Plan B: As the Recovery Plan Fades, What Will Take Its Place? 

The recovery plan has been the cornerstone of business continuity management (BCM) from the beginning, but its relevance is on the wane. I’ve been thinking a lot about what should take its place. 

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I was glad to speak at Disaster Recovery Journal’s Spring Conference in Orlando earlier this month, DRJ’s first live conference in two and half years. Today’s post builds on my experiences at the conference. 

The Holy Grail Loses Its Shine 

The business continuity recovery plan has been at the center of BCM for at least as long as I’ve been in the field—some 25 years. It’s been our starting quarterback, our leading man. Sometimes I think of it as our Holy Grail (complete with the sound of an angelic choir in the background).  

At MHA Consulting, we’ve written a lot of recovery plans over the years. We work hard on them and I happen to think they are industry-leading documents.  

However, over the past few years, something about those plans has been bothering me.  

In sounding out other plan writers at DRJ this month, I learned that the same issue has been bothering a lot of people. 

The issue is, despite all the time and resources that are lavished on them, there are three things about BCM recovery plans that are becoming increasingly hard to ignore: 

  1. No one reads them. 
  1. No one understands them. 
  1. When there’s an event, people rarely reference them. 

The Holy Grail has lost its shine. 

Adapting to a Changing World

In my view, this is not great news. How will businesses recover well without having and using sound recovery plans? A well-written plan was and is an extremely valuable resource in the guidance it can provide an organization as it seeks to get back on its feet after an outage or event.  

But my job is to help organizations thrive in the world as it is, not as I might like it to be. 

And in the world, as it is, the traditional recovery plans are often left to gather dust.  

After a certain point, it doesn’t do any good to complain. Technology moves forward, culture changes, and we have to adapt.  

Plan B: Shifting to a People Approach  

What does adapting look like, in this case? In my view, Plan B—that is, the area BCM should emphasize in a world where plans are no longer the centerpiece—is the recovery team. 

I think we need to pivot from a plan approach to a people approach. 

The critical question then becomes, how do we create the next generation of recovery teams? Such teams need to be well-trained, well-integrated, and capable of using the best methodologies. 

Again, trying to adapt to the way people today prefer to learn and work, I think the best way to develop the kind of teams we need is through more frequent and intensive training and mock disaster exercises that are integrated across the organization. 

Exercises are active, hands-on, and in the moment, and my observations and experience tell me this is the best way to transfer knowledge and heighten capabilities in the current period. 

Those exercises rather than written recovery plans would become the primary vehicle for imparting the critical skills and information. 

The Future is Still Bright  

I previously expressed regret over the demotion of the written recovery plan. However, when I look forward, I see plenty of reasons to be excited and optimistic about the future. 

The first is to recognize that, it’s not that people have lost interest in learning, they’ve just become proficient in learning in different ways. 

The second is based on my actual experience of facilitating exercises. Over and over, I’ve seen recovery teams that make little to no use of their organization’s recovery plans still do a pretty good job of handling the disaster, provided they meet certain criteria, such as knowing each other well, integrating with their dependencies, and understanding basic BCM methodology.  

If the team is well-staffed and trained, the people can usually figure out what to do fairly expeditiously, even without consulting a plan. 

The New and Improved Recovery Plan  

Does this mean the recovery plan is no longer necessary? Not at all. But I think, moving forward, we need to recognize the plan’s true functionality and reason to be. 

The plan of the future needs to be slim and functional. It should be less of a treatise and more of a checklist. (For more on writing checklist-based recovery plans, see “The 4-3-3 Rule for Writing Business Recovery Checklists.”)  Think of creating a plan such as an airline pilot would use in an emergency; the plan doesn’t list everything they need to know, only the things they might forget.   

Bringing Management on Board 

If there is an obstacle in pivoting from a plan approach to a people approach, it is likely to lie with management. In my experience, managers who are willing to expend significant resources to pay consultants to write recovery plans often balk at the idea of having their staff spend even a couple of hours a year in training and conducting a mock disaster exercise.  

A project for the future for BCM professionals will be bringing management along to the understanding that we have recently arrived at ourselves: In ensuring that our organizations can recover from outages and events, it’s time we switched to Plan B. 

Protecting Our Organizations

The business relevance of the recovery plan has been the cornerstone of BCM from the beginning, but modern practitioners recognize that most plans are not read, understood, or consulted. To protect our organizations, we must adapt, finding a new way to convey the essential skills and information.  

I recommend pivoting from a plan approach to a people approach. The people approach emphasizes the creating, training, and integration of the recovery team and places a strong emphasis on continuous training and mock disaster exercises.   

Further Reading on Recovery Plan Relevance

For more information on business continuity recovery plans and other hot topics in BCM and IT/disaster recovery, check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting: 

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.


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