Contingency Planning for May Day! – Conversion Wednesday

By Dan G


Want a comprehensive guide to creating strong technology contingency plans?

The Contingency Plan

Given that it’s the beginning of May, I thought this would be a good time to discuss Contingency Planning.

At first pass, your organization’s contingency planning and testing could seem time-consuming and non-impactful. However, the very process of contingency planning can get an entire organization positively thinking about the importance of thes systems and their vital need to be in place.

In 1999, the Y2K hysteria underscored the urgency for contingency planning, as everyone was worrying about full computer systems shutting down because some date formats to only work with 2 digits instead of 4. Today, most quality driven organizations will have a contingency plan in place.

Why You Might Ask? Because you need to effectively deal with a rapidly changing business and technology environment. You need to understand and document the business processes that are vital to your company’s business. Bottom line? An organizational contingency plan can reduce business risk. A solid procedure can make contingency planning a manageable and positive experience that produces a workable plan.

Steps for creating a contingency plan:

First things first, whoever is in charge needs to decide who is the lead for contingency planning. Once someone is chosen, that contingency plan leader then should provide the tools, skills and a knowledge base so that each department can write its own contingency plans. (A common misconception is that the contingency plan leader should be writing all contingency plans. This would be a grave mistake since ONLY experts closest to the system have the best working knowledge, and therefore are best suited to writing and brainstorming with these plans with their department.) The leader’s key functions are to provide a common means for writing and reporting; to train; to set deadlines; to promote enthusiasm and to mentor.

The lead decides how plans are organized and provides a certain standardization to these plans. Such as: Will the organization use a similar set of folders? A database? A special network drive? The intranet? The company-wide lead provides the organization with common tools and training so that everyone is following a similar process that produces a standardized plan.

After the leader trains and equips a person in every department to act as an area leader, the localized contingency planning process includes the following elements:

  1. List every business process in the department. (Example: Payroll might be listed in the Human Resource’s plan.)
  2. List the tasks for every business process and the steps it takes to complete these tasks.
  3. For every step, list every dependency (computer hardware, software, external & internal suppliers.)
  4. Rate the likelihood for each dependency to fail (Prioritize! Usually a 1-High, 2-Medium or 3-Low works well. Alphabatizing with H, M or L usually doesn’t work as well, because these three letters – alphabetically – don’t follow your priority. Remember this when you design your database! )Assume that every dependency will fail, beginning with 1-High dependencies.
  5. Write a contingency action that accomplishes the task without relying upon the dependency.

Once you have analyzed business functions this way, you will be able to create contingencies at the appropriate places. In many areas, the contingency will be at the task level; in other areas at the process level; still others may be at the department level.

In some cases, no viable contingency is possible. If power goes down, and you have no generator, you aren’t doing any business. If this is the situation with any specific process, make a note of it and describe what you’ll do if the dependency fails.

Structure your contingency plan positively – involve the appropriate people and the right amount of people – it’s a big task, after all, and will require input from many.

Testing Your Contingency Plan

Testing every contingency in your plan is time- and cost-prohibitive but Necessary! To make testing manageable, break out your testing into four stages. Each stage should build on the results of the previous stage. If an area proves to be unsound, or if it conflicts with other contingency plans, you can re-write and re-test the plan.

Stage 1 – Senior Staff Review

The senior staff selects an internally-publicized date and time to review all contingency plans. Aside from ensuring overall business soundness, this review also serves to recognize people who have thoughtfully completed their assignment. Knowledge of a firm date for a senior staff review will increase quality, accuracy and timeliness.

Stage 2 – Interdepartmental Reviews

Each department should review another department’s plans. The goal of this stage is to find bottlenecks, identify conflicts and allocate resources. If possible, departments that are “downstream” in the business process can review the plans of “upstream” departments.

Stage 3 – Failures in Critical Systems

This testing can be localized within departments. It involves simulating system or vendor failures. You don’t actually have to shut down critical equipment or processes – you can role-play a “what if” scenario. You can either run a “surprise” drill or plan a role-playing event for a specific time.

Stage 4 – The Real Deal

This testing involves short-term shutdowns in key areas. If possible, these tests should be conducted in a real-time environment. The goal, of course, is to fully test the contingency plan. Concentrate this last phase of testing only on areas that have a high business priority and a high risk for failure.
By implementing testing in four stages, you can optimize your time and accomplish the goal of proving that the contingency plan is valid.

Creating and Testing: Summary

While creating and testing contingency plans may seem like a time-consuming, non-value-added investment in resources, it can be planned to create positive change within a company. When people take a closer look at their everyday assumptions about work to ask a variety of “What if. . . .?” type questions, the results can often lead to more efficient processes and certainly better-prepared team when the unthinkable happens.

Remember: the Chinese symbol for “crisis” and “opportunity” are the same.

And there you have it! Now you know how to build and test a contingency plan for when any “May Day” occurs.

I would like to thank for a good portion of this material. You can read more about contingency planning at their site here:

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