You are 3 weeks from a critical product release and a key manager is hit by a bus (odds are about 1 in 13,000,000).  Can the product be released successfully and on schedule?

When I am reviewing business processes with a client, I inevitably throw in a tragic public transportation incident.  This has two powerful effects: it makes the room a bit uncomfortable and it forces people to consider their tolerance for risk.

But, Why so Morbid?

Many like to consider more optimistic challenges such as individuals winning the lottery (Powerball Grand Prize odds are 1 in 292,201,338).  The challenge with such optimism is the (albeit small) opportunity to transition or contact the individual.  Taking this approach alleviates the need to properly prepare and protect your company’s success.

I prefer to consider disasters!  Here is the definition I use for the point of this conversation. 

A disaster is:

  • Sudden: it needs to occur quickly not allowing for a transitional period
  • Unexpected: there was no opportunity to prepare
  • Not immediately reversible: there is no ability to try again

Levels of Disaster

This is where most companies fall incredibly short.  It is somewhat easier to consider complete Armageddon as opposed to the insidious behavior of our ole’ friend Murphy.  Not all disasters are created equal.

I was working at a company when suddenly the power went out – a complete black out.  Some unfortunate morning commuter took a detour directly into a pole on the nearest corner consequently pulling down the local power lines.

By my definition, this is a disaster.  The cascading effects were many:

  • On-premise servers went offline – including email
  • People could no longer work from the office
  • Virtual employees could not connect to the network
  • Phone systems were out

Within 6-8 hours all was recovered, but at what expense to the company.

Tolerance for Risk

Not all disasters are of equal importance.  Let’s take the above scenario.  If the office in question was strictly accounting and software development, it could be considered an inconvenience but not a substantial risk to the company.  If the office were level 1 customer support or inbound order takers – this could have been incredibly damaging instead.

Each and every conceivable disaster needs to be weighed against the importance to the company.  Various elements need to be considered, such as financial loss, reputation loss, inconvenience, costs to mitigate, and severity of the disaster – a one-hour outage may be vastly different than 2 or 3 days.

Many companies are prepared for a complete disaster recovery (DR) situation, but there are situations which are far more common and rarely addressed: having a spare laptop available, making sure employee files are stored where they can be backed up, email is replicated, VPN connections can scale, etc.

You have worked too hard for your company’s success to leave it to chance… start thinking morbid!