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Improve your disaster recovery project management

Effective project management in business continuity and disaster recovery requires proper plans, establishing goals and deliverables, and setting a schedule.

Let's begin this business continuity/disaster recovery project management discussion by noting that a project typically...

has a beginning, middle and end, with specific goals and expected results. Once a project has ended, a new project can be initiated or the original project may be extended and repurposed. A program is an ongoing activity that has numerous components and project-related activities, and is designed to continue until it is restructured or discontinued.

Business continuity and technology disaster recovery activities are most often characterized as projects, for example in developing a BC/DR plan, conducting a BC exercise or performing a business impact analysis (BIA). In each of these examples, a need has been established (have a BC plan), a project is defined (a BC plan project), a team is established to conduct the project (BC plan project team), the plan is executed (a series of steps is followed), and the results (completed BC plan) are delivered to the requesting party.

By contrast, a business continuity management system can be characterized as a program. Once it has been launched, it is designed to continue operating, performing a variety of defined activities according to a schedule and program plan, with a team of professionals executing BC activities (which are most likely projects).

Project management activities

First and foremost in BC/DR project management, have a project plan. It can be a single page or hundreds of pages, depending on the activity.

First and foremost, in business continuity/disaster recovery project management, have a project plan. It can be a single page or hundreds of pages, depending on the activity. A project plan can be written on a spreadsheet or text file. It can also be developed using one of the many project management software tools available on the market.

If your requirements are fairly straightforward, such as developing an incident response plan, a simple one- or two-page project plan document may be sufficient. By contrast, if the project involves conducting BIAs at multiple company locations, coordinating them with the development of BC plans for each location, followed by plan exercises, after-action reports and plan updating, then a project management software tool is advisable. The tool justifies its use by its ability to keep track of all project activities, how the project is performing against budget, and the availability of resources and staffing, for example.

Establish project goals

Identify stakeholders for the project, such as the project sponsor, the person requesting the project, the users who receive the end results, and the project manager and supporting project team. Once you know the key project players, find out what they want to accomplish by defining their requirements.

It's not uncommon for BC projects to originate from various sources, such as IT, operations, risk management, administration, finance, internal audit and others. Interview the people requesting the project and identify their requirements, e.g., a BC plan or a DR plan. You may occasionally receive a request to perform a BIA or risk analysis if your organization has an established business continuity management function and department leaders are familiar with these activities from previous experience or from your awareness activities. As your BC program gets increasingly well known, be ready for more inquiries and requests for assistance.

Identify project deliverables

The principal output from your initial goal-setting activities in disaster recovery project management is a list of project deliverables. In addition to this list, include details on each deliverable, when it must be delivered, and its format and structure.

Familiar BC/DR deliverables include new or updated BC plans, DR plans, incident response plans, BC plan exercises, DR technology recovery tests, assessments, BIAs and risk analyses.

Set the project schedule

The project schedule identifies key project dates, milestones and resources -- e.g., people, technology, funding and facilities -- that will be used to perform the project. For complex projects, a project management software tool can help manage the many resources so you can keep on schedule and under budget and are effectively utilizing your human resources. This is particularly important in disaster recovery project management because if the project suddenly looks to be over budget or has insufficient time, you must contact the project sponsors and key stakeholders to determine if additional funding, resources and time can be obtained. Be sure to include a provision in your project plan for project meetings, status reports and other communications to project sponsors and stakeholders.

It's better to err on the side of covering all the bases, as noted above, in BC/DR projects. We encourage the use of project management software tools to ensure that all the key project elements are identified and properly managed.

Project management accreditation: Is it needed?

The most widely recognized and accepted project management credential is the PMP, or Project Management Professional, as administered by the Project Management Institute. Is it necessary to be a PMP to project manage a BC/DR project? No. Is it desirable? Yes.

PMP certification requirements are extensive, especially as candidates must demonstrate experience managing projects for several years. And even though many classes and training programs are available to address the educational requirements needed to complete the PMP certification process, actual experience is often the deciding factor in achieving the PMP certificate.

By contrast, current business continuity certification requirements from the Business Continuity Institute and DRI (Disaster Recovery Institute) International acknowledge the importance of having project planning and management skills. Among the key skills to be demonstrated are project initiation and management, which confirm the candidate's knowledge and skills in project management.

Supporting plans for DR project management

It may be necessary to prepare supplementary plans for specific issues that relate to the overall project. These may include, as a minimum:

  1. Staffing plans. Identify the human resources needed to support the project, their roles and responsibilities, where and how you can secure their services, and their costs, if applicable.
  2. Communications plans. These activities provide a steady stream of relevant information about the project to the project sponsor, stakeholders, project team members and other interested parties. These can include status report documents, status conference calls and status emails. Include the status of current activities in progress, identify existing problems that are affecting the project and their remediation status, identify potential problems that could impact the project with suggested remedies, and identify upcoming project activities and relevant next steps where appropriate.
  3. Risk management plans. Activities in these plans identify situations that threaten the successful completion of the project. These can include lack of resources; loss or reassignment of current staffing; new staffing whose capabilities are insufficient for the project; lack of funds; lack of time; unforeseen activities that significantly affect the project; stakeholders adding, deleting or changing project requirements; and poor communications. Situations from these plans must be included in status reports, as they may indicate a possible negative impact on the overall project.

Each of these plans can be part of an overall business continuity/disaster recovery project management activity. Use the project plan and project management software tools (if they are used) as your primary benchmarks on how well the project is succeeding.

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