Business continuity (BC) practices have changed little since their inception and codification in the years directly following Y2K. But consider the improvements in related disciplines that have taken place in just the last few years. Authors like Daniel Pink and Eric Ries, methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma, and advances in decision-making theory and Agile project management altered the way we think and execute our business.
Consider the vast advances in technology, from mobile devices to cloud computing to big data. Global business changed dramatically and most BC practices failed to keep pace. The good news is that BC practitioners can adopt and adapt the lessons learned and proven practices that drive today’s organizational operations. Let us take a brief look at just four of these disciplines and how to leverage their benefits for your BC program:
- Agile Project Management (PM)
Agile project management, also called “agile software development” or just “Agile,” got its official start in 2001 and is now widely accepted. Agile arose primarily as a response to challenges inherent in software development, particularly in situations where there are more unknowns than knowns. Teams work in two- to four-week iterations called “sprints,” partnering closely with customers and stakeholders throughout the life of the entire initiative. This is a fast-paced process whereby the customer continuously takes delivery of workable software after a few iterations, while the team learns more and more about what the customer finds valuable.
How to Adapt your BC Practice: Deliver continuous value in rapid iterations. Provide recovery capability improvements in terms of weeks, not months. Jettison the traditional, linear BC lifecycle for a flexible, non-linear approach that allows you to focus on the biggest pain points and gaps. Partner closely with each individual department to determine what will benefit them most in any given “sprint” as you continuously improve recovery capabilities.
- Project Management 2.0
Dr. Harold Kerzner, a key figure and thought leader in the project management discipline, released a book in 2015 that presented the next evolution in his thinking. Calling his new approach “Project Management 2.0,” Dr. Kerzner notes that today’s projects must operate in an environment “where politics, risk, value, company image and reputation, goodwill, sustainability, and quality are seen as being potentially more important to the firm than the traditional time, cost, and scope constraints1.” Equally important, “an essential success criterion with PM 2.0 is that projects must provide some degree of value when completed…1” It is not enough for project managers to deliver on time, budget, and scope; the best project managers will balance a shifting portfolio of constraints, while providing actual value to the organization.
How to Adapt your BC Practice: What good is delivering something that no one wants? The BC practitioner must divorce their efforts from any particular prescribed BC product, such as lengthy BIAs or scripted tabletop tests, and focus on the values/he can provide to further the continuous improvement of recovery capabilities. One size does not fit all; every planning session must be customized to the specific culture of each department within each organization.
- Lean, Six Sigma, and the Lean Startup
Within the lean movement, we see familiar themes from Agile, namely a customer-centric focus on value with rapid and flexible cycles to create usable deliverables and reduce waste. Lean “…is not a tactic or a cost reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization.” The lean startup emphasizes the creation and continuous improvement of a minimum viable product (MVP), a pared-down deliverable with enough functionality to satisfy the customer with regard to some portion of the value he or she is seeking. The team learns about additional requirements and expectations from the customer’s reaction to each delivery of the product.
How to Adapt your BC Practice: Remember that you never start from scratch – every department already has some recovery capabilities in place. Discover what those capabilities are, and improve from there. Produce small deliverables that provide large value with minimal work. Don’t try to “bolt-on” grand recovery plans that are alien to the culture and existing habits; work with the individual constitution of each department. By so doing, you learn what is beneficial, valued, and, perhaps more importantly, what will actually work to improve recovery capabilities.
- Motivation 3.0
In his influential book, Drive, Daniel Pink posits that three traits are key for motivating employees and making them the most productive: Mastery, autonomy, and purpose. In short, while a "carrot and stick" reward system is helpful for rote and repetitive tasks, it is ineffective and sometimes detrimental to employees performing most other types of activities. This is particularly so for knowledge workers who must be innovative and self-motivated to solve daily problems for their organizations.
How to Adapt your BC Practice: If you want a team to be able to think creatively in new situations to solve emerging problems, provide them with as much autonomy, mastery, and purpose as possible. This is precisely the type of situation every team faces in a post-disaster situation, oftentimes having to act without adequate information, communication, or direction. Teams should leverage their autonomy to respond, their mastery of specific departmental skills, and their purpose in owning and supporting the various services that make up their department. Detailed documents are replaced by BC cheat sheets and one-page guides that serve as mnemonics to remind folks of earlier preparedness discussions. We no longer waste time developing "shelfware"; we develop usable recovery capabilities, continuously improving a team's ability to recover from disaster.
Change doesn’t stop. Business continuity requires practitioners to continuously adapt and find new and better ways to do things. Find what works best for your organization.
Topics: Business Continuity
Written by David Lindstedt
David Lindstedt, PhD, PMP, CBCP is the founder of Readiness Analytics and co-founder of AdaptiveBCP.org. He developed the readinesstest.com, jeomby.com, and the household continuity readiness assessment. He published his first book on Adaptive Business Continuity in 2017 with Mark Armour. Dr. Lindstedt is regularly published in international journals and is a featured speaker at international conferences on PM and BCP. He has trained and taught university classes in project management and business continuity, and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Business Continuity and Emergency Planning.