Business continuity plans should be working documents. Once written, you should keep them up-to-date and test them regularly to see how well they are likely to perform in the event of an emergency.
To make testing useful, it is advisable to test against credible, but challenging scenarios. It may help to do a few things in advance of the test, such as:
- agree clear testing criteria and procedures
- agree how you will document the findings
- determine how and when you will correct problems identified during the test
Although by their nature crises are hard to simulate, there are many ways you can assess your business continuity plan against different crisis scenarios.
How to test business continuity plans
Common types of tests to help you assess the effectiveness of your plan include:
- checklist tests
- table-top exercises
- structured walk-throughs
- scheduled simulations
- full recovery / interruption tests
As well as running these tests, it's imperative that you verify all the details contained in the plan. For example, check that the key contacts and phone numbers are correct. Having to find the right number in a crisis could use up valuable time and delay your response.
How often should you test your business continuity plan?
Many businesses test their continuity plans two to four times a year. How often you should do this depends on different factors, including the type of your business, the turnover of staff and the changes in processes and technology used in the business since the last round of testing.
Why should you test your business continuity plan?
Rigorous testing should verify that your plan is effective and fulfilling its purpose. It will also allow you to:
- train staff involved in the recovery of the business
- identify areas where you might need to strengthen your plan
- demonstrate the ability of your company to recover
See also the advantages of business continuity planning.
If you outsource certain functions in your business to a third party, it will be important to assess the adequacy of their own business continuity plan and its compatibility with your own plan.
Maintain your business continuity plan
Creating and initially testing your plan will require a good deal of effort and time. However, the work doesn’t stop there. You will have to update your plan regularly to take into account your business' changing circumstances. For example, if you move into new business premises you could face an entirely new set of risks. You'd need to draw up new maps for the emergency services and amend any contact numbers necessary.
It may help to review your business continuity plan annually and carry out this review alongside testing to ensure that your plan remains effective.
Business continuity standard
To get an accurate picture of how your business' continuity plans and procedures align with best practice, you may want to assess them against an international standard. The standard specifies the requirements for a management system to protect against, reduce the likelihood of, and ensure your business recovers from disruptive incidents.
Read more about the ISO 22301 business continuity management standard.