Extended-form Case Study

Business continuity planning across a matrix

Published on February 29, 2016   11 min

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Hi. My name's Scott Baldwin. And I'm the head of business continuity at eBay. Today, I'm going to talk about BC planning across a matrix.
So first, let me tell you a little bit about eBay. eBay started in 1995 as an online auction site. Today, it's grown to be the largest marketplace in the world. We have a large global footprint with offices in over 40 countries. We have over 35,000 full-time employees and tens of thousands of part-time and contract employees, as well. Most importantly to me, eBay supports millions of people who depend on us in some way for their livelihood.
So now let's talk about business continuity. Business continuity is simply the discipline of preparing for and recovering from a business-disrupting event. Now, this can be anything from a technical outage to a natural disaster to a terrorist attack. Anything that disrupts the normal flow of business operations can be considered a business continuity event.
So one of the primary deliverables that a business continuity program provides is called a business continuity plan. And a business continuity plan is simply a set of instructions that is designed to help a specific department recover from a disruption by pointing out specific tasks and recovery steps.
Like many medium and large-size companies, eBay has adopted a centralized business continuity model. This means that a relatively small group of business continuity professionals in the corporate level are responsible for ensuring that each department in the whole company has a resiliency plan and is prepared for a disruption. Because there are thousands of departments and only a few of us, it's actually physically impossible for the corporate group to create, maintain, manage, and test all of these plans. Therefore, we have requested and required that each department identify and provide someone from their own group to maintain and test their plans. Also because in the business continuity corporate group, we're obviously not experts in every area of the business, it really doesn't make sense for us to be the ones to create recovery plans for the business. It's important to realize that these department-level planners are not business continuity experts. They have a regular day job that have been doing for years, sometimes that they've chosen to do. So business continuity planning is a responsibility that's given to them on top of their regular work.
Here's where the matrix model comes into play. So I have no direct authority over the planners nor can I force them to do anything. I can't force them to do the business continuity planning that they're responsible for. So because we have no direct authority, and especially in the areas where executives are less engaged in business continuity, we started to see that the level of preparedness was relatively low. And our task was to figure out how we could ensure that the planners were creating good quality plans and preparing their departments for disruption.
So our first idea was to use fear. And fear is a very tempting strategy to use for business continuity. We can always point to somewhere in the globe, and there's going to be a disaster somewhere. And we could point to that disaster. And we could try to motivate our business partners by telling them that that disaster can happen here. Additionally, audits and regulatory findings are other great ways to instill fear in our business partners. And though fear is a motivational factor for the short term, we found that long-term engagement doesn't come about because of fear. So most people are going to focus and think about what they want to think about and what they want to focus about. And over the initial impact of the fear, people, they soon forget. It doesn't become a factor in engagement.
The second approach we took to improve engagement with our planners was something I'm going to call the framework approach. The framework approach is where we, the corporate group, provide the planners with policies, schedules, milestones, project plans, tons of documentation. We try to answer every question that they might have. We give them everything that they would need to do. And we do this in order to kind of force the workflow along. This actually turned out to improve participation. And the metrics that we reported on soon began to show better results.
Two curious things started to appear: First, we noticed that the more questions that were answered, the more questions were asked by the planners. Each round of questions became more and more detailed until our framework became a static set of instructions that each planner basically copied. This was really the opposite of the engagement they were looking for. The second realization that we had was that the milestones became the objective. So in other words, completing the plan took precedence over the quality or usefulness of that plan.

Business continuity planning across a matrix

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