Monday, February 21, 2011

Of templates & check lists


Lately I've seen pleas, some from people claiming to hold "senior" business continuity titles, asking for templates.

Usually the request is for a very specific template; a call center or IT department or HR, or a specific industry such as an airport or hospital..

I'm a relative newcomer to what I prefer to call "risk management," but I've been around long enough to have seen some "fill in the blanks" templates and some more "fill in the blanks" software.

One of my first "real" business continuity projects had the lead planner bring in a very expensive, several-hundred-page thick, book of template forms and explanations.

It didn't work then, and it doesn't work now.

That's not to say I don't have check lists and "talking topics," but for the actual planning I avoid templates.

I do use a "subject to drastic change" documentation outline; call it a template if you must.

Template troubles

What do I have against templates?


First, to my Edward Bear mentality, fill-in-the-blanks templates encourage practitioners to try to shoehorn round pegs into square holes - or is it the other way around?

Second, said templates tend, in the hands of a tyro, to be thought-limiting. The template has a question, the tyro asks it, and the client answers it.

Good enough?


Perhaps the tyro needs to get the client to expand on the answer, but the template doesn't encourage going beyond the initial question and, anyway, there's no place in the template to enter the extended answer.

Templates do not lend themselves to tangents, and going off on tangents is one of the most profitable ways for a practitioner to garner critical information. It also can prevent the practitioner from returning to the main theme.

Third, most templates either try to be very focused and ask everything about the target function, or they cobble together a plethora of generic queries many of which likely have no relationship to the organization for which the plan is being prepared, are - at best - crutches for tyros and people lacking interview skills, a critical requirement for practitioners.

Bottom line: Templates are static; practitioners and their clients need interactive communications.

Mentoring, OJT needed

It is unfortunate that we - risk management/business continuity/COOP practitioners - lack an established mentoring and On the Job Training (OJT) program for tyros.

I'm beginning to think it's also unfortunate that we lack a licensing body to assure that a "senior" practitioner really is a "senior" practitioner. The profession's problem is the abundance of certifying agencies that apparently can't get together to create a universally accepted process to vet practitioners. In any event, there is more to being a successful planner - that means someone whose plan works if ever its needed - that just meeting a template's requirements.

Airline pilots use a check lists before taking off and landing; that's well and good. I get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I see someone from the flight deck walk around their plane, clipboard in hand, inspecting the aircraft and kicking the tires (yes, they still do that). But airline pilots also know things not on any checklist. Ask the US Airways pilot who turned the Hudson River into a runway, or the Delta pilot who safely brought back a plane on one good engine, the other having exploded, dumping parts on the ground (but, according to the FAA, it was a "contained" explosion).

Templates, be they paper or software, don't teach the tyro anything other than to fill in the blanks. They may give both the practitioner and the practitioner's client a sense of a job well done and a false level of confidence that when "push comes to shove" the plan will be at least adequate.

Show me

Show me a template that asks about money lenders.

Show me a template that asks about transportation between vendor and your organization.

Show me a template that includes succession planning, policies and procedures, welfare of people with permanent or temporary handicaps.

How about a template that includes questions about the neighborhood and the other denizens in the area?

Show me a template that lets the practitioner work comfortably with the client, one where the practitioner is not always telling the client to "hold on while I fill in the answer."

Templates never are as good as experience.

People with "senior" in their title should be expected to have experience and at least a general, it not through, understanding of what risk management - under whatever name you wish to call it - is all about.

Ask me for a template.

I'll give you ideas.

I'll give you suggestions.

I will not give you a template even if I had a template, which I do not.

John Glenn
Enterprise Risk Management practitioner
Hollywood - Fort Lauderdale Florida

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