How to Test a Business Continuity Plan

You’ve done it. You’ve completed business continuity planning for your organization! Congratulations, that means you’ve put in a lot of work to ensure your business can withstand whatever comes your way. But even the best business continuity plans need to be tested. If you don’t run tests or exercises on your plans, you won’t be aware of any gaps or mistakes until it’s too late. Luckily, there are lots of ways to exercise your business continuity plans and make sure your organization is ready for any issue that may arise. 

Types of Business Continuity Exercises 

Desktop Walkthroughs and Workshops

These types of exercises require the least amount of effort from your team, so this is a great starting point. During a desktop walkthrough or workshop, you’ll walk the team through a scenario and have them relate how they, according to their plan, will respondThey will have an opportunity to determine their involvement and notice any potential issues with the plan. This is a great familiarization process and providing your team with this overview can also help them understand the importance of having a business continuity plan for your organization. 

Tabletop Exercise

In this type of test, you’ll bring together your recovery teams (the core groups of people responsible for the recovery of your organization) and a facilitator, who will guide you through a scenario. Each member of the team will be responsible for explaining their recovery process and responsibilities, which familiarizes everyone with the full chain of events that need to happen during a recovery situation. It’s best to bring in a third-party facilitator so all members of the continuity program can participate and also to get an unbiased opinion of your plans and expert advice on any areas for improvement. 

Functional Exercise

Use this type of exercise to test your team’s ability to perform their duties in a simulated operational environment. Activities for this type of exercise are usually focused on a situation like failure of a critical business function or a specific hazard scenario.  This type of exercise helps to test specific team members, procedures, or resources such as communications and notifications 

Full-Scale Exercise

This will be the closest to a real-life incident you can get. This type of exercise is costly, will take much longer, but will ensure that each component is fully tested, as if the incident was actually occurring. In a full-scale exercise, it’s likely you will need to include more people and potentially let vendors or outside agencies know what you are doing, if they are places your business relies on to function.  

If your organization is new to business continuity planning, it’s best not to start with a full-scale exercise and instead look into running a walkthrough or tabletop exercise. Giving your team an overview of your plans and processes will allow them to feel more secure and will make sure they know that your business is ready for whatever comes. Once you’ve tested in these low-impact ways, consider running a functional or full-scale exercise. These higher-impact tests will take longer and require a lot more effort from you and your team so make sure you take the time to prepare accordingly. If your organization uses business continuity management software, you’ll be able to easily run exercises through your application and see real-time data on the results. 

Measuring the Success of an Exercise 

When your exercise is complete, always hold a debriefing session as close to the timing of the exercise as possible, so everyone’s feedback is fresh in their minds. Designate one person to take notes so nothing is lost, and if you are working with a facilitator, let them lead the team through a feedback session. Anonymous surveys are a great way to solicit feedback without putting anyone on the spot and can sometimes provide you with more honest feedback. Once you’ve gathered all the suggestions, go through your plan again, making changes where they are needed.