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Step-by-Step Business Continuity Plan Writing: Expert Advice

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Your company needs a business continuity plan to prepare for a crisis. There are detailed step-by-step instructions, expert business continuity plan writing tips, and free downloadable tools.

Writing a business continuity plan and discussing its key components are covered on this page. A business continuity plan quick-start template, disruptive incident quick-reference card template for print or mobile, and expert disaster preparation checklist are also included.

Steps to Write a Business Continuity Plan

A business continuity plan helps a company continue operations during a crisis. Gather information about key people, tools, and processes to write a business continuity plan as procedures and resource lists.

 

A free business continuity plan template simplifies formatting. Read our comprehensive business continuity planning guide to learn more about its role.

 

Describe the plan’s goals in a mission statement. When must it be done? What is the disaster and recovery budget for research, training, consultants, and tools? Detail assumptions about financial or other resources, such as government business continuity grants.

Governance:
Overview of the business continuity team.
Include names, titles, roles, and contact info.
Define roles, authority, succession, and accountability.
Use an organization or functional diagram.
Start with one of these free organizational chart templates.

Writing the Plan Procedures and Appendices is the core of your plan. A business continuity document should include procedures, agreements, and resources. Think of it as a list of tasks or processes that must be completed to keep your operation running. Use diagrams and illustrations to clarify instructions. Remember that checklists and work instructions are simple and effective crisis communication tools. Learn procedures and work instructions. You should also note who on the team knows the plan details.

Training Programme Details

Determine initial and refresher training curriculum and timelines. “Specify which roles will actively lead training and who must receive training,” says Frontis principal consultant Michele Barry.

Test recovery and response procedures:
Set test guidelines and schedules.
Contact non-planners to review the plan.
Prepare test-attendee forms and checklists.

Establish an Insights Capture Process

Determine initial and refresher training curriculum and timelines. “Specify which roles will actively lead training and who must receive training,” says Frontis principal consultant Michele Barry.

Test recovery and response procedures:
Set test guidelines and schedules.
Contact non-planners to review the plan.
Prepare test-attendee forms and checklists.

Establish an Insights Capture Process

Business continuity planning includes three types of responses:

Proactive strategies avoid crises. To keep your factory powered, buy an emergency generator or install a security system to prevent break-ins. You could also implement a BYOD policy and train remote workers to secure your network and data.

Reactive Strategies: Crisis responses are immediate. Evacuation, fire, and emergency response are reactive methods.

Recovery Strategies: Recovery strategies describe how to resume operations to provide a minimum level of service. The recovery plan includes temporary processes. The plan includes long-term efforts like relocation, data restoration, temporary workarounds, and outsourcing. IT and data recovery are not the only recovery methods.

Startup Guide Business Continuity Plan Template

Use this quick-start business continuity template to create a plan in a hurry to respond to a disruption. This Word and Google Docs template is simple to help you brainstorm and solve problems.

See our “Free Business Continuity Plan Templates” article for other useful free, downloadable BCP templates.

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Key Business Continuity Plan Elements

Your complete business continuity plan will be detailed. Your plan may differ from others based on industry and other factors. Every facility or business unit can conduct an impact analysis and create disaster recovery and continuity plans. Consider adding these essentials to your business plan:

Key employees, vendors, and third parties contact information is on these pages. Place this information at the start of the plan.

Business Impact Analysis: BIA evaluates financial and other changes in a disruptive event (use one of these templates to start). Assess brand damage, product failure, revenue loss, and legal and regulatory consequences.

Risk Assessment: Evaluate all organizational risks in this section. Consider risks related to cash, stock, and staff qualifications. Focus on people, places, and things to avoid being overwhelmed by infinite internal and external risks. Then assess the impact of lost or damaged items. Understand that risk assessment is ongoing, along with training and testing. Complete a risk matrix for your plan. Create one with a downloadable risk matrix template.

Critical Functions Analysis and List: A critical functions analysis shows which processes are essential to your business for faster results than a BIA. Payroll, accounts receivable, customer service, and production are critical functions. Michele Barry suggests considering your company’s identity with a values-based approach to critical functions. Determine what you must do and what you can stop.

Trigger and Disaster Declaration Criteria: Explain how your executive management will declare an emergency and start the plan.

Succession Plan: Find replacements for key unit staff. Schedule time throughout the year to watch alternates make important decisions and complete recovery tasks.

Alternate Suppliers: Food, toy, and pharmaceutical manufacturers must use high-quality raw materials and parts. Source suppliers before a crisis to avoid regulatory delays.

Operations Plan:
Describe how your company will resume daily operations after a disruption.
Include a checklist of supplies, equipment, data backup locations, and plan locations.
Name those who should receive plan copies.

Crisis Communication Strategy: Describe how the company will notify employees, customers, and third parties of a disruption. Plan for alternative communications if regular ones fail. To begin, download a free crisis communication strategy template.

Incident Response Plan: Describe how your company will handle a variety of likely incidents or disruptions and set triggers.

The organization moves to an alternate site after a disruption. The plan can also include transportation, resources, and processes for moving the business.

Interim Procedures: These critical processes must continue in their original or altered form.

Critical data includes anything you must recover immediately to maintain business operations.

Partner Agreements: List your company’s key vendors and how they can help you restart operations.

The work backlog accumulates when systems are shut down. You must finish this work first when processes restart.

IT Service Recovery Strategy: This section describes restoring business-critical IT processes.

Recovery Time Objectives (RTO) and Recovery Point Objectives (RPO): RTO is the maximum time a company can stop its processes without data before productivity drops significantly. Consider people, places, and things when determining unit RTOs.

Backup Plans: What if processes, resources, or plans fail? Determine alternatives now to avoid scrambling. Choose a backup roster for absent players.

This section describes how a business can operate manually if all failsafe measures fail.

For regulated organizations, external audits may be required. Scheduled internal audits prepare you for external ones.

Test and Exercise Plan: Plan how and when to test the continuity plan, including periodic tabletop testing and more complex real-world scenario testing.

Change management: Include test and exercise results, disseminate changes, review the plan, and track changes.

Key Business Continuity Resources

Human resources and other business continuity groups must be readily available to fix problems, restore operations, or submit an insurance claim. Add this information to your continuity plan’s back appendices where your organization’s situation requires specific resources.

The following list can help you remember important company information. Your specific situation may require additional information.

People:

Contact information for key employees. Beyond C-level and response team members, consider long-term or specialized staff.

Disaster recovery and continuity team names, roles, and contact info

Police and emergency services number for your location

Non-emergency police and medical contact info

Emergency and non-emergency facility contact numbers

Board member contact info

Employee roster with family and emergency contact numbers for the entire organization

Contractors for repairs

Client contact info and SLAs

Insurance contacts for all plans

Regulators’ contacts.

Legal contacts

Partner agreements and SLAs, and vendor contact information

 

Places:

Office and facility addresses and information

Primary and secondary contact information for each facility or office, including phone and email numbers.

Site recovery off-site

Storage facility and vehicle compound addresses and access information

 

Things:

Banking and funding data

IT and data recovery details, including app and license inventory

Insurance policy numbers and agent contacts for each plan, healthcare, property, vehicle, etc.

Tangible inventory, including equipment, hardware, supplies, fixtures, and fittings (suppliers and manufacturers should include raw materials and finished goods)

Lease details

Licenses, permits, legal documents

Special items you use often but don’t order

Backup equipment location

Electric, gas, telephone, water, waste pickup, and utility account numbers

Tasks Before Writing the Business Continuity Plan

Gather background information and form a team before writing your plan.

 

Team up to write the plan. Choose crisis leaders or command and control teams. Your company needs a business continuity coordinator who knows processes well enough to delegate. Barry says, “Bring people into the planning.” “People often overlook team engagement. When things don’t work, they say, ‘We just didn’t have the right people at the table. We missed out on using skills we already had.'”

 

Involve process participants when planning. Divide departments into teams to maintain essential business functions. Additionally, each department should have a team leader and backup. Include third-party representatives to coordinate the supply chain, emergency services, and other activities.

 

Task-oriented roles and teams include:

Incident Commander: Oversees all emergency response.

Emergency Response Team: The emergency response team handles emergencies and disruptions.

IT Recovery Team: Recovers critical IT services.

Alternate Site/Location Operation Team: Maintains business operations at another site.

Facilities Management Team: The facilities management team manages all main business facilities and determines disaster response.

Key stakeholders and upper management employees make BCP decisions.

Performing business impact or critical function analysis. Understand how department process loss affects internal and external operations. BIAs are covered in our business continuity planning article.

Do risk analysis. Organizational risks and threats should be identified.

Determine the plan’s scope. Define whether the business continuity plan covers one office, the entire organization, or certain areas. Maintain critical functions and resources using BIA and risk analysis. Set goals to determine detail. Set milestones to track plan completion. “Setting scope is essential,” Barry says. “Define the core and noncore business aspects and the minimum continuity requirements.”

Based on risk assessment and BIA, plan how your business will recover from a disruption. This process determines the BCP’s core details, adds key components and resources, and sets the timing before, during, and after a disruptive event.

picture of Common Business Continuity Plan Structure

Common Business Continuity Plan Structure

Knowing the common structure should help shape the plan and free you from the form when you should be thinking about content. Example of BCP format:

 

Record the business name, usually on the title page.

Date: BCP completion and signature.

This section explains the plan’s purpose and scope.

BIA results: Include them in your plan.

Consider adding the risk assessment matrix to your plan.

Include the business continuity policy or highlights.

Emergency Response: Detail emergency response procedures separately from recovery and continuity.

The Plan: The plan outlines business recovery and continuity steps.

Relevant Appendices: Contact lists, org charts, insurance policies, and other crisis-related documents can be appendices.

No two BCPs are alike because every business is different. Customize your business continuity plan and include all the necessary information to keep it running. Emergency knowledge is the most important part of a BCP.

 

Brief Disruptive Incident Reference Card Template

Write emergency steps for employees on this quick-reference card template. Personalize this template for each business unit, department, or role. Explain what people should do now and in the coming days and weeks to keep the business going. Print and laminate PDFs for workstations or wallets, or load them on your phone.

Expert Disaster Preparation Checklist

Business continuity and disaster planning are about people and their families, not just buildings and clouds. Based on Mike Semel of Semel Consulting, this disaster checklist helps you prepare food, shelter, and other needs for your staff and their families.

 

Business Continuity Plan Writing Tips

Many moving parts and considerations make a business continuity plan intimidating. Write, track, and maintain a strong BCP with these tips:

 

Process

Prioritise continuity management planning.

Interview key company figures who have handled disruptive incidents.

Early approval from leadership and their ongoing support of continuity preparedness.

Be flexible in who you are involved, what resources you need, and how to achieve the best plan.

 

Writing

Simple and targeted plans are easier to understand.

Limit the plan to disaster response tactics.

Use the latest, most accurate data to plan.

Prepare for the worst and cover many disruptive situations.

Consider the minimum information or resources needed to run your business in a disaster.

Use BIA and risk analysis data to simplify planning.

 

Maintenance and Training

Share and let employees review and ask questions about the plan.

Share the document online or in print for easy access.

To stay current, test, review, and maintain your plan.

Update the BCP with organizational and regulatory changes.

Smartsheet empowers teams to build business continuity.

A flexible platform that adapts to your team’s needs empowers them to go above and beyond.

 

Smartsheet makes planning, capturing, managing, and reporting work from anywhere easy, helping your team be more productive. Roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows keep your team connected and informed by reporting on key metrics and working in real-time.

 

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