The Human Side of Conducting BIAs

conducting bias

One of the most interesting engagements MHA Consulting had this year was at a Fortune 500 company where 3 of our consultants conducted approximately 100 BIAs.

Over the course of that engagement, I got a lot of calls from my consultants describing how the sessions went, mainly when there were bumps in the road—and with so many BIAs to conduct there were naturally a few bumps.

These included:

  • The session where the leader of the business unit says he already knows their unit was of critical importance to the company and therefore conducting a BIA is a waste of time. In this case, the group left the interview without providing any data.
  • The time a business unit took four sessions to complete the BIA (rather than the usual one) because they brought many people more than the requested number, and every attendee weighed in on virtually every topic.
  • The episode where a business unit supplied us with data on its current processes and confirmed its accuracy, then stated—after we had loaded the information into the BIA tool—that it was all invalid because they had gone through a reorganization; they then asked us how come we hadn’t known about their reorg.

In each case, our team swiftly regrouped and found a way to obtain the information needed to successfully carry out our engagement.

The stories reminded me of a very common misunderstanding about BIAs: People tend to think doing a BIA is all about the questionnaire. The fact is, conducting a BIA is mostly about working effectively with the people providing the information for it.

Understanding the human side of the business impact analysis is critical to its success.

The engagement I described at the beginning, as well as the reflections it generated inspired this post. I thought I would share some general things I’ve noticed on the subject of the human side of BIAs. I will explain why getting this right is so important for the success of the BIA and the recovery plan and provide some tips to help you in successfully navigating the human side of the BIAs that you conduct.

The main thing I’ve noticed, regarding this human side, is that if you are not sufficiently attentive to this aspect of the job, you run a high risk of having the following things happen:

  • Your sources are likely to become disengaged or resentful.
  • The information they give you will be inaccurate or incomplete.
  • The BIA based on that information will be divorced from reality.
  • The recovery plan based on the BIA will be suboptimal – to say the least.

A good starting point for obtaining a better outcome is to look at the BIA from the view of the participants. Remember that, for the typical person, participating in the BIA preparation and interview usually means:

  • More work
  • On a subject they find boring
  • And which they don’t understand
  • And whose importance they doubt
  • Which involves homework
  • And takes them away from the real work they need to get done

If you know all this and accept it as natural—and work to help the people get past it instead of resenting them for it—you are going to be well on your way to getting better results in your BIAs.

The consequences of doing it wrong

Nowhere is the expression “garbage in, garbage out” truer than with a BIA.

If your participants are unmotivated and talk to you simply in the spirit of getting you to go away as soon as possible—instead of digging deep and providing you with quality information—your BIA and any plans based on it will be fatally weak.

What’s more, the lackluster quality of the BIA reflects poorly on the person conducting it. I have seen more than once that a manager reviews a BIA and realizes something is off at a glance. More than likely, when that happens, the first person they will turn to in seeking an explanation is the person who conducted the BIA.

Tips for doing it right

The following is a list of tips on how to successfully manage the human side of conducting BIAs. I have divided them into four sections corresponding to the four phases of the process:

Preparing yourself for Conducting BIAs

If you aren’t ready, everything else you do to try to be successful might be in vain.

Here are some things you should do to prepare yourself for conducting a BIA:

  • Know your BIA process in and out; be a subject matter expert.
  • Define ahead of time how you will conduct the BIA based on the culture of the organization (e.g., entrepreneurial vs. traditional).
  • Review each of the participating business units ahead of time; know what they do and know who you are interviewing and their personalities.
  • Build a standard agenda for each BIA to ensure consistency in approach and timing.
  • Streamline the BIA process through pre-work, leveraging previous data and focusing on the most critical processes.
  • Prepare mentally and physically to facilitate each interview.

Creating the BIA packet

The packet that goes out to the participants announcing the BIA is your first chance to start building a good relationship with them. Here’s how to make the most of it:

  • The cover letter should be written in partnership with your sponsor in senior management, and that person should send it out for their signature.
  • The letter should talk about the importance of business continuity and the BIA and what they mean to the company.
  • It should ask the participants to do a small amount of pre-work, to stimulate their thinking and speed up the eventual interview.
  • It should specify the due date of the pre-work, as well as the date and time of the BIA, where it will be held, and who within the business unit should attend.

Preparing the room

The basics are critical in gathering together a bunch of people who would most likely rather be almost anywhere else, especially if you expect them to give you their best thinking and effort for two or two and a half hours on a less-than-fun subject.

In preparing the conference room, make sure that:

  • The temperature is comfortable.
  • You have enough space and chairs for everyone.
  • You have coffee and water for everyone.
  • There is a place up front where you can stand.
  • You have your BIA software up and running.
  • You have worked out any kinks in the projection of your computer screen onto the wall behind you.

Facilitating the discussion

This is where things get interesting. There are many types of people at a large company, and you have to be flexible enough and prepared enough to work productively with all of them.

Here are my tips on how to lead the discussion:

  • Dress the part, taking into account the culture of the organization. You are there to lead the meeting. Look like a leader.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Facilitating a BIA meeting is very draining mentally. You will have to talk a great deal, and it will be challenging to get people to the right answers.
  • Be enthusiastic and fun in how you present yourself; it’s not the most exciting subject.
  • Stay focused and on track; your interviewees will appreciate a crisp and clean delivery of the subject matter.
  • Adapt your style to the personality of the interviewees. Some people are introverted, some extroverted. People often reflect the personality of the field and company, as well as of their role in the firm. In my experience, marketing and human resources people will come in smiling and joking; nurses are fun to interview but doctors can be difficult; and engineers and actuaries respond best to a cool, businesslike approach.
  • Be energetic enough to keep a rein on the extroverts and patient enough to draw out the introverts.
  • Don’t assume the participants have read everything you sent them or that they completed the requested pre-work.
  • Don’t be shocked if you encounter people who have worked at the organization 10 or 20 years but do not know the basic information needed to complete the BIA. It happens.
  • If possible, have a scribe who can relieve you of the burden of recording what is said and decided.
  • Be prepared for the likelihood that people will show up with their laptops and phones and pay more attention to their devices than to you.
  • Many people tend to overstate the criticality of activities they are involved in. Make sure you push for facts that will illuminate the truth of the situation.
  • Some people will be impatient with the process, and others will overanalyze every number. Keep things moving and stay focused on what is important.
  • The flow of the meeting should follow the screens of your BIA tool, and you should put in live data as you go so that at the end of the session the BIA is essentially complete.
  • Make it your goal to finish in less than the scheduled amount of time.
  • Provide results as soon as they are available so the group can review them and you can close out quickly.
  • Thank the participants for sharing their time and expertise with you.
  • And finally, if you have many BIAs to conduct, don’t do more than three on a given day. Because of how demanding the process is, it’s unlikely you’ll be at your best if you do more than three.

I hope these thoughts and tips will help you recognize the importance of the human side of BIAs and do a better job of conducting them.

Need further help? View our example of a Business Impact Analysis.


BIA On-Demand, is designed in a logical, simple manner that makes it effective to use in BIA sessions where live data is gathered from participants. I encourage you to schedule a free demo of the BIAOD tool to get a more in-depth look at its functionality and to ask any questions you have about it—just choose a time that works for you.

BCMMetrics™ tools have helped hundreds of companies successfully perform BIAs on their own, as well as evaluate their levels of standards compliance and residual risk. 

Take a look at our website for a complete description of all our business continuity software, and get started on improving your program today!

Michael Herrera is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MHA. In his role, Michael provides global leadership to the entire set of industry practices and horizontal capabilities within MHA. Under his leadership, MHA has become a leading provider of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery services to organizations on a global level. He is also the founder of BCMMETRICS, a leading cloud based tool designed to assess business continuity compliance and residual risk. Michael is a well-known and sought after speaker on Business Continuity issues at local and national contingency planner chapter meetings and conferences. Prior to founding MHA, he was a Regional VP for Bank of America, where he was responsible for Business Continuity across the southwest region.

Business continuity consulting for today’s leading companies.

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