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New & Improved White Paper Archive

Date: 1/18/2015

Title: Ensuring Business Continuity: Applying creative thinking to keep your business flying when nothing else is

Ensuring Business Continuity:

Applying creative thinking to keep your business flying when nothing else is.

“The one thing that goes according to plan is that something will happen to change our plan.”
— Stephen M. Wolf, Former Chairman, USAirways Attaché Magazine, May, 2001

Threats to the normal day-to-day running of our businesses include fire, theft, earthquakes, hurricanes, computer viruses, solar flares, product contamination, strikes, war, storms, fuel shortages, and so on. While no one can predict when any of these events will happen, there is always a risk of their occurrence. And odds-makers (a.k.a. insurance companies) can calculate the likelihood of such an event and in many cases sell you a policy to provide compensation when they do happen.

Yet getting insurance money after the fact, while a helpful compensation for what is lost, isn’t the most effective way to deal with these disruptions. A better approach is to minimize losses by putting a plan in place. A plan for response to major threats to the normal running of your business, so that everyone in the organization knows what to do and who needs to do it.

BCAP also equals Stress Contingency Planning

Now if all this talk is causing you some discomfort and stress, you may wish to revisit our recent white paper, which talks about the emotional aspects of fear. Business Continuity Assurance Planning (BCAP) is an approach that allows you to use your beautiful, high-functioning cortex to help alleviate some of your stress.

We’ve recently reviewed our BCAP plans given the increasing concern regarding the possibility of a flu (influenza) pandemic caused by human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus found in birds (also known as Bird Flu or Avian Flu). While there is no evidence of a pandemic as of this writing, just as you have fire insurance, we recommend that you do some planning for your business and your family in the event of such an occurrence as well as other potential business-disrupting occurrences. Hoping it will go away is not a smart plan.

In this newsletter, we outline an approach to BCAP using Creative Problem Solving (CPS), a structured approach to applying your creative thinking. For many people, as they begin to gather date about this issue, that information and its extrapolations can induce stress and be intimidating. Fortunately, our problem solving work has taught us that we can overcome most challenges with some hard work, creative thinking, and preparation. If applied rigorously, CPS is a great strategic planning tool to balance fear and over-confidence when doing BCAP, no matter what the threat is that you are planning for.

Business Continuity Planning and Creative Problem Solving

CPS follows six discrete steps: 1) Identify Goal/Wish/Challenge, 2) Gather Data, 3) Clarify the Problem, 4) Generate Ideas, 5) Select and Strengthen Solutions, and 6) Plan for Action. This process fits nicely with the needs of BCAP, which we’ll walk through here, using some top-line examples from the Avian Influenza issue.

Identify Your Goal, Wish or Challenge

Begin by creating a clear picture of what it is that you want to accomplish with your BCAP. From the point of view of most businesses, were there to be a pandemic, your goal might sound something like “It would be great if we could pass through a pandemic with the minimum amount of business disruption.”

Gather Data

We see many individuals, and hence organizations, recoiling from this step because it begins to be pretty scary. Trust the process to get you through this stage to a place where you can reasonably manage your future circumstances.

Next, explore the world of facts, opinions, probabilities, fears and extrapolations to see what might actually occur were there to be a pandemic that affects humans. Think about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your business. Explore the functions of the organization, as well as vendors and distribution chain. Consider what would be the impact on your customers. If you get stuck, try starting sentences with “what if…” This phrase is useful in getting into the mindset of what might go wrong. Use this exploration as the groundwork for the next stage.

Clarify the Problem(s)

Now, using the data as a springboard, generate a list of the most significant problems for the business. Start these with, “How to…” or “How might…” The data you listed earlier starting with “What if…” translates nicely. For example, if your concern is, “what if the airlines are shut down?” then the problem might be phrased as, “how might we transport our people?” or “how might we get from one location to another?” or “how might we run our business without travel?” Once you have your list, select and prioritize the problems that might exist for your business and its people in a world with a pandemic influenza. Once you have determined which of the problems most need to be addressed, begin to turn your minds toward cranking out solutions. We may find that we need some more information to help us in finding those solutions, so we’d get that (or the right expert minds) as needed.

Success Story

Alphabet soup: BCAP and CPS in action

Remember the Y2K computer glitch that was supposed to cause your computers to crash and the lights to go off on January 1, 2000? Most likely it didn’t. Not because the threat wasn’t real, but because of well done planning. In the late ‘90’s there was a significant amount of concern about the impact that a poorly written piece of software code might have on the functionality of computers and computer networks. As the problem was investigated, it became apparent that if nothing was done to fix the code, our new dependency on the technology of networked computer systems could cause disruptions.

The pharmaceutical industry had a particularly vulnerability in that the accuracy of FDA validated research data might be in question after 1/1/00 if there were any glitches because of unresolved coding. So, an effort was launched to think through everything that needed to be done, and implement a plan. Unfortunately, the resource expenditure and time commitment was getting to be pretty extreme.

Pfizer, seeing this happen, asked N&I to see if we could both speed their planning process and decrease unnecessary expense/overwork. As a result of applying CPS methodology to this problem, we were successful in facilitating the creation of efficient plans, and then leveraging the work for a wide range of business continuity assurance.

When widespread “Code Red Worm” attacks disrupted data flow for many companies in July of 2001, (ultimately causing an estimated $2 Billion in damages) Pfizer’s BCAP, developed in 1999, was pulled off the shelf and put in place to protect the company. One competitor that we know of did not have such a plan, which caused the crash of their computer systems, which took over a day to bring back on line.

When the city of New York was shut down on 9/11/2001, those hard-won competencies from the Y2K BCAP processes developed in1999 were utilized in putting the contingency plans in place for the New York and New Jersey-based employees.

“We continue to get great value from our Y2K BCAP preparations, even after the Y2K roll-over” — Gordon Toedman, VP of Finance at Pfizer (now retired)

Generate Ideas

For each of the problems that we’ve prioritized, we have a dedicated group begin to explore the range of possible solutions. Remember to keep a flexible and open mind for solutions that are outside of the normal business practice, since “normal” may not apply to the context in which the business is operating. From these options, select those that need to be done based on what seems reasonable and prudent. We keep in mind at the convergent half of this stage that budget and time will not allow us to do everything that could be done, but with conscious, well planned choices, we’ll get the best cost to benefit ratio available. Resources are most wasted when problem solving in CRISIS!!! mode. BCAP, as a well-informed, maturely-structured scenario- planning activity has a history of preventing huge amounts of waste, while often delivering unintended additional benefits (see sidebar).

Strengthen Solutions

Each plan that comes out of the previous stage is filtered through a refinement process designed to make it as fail-proof and fool-proof as possible. This is where we traditionally use the Praise First:POINt technique to look at the Pluses, Opportunities, and Issues of a solution before applying New thinking (for a free write-up on how to do POINt, send us an e-mail). While facilitating this process with Pfizer in 1999, during this stage they realized that the company had the opportunity to leverage its Y2K BCAP to an “all threats” BCAP with no significant additional expenditure of time and capital. Where their efforts might have been thrown away on January 2, 2000, instead they have used the plan repeatedly since then to ensure that their patients have the medicines that their doctors prescribe for them.

Plan for Action

Finally, taking a look at the various solutions we’ve drafted to assure business continuity in the event of pandemic, we make decisions about what will be done, who will do it, and when. We identify the trigger points for a) future activity (trigger points may include: human-to-human transmission is detected, airlines stop flying passengers, or, horror of horrors, we can no longer get Buffalo-style chicken wings), and b) make decisions about activity that we are going to start right away to ensure our business is ready.

The bottom line

If you’ve been trained in Creative Problem Solving, pull your training materials off the shelf and put them to use to apply some blue sky thinking to a rainy-day scenario. According to the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and many others, at some point in the future, there will be a global pandemic with a highly lethal influenza strain. Whether the H5N1 avian flu strain will be the cause is yet unknown.

However, if you wait until a business continuity threat occurs, you’ll waste resources and make poor decisions at a time when conservation of resources and delicate efficiency will be the thing that keeps businesses alive. Explore the data and then do your own “gut check” to see if you should do some planning. While we hope you’ll never have to use your BCAP, you might sleep better and breathe easier knowing that it’s there.