Business continuity test scenarios – do you have to “pull the plug”?

Business continuity test scenarios are an integral part of good Business Continuity planning, on two conditions: they test for the right things; and that they are realistic in how they test. It’s important to keep the end goal in mind. A simple definition of business continuity can be helpful here, such as the one from the US Department of Homeland Security – “the ability of an organisation to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’”. A good test scenario therefore has to mirror a situation where an organisation is under real pressure or in a real crisis, rather than just running your finger down a checklist of “if this, then that” line items.

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels suggests that the best test scenario for business continuity is to “pull the plug” and see if the organisation keeps on working. While you wouldn’t want to capsize your company through overly aggressive test scenarios, there are several reasons for making them as realistic as possible. These include the common complaints that many organisations suspect that their BCM plans are outdated or that different versions are being kept in various repositories without being correctly updated. Realistic test scenarios will test if people know where to get their hands on the right version of a BCM plan in a hurry, if required.

The right business continuity test scenarios that are implemented, measured and acted on mean that your BC will have a better chance of staying current and operational. You may be in for some surprises along the way, but it’s better to have them under conditions that you can control than in a catastrophe where it’s simply too late. If you prefer not to “pull the plug”, smaller, continual improvements through the regular application of business continuity test scenarios (Kaizen to those of you who move in Quality Circles) can be effective in helping your organization to stay up to date and prepared to “keep on tickin’”.