Prepare for the Unexpected: 4 Steps for Creating a Business Continuity Plan

When disaster strikes, reducing downtime is critical. Be prepared to navigate the challenges a disaster presents by creating a business continuity plan.

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If we learned anything in 2020, it’s that business disruptions can happen in the blink of an eye, and we must be prepared to pivot. While only Nostradamus could have predicted the depth and breadth of the impact of the 2020 pandemic, it's more evident than ever to all businesses that continuity planning is necessary to navigate the unexpected.


Overview: What is a business continuity plan?

Business continuity is about maintaining business functions or quickly resuming regular functions if a major disruption occurs. The disruption could result from an act of nature, a fire, or a more technical cause such as cybercrime or a malicious attack on a company’s technology infrastructure.

A business continuity plan provides a roadmap that outlines procedures and instructions an organization should follow if a disaster occurs. It focuses on continuing business operations as smoothly as possible.

It's important to note that a business disaster plan and a disaster recovery plan both differ from the continuity plan. However, these plans are like siblings. While each is separate, a business disaster and recovery plan are often included in the continuity plan; they work cohesively.


3 benefits of having a business continuity plan

A business continuity plan gives an organization the best possible chance to survive the unexpected while protecting processes, assets, human resources, stakeholders, and other business aspects.

While not all disasters give a warning or can be predicted, preparedness to face the unexpected will help manage the situation and assist with a speedier recovery. Building a business continuity plan provides benefits well beyond disaster preparedness.

1. Decreases disruption

Any disaster will likely disrupt your processes. You'll experience downtime and will need to activate backup plans to return to full functionality. A business continuity plan recognizes these disruptions and determines what is acceptable, aiming to reduce disruptions and downtime as much as possible.

2. Offers peace of mind

Even if your business doesn’t have to activate a continuity plan, having one provides peace of mind. It offers a sense of security and calm, knowing the team will be ready to jump into action when a disruption occurs.

3. Lessens the losses

The shorter the downtime, the less the losses. When a business encounters a disruption, it experiences losses on many levels. These include financial, legal, and potential damage to reputation and customer perception. While it’s not foolproof, a plan will help navigate those tricky times and hopefully lessen any potential losses in revenue, trust, and perception.


How to create a business continuity plan

Getting started with a business continuity plan is about gaining a high-level understanding of your company, its functions, and how they work together. Continuity planning should be completed over time and include a team of contributors from all parts of your organization.

Follow these four steps to create an effective plan.

1. Identify the scope and critical business areas

Start by interviewing others within your organization who've experienced a disaster. Find out how they handled it. What were the wins, and what were the losses? What actions succeeded, and what steps were overlooked? Getting a secondhand perspective may help ensure the scope covers all areas and considers other perspectives.

2. Identify critical functions and dependencies

Business continuity addresses more than just IT and technology-enabled processes, so it must consider all critical business functions such as human resources, operations, public relations, and other key areas. Since all businesses run differently, the vital functions may vary, and resources may be allocated differently.

After identifying critical functions, note codependencies and understand how business functions work together and what is required to keep those processes up and running.

3. Determine acceptable downtime

Remember the plan’s objective is to keep essential business processes running and minimize disruptions and downtime. So for each critical business function, figure out how much downtime is acceptable. You'll base that number on the dependencies of other essential functions and forecasting the effects on cash flow and revenue during various durations and severity levels.

Ideally, the answer to acceptable downtime is none. But realistically, how much downtime could be tolerated without a total breakdown? Run a risk assessment and business impact analysis to understand the overall impact of business disruption for all functions. Then, create the plan based on what is critical, identifying those functions that may have more flexibility and less impact.

4. Create the plan to maintain operations

To create the plan, pull together a task force with representatives from each critical business function. This ensures each function has what it needs and that input from those perspectives are factored into the plan.


Best practices when creating a business continuity plan

A continuity plan will only be as effective as its implementation. Follow these best practices to ensure the plan can be implemented if necessary.

Comprehensive

Ensure the plan makes sense to everyone involved, and it's all-encompassing. Ensure business teams have the training and education needed to react and follow the plan if required.

Also, consider conducting a gap analysis to optimize the plan and avoid any issues. It's impossible to plan for every possible scenario, but give it your best shot to cover as much as possible when planning. After a review, your initial plan may require a few iterations and may even need a backup plan — and even a backup to the backup. This is expected. Your plan will likely always be a work in progress as situations change.

Realistic

No one wants to pull out the business continuity plan only to discover it can't be implemented. Run your plan through a few layers of feedback and analysis to ensure feasibility. Create contingencies where needed, and ensure necessary resources will be available if a disaster occurs.

Adaptable

Again, business continuity plans are often pulled off the shelf during times of unpredictability and uncertainty. Leave plenty of space within the plan to adapt as you go based on changing circumstances. Ensure the plan includes a way to monitor these potential changes and implement changes on the fly.


Don’t let the disruption be worse than the disaster

A company’s future depends on people and processes. The ability to effectively handle the unexpected and navigate challenging situations internally will have a positive effect externally.

How a situation is handled will ultimately affect every aspect of your organization — from your employees to your customers. It will even affect your market value, level of customer confidence, and overall reputation. The last thing you want is for the disruption to be worse than the actual disaster.

So plan for the unexpected. Even if your continuity plan is never activated, you will always know you are ready.

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