Sunday, March 15, 2020

On Business Continuity

This is aimed at Managers, Directors, VPs, and C* suite people. The thoughts are drawn from my experience in well over 20 years in software as a maker, improver and thinker.

Quite a few years ago, I was tasked with reviewing and testing the Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plans for the company I worked for. I skimmed the existing documentation and asked what level of "disaster" would be the worst we could plan for.

For example, a fire in the main office where the mainframe and all the primary servers were located? Floods in the distribution centers (DCs) preventing operation? Catastrophic loss of power to the DCs that might prevent the facilities from operating? Sure, there are backup generators - how long can they operate with the fuel on-hand? Under what circumstances do they not work?

The response was something like, "No, Pete. Only worry about the computer systems. We need to make sure that we can continue to operate business as usual." My response was something like, "Those will likely be the least of the issues. Your people will matter far more than your computer systems."

I remember the contingency planning at that company for "problems" with Y2K. Loads of meetings and loads of work done and piles of software changes and tests and massive overtime for years in advance. We were reasonably certain that everything we could make ready was ready. We spent massive effort in 1999 testing everything we could test.

One meeting, someone who must have read something on the internet, (where everything must be true, right?) asked "What happens if the power grid goes down? How do we keep our facilities safe? What are your plans for keeping looters from ransacking our inventory?"

We blinked. Silence in the room. A colleague, manager of one area who was also an officer in the Army Reserve, quietly said, "In that situation, we'll need body armor, M-16s, .45 cal side arms and a thousand rounds of ammunition for every person scheduled to work on site."

This was met by horrified looks. He then said, very calmly and sounding more officer-like than I had heard him speak before, "And none of us will be here. We'll head for home to take care of our families. That is far more important than 'guarding' warehouses full of stuff."

My Point

No matter how much calm you want to project, no matter how much your people want to appear calm, Western society is facing something it hasn't seen in years - 100 of them to be precise. Rapidly spreading, undetectable (until symptomatic) illness that has a growing global death toll (last I report I read yesterday was a fatality rate of ~200 deaths a day in Italy) has got some folks spooked.

The idea of "quarantine" and "self-isolation" hearkens back to public pools and community areas being shut-down because of Polio outbreaks. The idea that people can be contagious without knowing it - without "feeling sick" - is part of what makes this different than the more recent flu outbreaks often referenced by pundits.

Schools shut down for 3 weeks, as they are where I live, and canceled sporting and other events might appear to be an overreaction. The point is to stop something potentially bad from becoming horrific.

People are going to be nervous and on-edge. Allow for that and acknowledge that. Let them be like my former colleague who intended to take care of his family above all else.

Give them the space to be human above being a "resource."

Recognize that "business as usual" is likely not going to be what it was last month or last year.

Working from home is a start. People will still be distracted. Small children will likely not understand why they are not in daycare, and are home with everyone when it is not a holiday. Older ones will have their own questions. They may not have an area set up to work conveniently out of their house. Not everyone has that empty, unused room or corner of a room that can be turned into an "office" only for work.

Let people discover their new equilibrium. Let them regain their balance. Then help them however they need it.

And ask them what help they need.

1 comment:

  1. Hi everyone. I wrote a broader piece on WFH that is not the normal WFH article. Folks at TestRail by Gurock published it. Here: