It’s almost the end of 2019. I’ll pause to let that sink in if you haven’t looked at the calendar in a while. It’s hard to believe in the next few weeks it will be a sprint to finish our 2019 goals and objectives by the end of the year. Did you exercise more? Read more books? I know I let this year get away from me a little bit (so much for that exercise), but there’s always next year, right?

As we move toward the end of 2019, you may also be feeling the same way about your business continuity program. Did you accomplish the goals you had set out for the year? Did you keep that program momentum moving? If you’re like a lot of program managers, you might look back and notice the program lost some engagement this year with executives. It became too cumbersome to manage, or there just seems to be a lack of focus. If you read any of those descriptors and said, “Yes, that’s me!” this article is for you.

In the next few paragraphs, I’ll explain how program managers can:

  • answer four key questions to better focus your program;
  • use those four key questions to set better goals and have better discussions with stakeholders;
  • engage stakeholders in the right frequencies and with the right topics throughout the year;
  • process program issues and roadblocks effectively; and
  • develop a culture of experimentation to eliminate roadblocks in your path.
ACHIEVING FOCUS

First, let’s talk about focusing your program as you move into the new year. When organizations reach out to us for assistance, one of the most common underlying problems is that the program wasn’t intentionally designed to address the organization’s strategic priorities. Defining program priorities to focus on what is truly important is crucial to gaining the involvement of stakeholders across the organization and sustaining that involvement long-term. I have found the most effective way to focus the program is to get management aligned on four key questions:

  1. Why are we doing business continuity?
  2. What are we trying to protect?
  3. How much business continuity do we need?
  4. Who should participate and lead the program?

I call these four questions the “frame.” They provide the core structure for your business continuity program. These questions may seem simple, but I’ve found there is almost always some disagreement on one or more of the answers. Alignment on these questions among key stakeholders will lead to a more focused and effective program. Let’s take a closer (but brief) look at each of these questions to understand how they can help you focus your program.

Why Are We Doing Business Continuity?

This might seem the most basic of all the questions, but it also might be the most vital. Programs often lack focus because key stakeholders – namely the steering committee or senior leadership – are not in agreement on why business continuity is important to them and the organization. By gaining agreement from the steering committee on the answer to this question, you will be able to document a list of drivers and expectations for the program that will clearly describe the purpose, time, and resources the organization will dedicate to business continuity.

What Are We Trying to Protect?

After identifying why the organization is making an investment in business continuity, it’s critical to make sure the program is addressing the highest priorities. To do this, it’s important to document the critical products and services your organization delivers. Said a different way, identify the things your organization delivers that, if stopped, would cause it to cease to exist. In addition to helping you scope the program, identifying these products and services helps you communicate the value and capabilities of the program in a way that addresses what senior leadership considers most important. If you are able to connect the downtime of a specific application to the organization’s ability to provide a service to customers, you will be able to solicit much more involvement from senior leaders that may not normally be involved in risk management or business continuity.

How Much Business Continuity Do We Need?

Once we have documented what is most important to the organization, we can then assign downtime tolerances to each of the products and services. Where agreement on products and services focuses the scope of the program, documenting downtime tolerances will prioritize those products and services and inform much of the planning process. If you have ever struggled to determine if a department RTO is acceptable, or the appropriate level of planning or strategy for a department, documented downtime tolerances at the product and service level are most likely not defined or agreed upon. By documenting steering committee input on this item, you can better prioritize your time and resources on the areas that are most time-sensitive and ensure recovery capabilities meet the thresholds set by leadership.

Who Should Be Involved in The Program?

Now that you have defined the purpose, products and services, and downtime tolerances, there’s one key element left – the people who will lead, sponsor, and participate in the program. This can be a sensitive subject for established programs, and we certainly understand why. The goal of addressing this question is not to eliminate anyone’s position or add responsibilities to someone’s already full plate but rather to take a critical eye to the individuals who are actively involved in the program. A good way to do this is to evaluate if the key stakeholders in the program:

  • understand the purpose of the program and the responsibilities of their role
  • want to participate in the program
  • have the time and capacity to participate based on their role

By evaluating if your program stakeholders meet the three criteria noted above, you can ensure the right people are in the right roles to move the program forward. If any of the current stakeholders don’t meet these criteria, you may want to have a discussion around who would be better positioned to support the program in that role.

KEEPING FOCUS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

Let’s take stock of the situation at this point – you’ve defined the purpose behind your program, you’ve identified products and services and downtime tolerance to help gain more executive attention and focus scope, and you’ve also reviewed the key participants in the program to ensure they’re engaged and understand the program. Feeling the momentum moving yet?

Your question at this point might be, “These questions are great, but how is that going to help me keep stakeholders engaged throughout the year?” To that end, let me provide a few suggestions for how you can capitalize off this renewed focus throughout the year.

Engagement Plan

Engagement with program stakeholders doesn’t just happen. It takes being intentional, time, and demonstrating that when you ask for an hour of someone’s time, that time will be used effectively. With that in mind, I believe in developing an “engagement plan” for how to better engage stakeholders throughout the year and ensure that critical discussions around goals and program issues (covered further below) are occurring with the correct individuals. For engaging stakeholders throughout the year, I suggest the following meetings:

  • annual planning meeting – annual meeting with the steering committee and senior leadership to review the answers to the four questions, set goals for the year, and process any program issues or roadblocks
  • quarterly management reviews – quarterly updates with the steering committee to review quarterly goals and address program issues or roadblocks
  • stakeholder meetings – recurring (monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly depending on program maturity or upcoming activities) meetings with plan owners to provide training on business continuity, using their plans, and capture any issues
  • focus meetings – bi-weekly meetings with the internal business continuity team to focus program activities, track program metrics, and sync on any issues impacting progress

Goal Setting

In addition to helping you focus the scope of your program, understanding the answers to the questions and the strategic vision of your leadership will also assist with setting goals for the program to help drive long-term growth and maturation. To achieve this vision, I’ve found the following goal-setting structure to be helpful with driving the program forward: three-year, one-year, and quarterly. By using the strategic input from the four questions above, you can then identify with the steering committee what capabilities or characteristics you would like to see for the program in three years and what you will need to do in the coming year to achieve that vision. After identifying annual goals during the yearly planning meeting, divide that work into quarters to make the goal more manageable and show progress in quarterly management reviews.

Issue Processing

If you say to yourself, “We have ongoing steering committee meetings, but we never seem to have beneficial conversations,” then you probably have an “issues” problem. An “Issue” is any topic which needs to be discussed at greater length with the goal of solving program challenges and removing roadblocks. With the renewed focus of the program from the four questions above, you should be able to bring the right issues to the table. But how do we facilitate a beneficial discussion around those issues? For a beneficial discussion, consider the following three steps for any issue that is raised:

  • identify the root cause
  • discuss possible solutions to the root cause
  • solve the issue

When identifying the root cause, I believe there are only six root causes for any issue with your program (one of the six areas of the wheel on the right). Begin by identifying which area the issue falls into and the root cause, discuss the solutions, and then solve the issue. The solution should result in an action for a member of the group to follow-up on or execute.

Experiments

Finally, one of the areas I see programs struggle with throughout the year is how to move past issues and roadblocks with no good solution. We’ve all seen it before, the one department that doesn’t want to participate in the exercise, the facility strategy where none of the answers seem like the right one. How do we select the right option and move on? I believe in establishing a culture of experimentation for items like these. With experimenting, you can identify areas of the program or strategies that aren’t satisfying to you and try something different in order to keep program momentum. There are two types of experiments – program and strategy. With both of these options, the idea is to take a potential roadblock and implement a low cost/low impact experiment to provide some additional clarity on the correct solution. The end goal is identifying a potential solution that can be further implemented or scratching an option off the list to help you focus on other avenues.

CONCLUSION

Like any personal goal, achieving a better program in 2020 starts with more focus. By answering a few key questions and applying the answers to those questions to your program, you can ensure your program stakeholders stay engaged and you’re addressing the right issues to accomplish your 2020 goals. And like any personal goal, you can’t just do something once and expect results (as much as I wish that was true for the gym). It takes consistent checkpoints and experiments to keep you on track and keep your program moving forward. Don’t finish 2020 where you began – gain focus, get traction, and see real results that build confidence in your resiliency capabilities.