An exercise is an exercise isn’t ?
Many organisations exercise their crisis/incident management and business continuity teams and their associated plans by conducting scenario-based exercises. Which is a very good thing to do. Scenario-based exercises can help to clarify roles and responsibilities, provide a means of rehearsing activities, exercise participants, challenge and validate assumptions and test processes and plans, amongst other things. In short, they help to develop the participants’ capability. What’s more, they help to tick a box for an auditor or regulator.
But not all exercises are the same. In fact, there are many ways to conduct a scenario-based exercise. At one end of the scale there’s the humble table top exercise, which is usually fairly low-key and generally involves a discussion of the issues and associated activities that might arise. At the other end there’s the all-singing, all-dancing, highly realistic, high-pressure, full-on role play, with actors and journalists and news reports and goodness knows what else. And between the two extremes there’s a raft of facilitation methods to suit all tastes and budgets.
All of them have value, if they’re if done effectively and at the appropriate times vis-à-vis the maturity of the business continuity programme and the team(s) involved.
But let’s not kid ourselves that sitting around a table having a nice cosy chat about the issues is going to fully prepare the crisis or incident management team in the way that a full-blown rehearsal will. And let’s not kid ourselves that conducting an exercise (whichever end of the spectrum it falls on), that lasts an hour or two, once every couple of years, and which half of the team members are unable to attend, is going to hone the teams’ capability to razor sharpness.
If all we want is a tick in a box, then a nice easy exercise every now and then will probably achieve that. But a tick in a box is not the same as a capability. If it’s a capability that we’re after, we need to develop an ongoing programme that a) involves all of the key players and b) raises the bar with each subsequent exercise.
To mis-quote George Orwell, all exercises are equal – but some are more equal than others.