You have spent time to create what looks like the perfect business continuity plan. You have even trained all stakeholders and made sure that all key employees know exactly what to do at every point in time. But how can you be sure that you have a solid plan?
Really, you cannot tell unless you have tested your business continuity plan to give you an idea of what a real life situation would look like. But since no business owner lies around waiting for a disaster to happen so that they can test their business continuity plan, there is a need to come up with creative ways of testing the plan. Before we discuss some of the testing strategies you can use, it is important to think of how to plan successful business continuity plan tests.
First, you have to decide on your objectives for the test. What exactly do you intend to achieve? And how would you measure performances? What are the results you expect? You need to answer these important questions to enable you create solid exercises to test your business continuity plan.
It also helps to gather a test design team for your business continuity plan. This team would be responsible for looking into major areas of the business that could be affected by an emergency disaster and then developing both experimental and theoretical assignments to help conduct business continuity plan tests. Here are some creative and smart ways to test your business continuity plan.
How to Test Your Business Continuity Plan
a. Round-table discussions
This could be done by having key employees or responders sit down to talk about potential disaster scenarios and how they would be handled. It is a smart way to ascertain that each employee or responder knows exactly what their role is in disaster recovery and that they are indeed capable of handling that role.
You might keep training someone to be a responder for years and yet be deeply surprised when the disaster eventually happens—because the person under-performs. To avoid such situations, it is best to ascertain that everyone understands what is required of them through verbal demonstration of how they would respond to critical disaster situations and how they would handle their roles in the business continuity plan.
b. Test some variables
When disaster happens, it mostly starts as a situation that affects a small part of the organization, which then spreads and affects the entire organization. For instance, a small computer breach can turn out to be a huge disaster for the organization if not checked on time.
Therefore, if you want to test your business continuity plan, you can create a small test situation such as crippling access to the company’s internet or deliberately disrupting the flow of work, and then observe how employees would respond to it. You should also not forget to compare their responses to what is detailed in the business continuity plan to be sure that they really understand their roles and acted accordingly.
c. Create discomfort
Another strategy that works well is to introduce a situation of discomfort. If there is anything that your employees are so used to working with, try to eliminate that thing for a few days and see how they would cope without it.
For instance, you could make the delivery vans ‘unavailable’ for a few days and see how they would ensure that customers are still kept satisfied and supplied. The idea behind this is to observe how your employees would be able to respond and manage a situation of limited resources.
d. Emergency drills
This could be used to test business continuity plan as well as your employee’s response to emergency and safety issues. When disaster occurs, the first exercise is evacuation. Therefore, you must be sure that your employees and responders fully understand the evacuation procedure. You should ensure that you do this at least once in a year.
e. Seminars and trainings
Regular seminars and trainings with practical exercises at the end of the day could help to increase your employees’ knowledge of business continuity planning. In addition, practical tests and assignments at the end of such trainings can also go a long way in helping to test their knowledge.
f. Regular reviews
It also helps to perform regular reviews of your business continuity plan. You can hire business continuity planning experts to help assess your plan as well as your company’s preparedness for disaster. These professionals will review your plan and give professional advice on what you should include or eliminate from your business continuity plan to make it better.
How to Implement a Business Continuity Plan
Although you need a moderate dose of optimism to get your business started and going, you should always keep in mind that your business could face harsh challenges at any point. Disaster is one of those challenges.
Though disasters are unforeseen, you need to prepare your business for them, so it can keep going even in the face of those disasters. It doesn’t take a big disaster to disrupt your business’s daily operations. Even a simple disaster such as a power outage or an attack by cybercriminals can cause huge damage to your business, let along big disasters like heavy floods and hurricanes.
A business continuity plan is a coordinated strategy involving plans and procedures that assures clients that a business has the ability to continually meet their needs following an unplanned business disruption. It details how your business will continue its operations after being hit by any form of disaster. Having one in place means arranging how you will continue to deliver your products or services (which are the most critical to business operations) and identifying the resources you need to support the continuity of your business.
Having a business continuity plan is very important. However, implementing it the right way—and at the right time—is even more important. You won’t achieve your business continuity planning goals if your plan is poorly implemented.
The types of disaster your business is likely to encounter will determine which actions you must take to ensure business continuity in the face of such disasters. For example, if there is a fire outbreak or any other disaster that is a danger to your company building, one of your most important plans should be to evacuate your employees to designated meeting zones elsewhere. However, if there is an environmental or weather-related disaster, evacuating your company building can put your employees at greater risk for harm. So, it’s important to take the right steps when trying to ensure business continuity.
Implementing a business continuity plan should be an easy task provided you have put all the necessary efforts into creating the plan in the first place. And the step you will take during the implementation depends on the disasters you are preparing your business for. Here are the typical steps to follow when implementing a business continuity plan:
Step 1-: Check your business continuity plans to know your evacuation plans for the type of disaster. Your first major objective is to ensure that everyone—especially your employees is out of the facility and safe. Losing an employee to disaster could cripple your business, depending on how important the employee is to your business. Once you get to the designated evacuation meeting points, perform a head count of your employees to ensure that everyone is present and fine. If any employee is affected by the disaster, start making efforts to help them recover as soon as possible.
Step 2: Evaluate the degree of damage done by the disaster. Did you lose your inventory? Did you lose some vital customer and product information? Did the disaster cause significant damage to your data center? Did you lose some important assets of your business? Your answers will determine what steps to take towards achieving full recovery of the lost entities.
Step 3: Contact third parties that can be of assistance. Get in touch with your suppliers and customers to inform them of the development and solicit for their support while you try to get your business going again. In addition, get in touch with your insurance company to start making moves for a claim.
Step 4: Call a meeting of your employees, executives, and shareholders. At the meeting, you need to notify them of the length of time it may take to recover, and highlight the various recovery strategies in your continuity plan.
Step 5: Begin restoration of goods or services that are required to resume business operations to a functional level, even if your company building is still being renovated. If any of your employees can telecommute for the time being, then allow for that, since your aim is to get your business back on its feet as soon as possible.
Step 6: Verify your insurance coverage, and determine what damaged assets (such as hardware/software and infrastructure need to be replaced. Compile a full list of these assets and analyze how you will replace them. Send the list to the insurance company as well as the cost of replacing the lost assets.
Although business continuity plans vary by business and type of disaster being anticipated, these steps are applicable to virtually all business continuity plans.