Here at the Erwood Group, we’ve created a new exercise methodology. A new paradigm for the way a business exercises, trains, and prepares for a crisis. It is called Learn, Practice, Implement, Challenge™ – The new exercise methodology to Increase Your business endurance.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “crawl, walk, run” before, right?
Now, go ahead and tell me what you mean by that exactly, and I bet you’ll have some trouble.
“Crawl, walk, run”is a phrase I commonly hear especially around exercises. It’s a phrase that I hate. It’s just too vague, overly simplified, and completely nondescriptive, leaving out key details about just how we are supposed to progress through to something bigger and better. Can you tell me what you’re supposed to be trying to achieve?
Of course, you can’t.
That’s why many years ago I came up with the phrase Learn, Practice, Implement, Challenge™ which provides not only the descriptive details but the overarching goal of what we’re trying to accomplish with each stage of our exercise progression.
First and foremost, we have our Learning stage:
Sounds simple enough. At this stage, we teach our new plan owners and participants what they should be doing. Learning. It is designed to get everyone in the same place. As a team. They learn they have a plan, what is in the plan, where to find the plan, how to update and maintain the plan (and who is responsible for that maintenance), and we go through the plan, especially the strategy section and steps based on the strategies.
At this point we walk the participants through each strategy, asking questions about the strategy validity, any potential for this not to work, dependencies required for the strategy to work, and any additional strategies or sub-strategies we can add.
Next, we walk through each step required to implement the strategies. Making sure details needed are captured and not left too vague makes the information impractical at best and unimplementable during a crisis at worst. For instance, if a recovery strategy calls out the reliance on a secondary vendor that vendor should be called out by name. And then tertiary vendors and so on. Think in terms of, if someone else other than my main team members had to implement this plan, what information would they need?
At the end of this exercise, we still conduct an after-action review and collect all the appropriate data such as lessons learned, what went well, what worked, what didn’t and how can we improve. We’ll also ask if they would like to add any additional input and what kinds of other disruptive events have, they experienced in the past. All of this is done to create familiarity and training for future exercises as well. The entire process is about having the participants learn new skills and improving their current existing plans.
Once these learning stage exercises are conducted and the plans updated to reflect the exercise outcomes and additional strategies the work begins to set up the next round of future exercises for the practice stage.
Usually taking place about a year after the learning stage, the practice phase starts to get a little bit more intense. Still, in a tabletop setting in most cases, the participants are expected to know how to access their business continuity plans, how to access information within the plan, and how to walk through the steps to invoke the plan successfully. This is usually done and presented as part of a scenario impacting the business and forcing the plans to be activated.
At this practice stage, the idea isn’t to do anything too hard but to present the exercise, have the team attempt to achieve a predetermined set of goals, and even guide them into the next steps through a series of questions or injects. They may do so exceedingly well or may fail and learn a series of lessons. The idea though is to allow them to practice their plan in a controlled environment where they can feel safe and make mistakes. But not to push them to the brink where it becomes a stressful overwhelming event where they learn nothing and feel defeated.
In some cases, it may be necessary to hold several practice sessions with the team before moving on to the next stage of maturity in the exercise progression. Perhaps twice a year or more. More on this later in another post.
The point is some teams will need to practice a few times before their comfort and confidence levels allow them to move onto the implementation stage. As with the learning stage, we hold an after-action review session immediately following each exercise.
Next, will be to implement the plans during an exercise. Here we start with what is the overall purpose of the exercise, as in, what are we exercising? Are we testing the ability to send notifications? Implement strategies? Can the steps be followed that are needed to initiate and complete the strategy? Can vendors be notified and coordinated with? Can customers be notified and coordinated with as expected? Can key personnel go to and work from an alternate location or remotely?
For all these implementations and more, are they successful? Did they fail? If so, why? Can the cause of the failure be easily determined? What worked well? What didn’t? Where is there room for improvement? How were internal communications? Were there errors? What were they? Did we use alternate applications to access information? How did that go? Are we tracking things manually? Did it work effectively? Where are there stumbling blocks and bottlenecks?
So, to summarize this section, Implementation exercises are exactly that, implementation of parts of the plan such as a select strategy, communications internally or externally, notifications to team members or other teams, or the implementation of the whole or parts of the plan that would be needed to fit the scenario.
Once teams have had the opportunity to implement their plans, we will start to Challenge them.
The challenge phase is exactly what it sounds like, we create a scenario or series of scenarios that begin to challenge the plan owners and participants. This is done to expand the teams’ capabilities, build massive confidence, and the capability to learn and improvise based on what they know and the strategies available to them within the plan.
This challenge phase is never done with the idea of forcing the team to the brink and forcing failure, but to provide a safe learning environment to expand their capabilities. In other words, don’t make it so impossible that they do fail, but challenging enough that it forces them to think, act, and improve upon what is there so they can be ready for real incidents should they arise. Put another way, the challenge level exercises should elevate the team involved and make them better for participating in the exercise.
I’ve seen some exercise designers and facilitators develop exercises where they knock-off (kill) many or all key personnel, make it impossible to contact vendors, and inject failure at every turn. Not that some of these things can’t happen. They do. But the idea is to provide a positive learning experience for the people involved.
If they aren’t learning at every stage or phase along the way and are just placed in a stressful situation where failure is the only or main outcome, they will walk away unhappy, discouraged, with less confidence, and less likely to look forward to or participate in another exercise.
In fact, if this has been the case, you may need to reinitiate the exercises at the learn or practice phase level again just to build up your team.
As part of our challenge phase as businesses mature in the exercise phase to improve their preparedness, we offer world-class training and exercise to take their endurance to the next level. We have partnered with an academy award-winning special effects team to create real-world events and scenarios in a safe and controlled environment.
Keith Erwood is the COO, Co-Founder, and Principal Managing Consultant of the Erwood Group. The Erwood Group focuses on business preparedness, business continuity, disaster recovery, and crisis management. We create enduring businesses that Prepare, Prevent, Profit through planning, mitigation and exercising. #Endurance>Resilience
Are You Up to the Challenge?