One business continuity plan or many minis?

Get free weekly news by e-mailBy John Glenn, MBCI, Certified Business Continuity Planner.

What type of business continuity plans does an organization need? One all-inclusive plan? Many small, functional unit plans? The answer to these questions is the same, a resounding Yes! Are functional unit plans populated only by members of the functional unit? Sometimes.

Plan purpose
Functional unit plans are intended to be (almost) stand-alone, self-contained plans which are complete mini-business continuity plans. Each plan includes all of a ‘full scale’ plan's basic components: business impact analysis (BIA), risk analysis and prioritization, avoidance and mitigation recommendations; response plans to maintain a minimum level of service while restoring the functional unit to business as usual.

Missing from the mini-plans are ‘corporate level’ functions such as communications with external media, crisis management, etc.

If a functional unit - business or support - encounters a risk, it deals with the risk. As long as the risk remains contained - localized - to the specific functional unit, there is no reason to run crying ‘Wolf!’ to other units.

The functional unit business continuity program manager (or similar full-time or part-time title) both declares an event and the stand-down when the business as usual is restored and, if necessary, all set aside (low priority) work is caught up.

There remains an obligation to document the encountered risk and to make an effort to avoid or mitigate a recurrence of the risk. There also is a requirement to document the actions taken to recover - how long? How much? How was recovery accomplished?

If, on the other hand, the functional unit's risk impacts, or threatens to impact, other functional units - again, either business or support units - then a higher level disaster must be declared.

This ‘higher level’ can be building, division, campus, corporate, or any other ‘next level higher’ plan.

The business continuity program manager of the functional unit which has the event notifies the next higher level's business continuity program manager that the event may, or will, have an impact on that level's functional units.

In the illustration, assume the functional unit with the event is inside the divisional plan's yellow box. The divisional plan business continuity program manager would notify all other functional units, again, both business and support, that the functional unit with the event will fail to meet its service level agreements (SLAs) with the other functional units in the division.

It is understood that some risks immediately will be reported to the higher level business continuity program manager. Fires which might - might - require evacuation, require immediate upward notification . . . right after the Fire Brigade is alerted.

Mini-plan people
Mini-plans are mostly staffed by members of the functional units.

However, many mini-plans include personnel from other functional units, particularly corporate services.

Finance, Insurance, Purchasing, Accounts Payable/Accounts Receivable, Receiving, and Documentation can routinely be included in mini-plans to assure that replacement equipment can be orders, paid for, and received. If necessary, vendors can be contracted and paid.

Why the Documentation person? Record keeping. The folks in Finance might keep track of money matters, but the amanuensis will document the total effort.

Beyond the ‘corporate’ level participants already mentioned, other personnel may be cross-trained to help functional units other than their own to maintain a minimum level of service or to restore the functional unit to business as usual.

Who is included in this cross-training effort depends on the person's duties in a global event (when he or she may be called to work in his or her own functional unit). Of course, the person's individual abilities and talents also must be considered.

Corporate services
Corporate services may be grouped into a single ‘Corporate’ functional unit. These services, which are available as needed to all other functional units, include all "global" functions: Crisis Management, Communications, Human Resources, Finance and Facilities, Accounting, Insurance, Taxes, Mail Room, etc. The groups making up the corporate functional unit will vary by the organization's size and structure.

As with all functional units, the corporate function unit requires primary and alternate staffing which often translates into cross-training, especially for smaller organizations.

The emphasis on cross-training, particularly when cross-training is beyond a functional unit's borders demands that human resources carefully review all resumes for hidden talents. A person's avocation or "unrelated" past experience may prove highly beneficial - it just has to be discovered.

Creating a mini-plan for each functional unit has the benefit of improving the possibility that a mini-event can be isolated and eliminated quickly and without impacting other functional units.

Rolling up each functional unit into a higher level business continuity plan assures that all inter-dependencies and their associated risks are identified and that means are found to avoid or mitigate the risks.

Rolling up each functional unit plan into a higher level business continuity plan also encourages a closer look at talents and skills which may have escaped notice and encourages inter-unit cross-training.

Unless an organization is a Mom-n-Pop staffed only by Mom and Pop and a couple of the kids, multiple plan approaches should be considered.

Almost stand-alone plans – ‘almost’ since mini-plans can ‘borrow’ from other functional units and the corporate functional unit - for each functional unit, and an umbrella plan which covers all individual plans the greatest assurance that if a plan is invoked, the organization will suffer the least impact.

If the question is "One plan or many plans?" the answer most assuredly is a resounding "Yes."

 John Glenn, MBCI, has been helping organizations of all types avoid or mitigate risks to their operations since 1994. Comments about this article may be sent to

Date: 13th April 2006 • Region: US/World Type: Article •Topic: BC plan development
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