Many organizations use templates to help them craft their business continuity plans.
In our opinion, this is an excellent way of going about doing it.
The “good” of using templates is significant and will be sketched out below.
If there is an “ugly” part about using templates, it’s what happens when organizations mistake filling out a template with the thought and analysis that comes with actual planning.
That being said, we commonly see more problems when organizations don’t use templates as a guide or standard for their planning efforts.
A surprisingly large number of organizations forgo the convenience and support of templates for a cooking-from-scratch approach. Moreover, they frequently have lots of different cooks.
Such organizations commonly task different individuals from across the company with writing the recovery plans for their respective departments. You can imagine the results: A large collection of mismatched plans varying widely in quality, comprehensiveness, level of detail, organization, and formatting. Some of these plans are liable to be excellent and some barely adequate. Many will have significant gaps, and since there’s no companywide documentation standard, they will probably all be confusing to anyone from outside the department who has to use them in an emergency. Talk about ugly.
In terms of the “bad” aspects of using templates, there really aren’t many. However there are some precautions you should keep in mind which using them, and which we’ll spell out in a moment.
First, though, here are some of the many benefits to be had from using business continuity templates:
- They provide you with guidance on what needs to be included in your recovery plans.
- They set forth all the different areas that should be considered and addressed in your plans.
- They guide you in structuring your documents.
- They guide you in including the appropriate content at an appropriate level of detail.
- They provide an organizational vehicle for your information. They give you a way to manage and arrange your procedures and checklists.
- They give the plan writers a head start.
- They make it possible for recovery plans to be standardized across the organization. Having standardized documents makes it easier for the employees to quickly grasp the content and organization of the recovery plans of other departments. This makes it significantly easier for them to back each other up in an emergency.
- Templates can be customized to reflect the circumstances and meet the needs of your organization.
Those are some of the good things about using templates.
See The 4-3-3 Rule for Writing Business Recovery Checklists from BCMMetrics for more on how to use a checklist to get your business back up and running after a disruption.
While there might not be anything inherently bad about using templates, there are some things to be careful of in doing so. Here are a few:
- Templates only get you so far. You’ll still need subject matter experts and/or outside consultants to ensure that your templates are filled in with accurate, quality information. Templates are just a starting point. It’s critical to get them completed properly and this requires expertise.
- Never delete a section or item from a template. If one or more fields are not pertinent for your organization, type in “N/A” or “Not Applicable.” This can prevent worlds of confusion and delay when an outside person is trying to follow the plan in an emergency.
- In completing a template, make sure that you make note of any unusual but correct aspects of the covered process. Anything that might confuse an experienced outsider should be explained. Otherwise, that person might invest time and energy trying to fix an apparent anomaly that in the context of that department is actually not a problem.
- Once completed, the recovery plan should state where to find detailed instructions for completing procedures referenced only in brief in the plan.
- Make sure your templates are heavy on checklists and light on narrative. We found that checklist-based recovery plans are significantly easier to follow.
- In searching for BC templates to use, exercise caution and good judgment.
- Sample plans and BC templates can be obtained in many places, including for free on the Internet, from consultants, from BC-related professional associations, and potentially from friendly organizations that you do business with.
- A plan of only one page is probably not sufficiently detailed to do you any good.
- In deciding on which template to use, ask yourself questions such as the following: Is this template appropriate for our business? Is it sufficiently detailed? Can it be customized to suit our needs? Is it flexible enough to work for the various environments for which we need plans? Think about these matters carefully, and if you’re unsure, seek expert advice.
- In a complex environment, you are likely to need many different plans.
Are you following the right rules? Read our guide on business continuity myths.
Choosing the template is only the first step in designing a recovery strategy. Templates are good. A good business continuity template plus the informed advice of an experienced person is better.
So that’s the low-down on templates.
There is a lot about them that’s good . . . Not using them can be ugly . . . And although nothing about them is expressly bad, it is wise to use them with caution as explained above.