

    I would encourage the same ideas for a BCM Program. Teach skills (including Crisis/Incident Management), rehearse the skills (which could be a form of coached exercise), increase the rigour of the exercises as you go on. Use Pass/Fail for some specific aspects such as your ability to recover IT within the specified targets (your DR Plan).

    One last point – the ‘management’ need to be part of the exercise, not external. Less chance for ‘howling in the boardroom’ when they are there practicing their crisis roles.

    Although, ‘Howling in the Boardroom’ would be a catchy book title!

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