Documents documents everywhere but not a plan in sight

By Katie Collison

Sitting observing crisis management exercises can be a frustrating business. In preparation I’ve read the procedures, I know what the team roles and responsibilities should be, understood how the team should operate, and seen the supporting tools and templates that should add structure to the response. What should happen and what often does happen are two very different things. On paper the response should be efficient, structured, proactive. The reality is rather more chaotic, haphazard, and reactive.

The reasons for this…well there are a few, but a common one is that response teams rarely open the plan let alone apply it. As an observer I find myself ticking off the tasks that have been predetermined and documented in the plan, but which the response team spends precious little time discussing. So if the whole point of a plan is to aid response teams then why do they tend to be left on the shelf in a crisis?

The crisis management team hasn’t read the plan, it’s a document that doesn’t need to be read until it needs to be read, by which time it’s too late

Tip: the plan has an owner, whether that’s the Facilities Manager, a Business Continuity Manager or a.n.other. They know the plan inside out so why not get them to perform a supporting role to the team, sitting on the shoulder of the Chairperson, helping them to navigate the plan when necessary.

Tip: Ensure the crisis management team holds periodic plan walkthroughs to familiarise themselves with the contents – an annual 1-2 hour session is not an unreasonable commitment for even the busiest of execs! Note it as an event – it will provide evidence later if you need it.

Tip: Guide the CEO to drive his management team to know and understand the plan; make them deputise for him at the next exercise to demonstrate their knowledge!

The plan looks more like a book than a simple procedure, you’re five pages in and are yet to read anything which will actually help you respond to the ‘it’ that has just hit the fan

Tip: Keep It Short and Simple. Simple checklists, step by step actions, flow diagrams, mind maps…whatever works for your team and is the most intuitive; enabling the team to apply the plan quickly. Does it really need to be a book?  Ask the top team what they want/need?

The plan contains multiple procedures for responding to numerous scenarios, but there’s no procedure to fit the scenario the team is facing

Tip: plans should provide a flexible framework; a process for responding to events with differing size, scope, or cause. As a rule plans should not be scenario specific, since what you’re likely to be faced with will never quite be the same as what’s included in the plan. It is guidance only and usually works best like that.

The plan looks unappealing, wordy, and cumbersome making even the keenest of responders regret their decision to read it

Tip: make the plan look like something that will be easy to read, keep it sequential as far as possible, consider printing it as an A5 booklet, include pull out sections, signpost each element with different coloured tabs for quick reference – anything that makes it appeal to the reader making them more likely to actually read it.

“We don’t like process”

Tip: See above for ‘Keep it Short & Simple’ – the best plans are aide-memoirs for already competent staff to guide effective decision making, actions and communications, not A-Z tomes acting as a substitute for original thought

(or conversely…)

“We just want a process”

If your team and culture work best to a structured process, give them just that, with simple, easy steps to guide them through the key response areas. Note, this does not – and cannot – replace the need to strategise where necessary.

About Katie Collison

Senior Consultant. Steelhenge’s longest-serving Project Manager, heading up business continuity exercises for public and private sector organisations.

One thought on “Documents documents everywhere but not a plan in sight

  1. Pingback: Today’s Digest 1. June 2013 - Continuity Management News

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