Why You Need a New Operations Continuity Plan

In the COVID era, the next crisis is just around the corner. Be prepared.

Why You Need a New Operations Continuity Plan

By Kevin Pang
for MxD

If COVID-19 has taught manufacturers anything, it’s that a major disruption to operations can be stunning in speed and scope.

It’s no longer a hypothetical, and it’s bound to happen again. A critical component to your product will have to be sourced from another part of the world. A machine on your factory line will need to be shut down and restarted later. Your workspace will need to be reconfigured for social distancing.

Whether it’s a natural disaster or another global pandemic, some unforeseen incident will divert your company away from business as usual.

The question you should be asking yourself is: How can we prepare better for next time? 

Every business should already have an operations continuity plan in place. But now is the time to revise it; especially while the latest crisis is still fresh in your mind. 

MxD’s Vice President of Finance and Business Operations Jessica Juozapavich and Director of Engineering Paul Pierson recommend taking these five steps to deepen your preparedness:

1. Develop a “What happens if?” mindset.

If one year ago, we told you there’d be no concerts, no sporting events, little-to-no restaurant dining, and (almost) everyone would wear a mask in public, you’d probably think we’d read one too many science fiction novels.

But as we all found out, the implausible became very real. As such, you should develop a mindset that explores every scenario, no matter how outlandish or impossible it might seem.

Thinking through these possibilities may feel uncomfortable. But to be fully prepared, your mind has to go there. (What if an earthquake hits our factory? What if we had a cyber hack? What if COVID-19 mutates into a more contagious, deadlier virus?) It’s important to project yourself into the future and ask: “What happens if my factory is shut down for a month? For six months? For a year and a half?”

Rather than keeping those scenarios in your head, an effective exercise is to sit down and put pen to paper. Do this uninterrupted for 30 minutes. Free-write and don’t dismiss any possibilities. The act of writing something down (or typing it out) helps move it from the realm of abstraction into something concrete.

2. Do your homework. Show your homework.

Only after you map out possible scenarios are you able to start thinking of plans of action. After all, you wouldn’t be giving turn-by-turn directions without a final destination, right?

An operations continuity plan will involve every part of your business, from supply chain to IT to communications.

To illustrate, let’s focus on one area: employee safety.

Say there’s a second or third wave of COVID-19. You run a facility where employees work in fairly close quarters. You know you’ll have to add plexiglass barriers, change the traffic flow in common areas, add hand-washing stations on the factory floor. In order to do your homework about best practices, you’ll have to consult a variety of sources (CDC, your city and state, OSHA, industry groups like MxD).

According to Juozapavich, the important point here is that as you document your plan, show your homework.

“By putting it on paper, it allows your employees to reference it, which can help them feel secure,” Juozapavich said. “It shows that you’re planning with a thoughtful process.”

Think back to writing essays in your English literature class — remember the teacher asking you to cite your sources? For example, if you’re providing disinfectants for cleaning work surfaces, document that the organization is only using products on List N, which meets the EPA’s criteria of disinfectants effective against COVID-19.

Or, if you’re requiring employees to wear masks in your facility, cite the Duke University study that found that some cotton masks are as effective as hospital-grade surgical masks.

Showing where a specific guidance came from is important because it demonstrates your organization has done its due diligence. This can instill confidence in employees, giving them a sense of security that the company is planning with thoughtful deliberation. Showing you’ve done your homework gives you credibility.

3. Solicit suggestions from many employees

Giving all employees a say during this planning process — from the CFO to the maintenance workers — will surface many good and unexpected ideas.

At MxD, one employee came up with a clever idea for communicating about sanitation after dining at a Brazilian steakhouse.

At many all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouses, servers walk around with platters of grilled meats, offering diners as much steak as they can handle. Diners indicate whether they want more meat by displaying a token at their table. If they want the steaks to keep coming, they flip the token to the green side. If they’ve had enough, they flip it to the red side.

The MxD employee applied the idea to a “Clean/Not Clean” placard for janitors. The card is flipped to the “Clean” side if a work area has been recently sanitized. For the cost of printing two pieces of paper and some adhesive, here was an effective and easy-to-understand way of enhancing workplace safety.

The best ideas come from a diversity of inputs.

4. Assign tasks to the right people.

Earlier, we mentioned the importance of turning your operations continuity plan from an abstract idea to something concrete. This is why you should delegate roles to specific people when coming up with the plan.

During times of crisis there’s often a fog of confusion. You shouldn’t assume that someone will automatically lead continuity efforts in their respective department.

Pierson said that you must make these roles clear and explicit. Assign specific tasks to specific people, and make sure they fully understand their role. You want them to take ownership in the continuity plan.

“You can’t assume, because usually you’ll miss,” Pierson said. “You have to assign to the right people, and they have to say: ‘I’ve got this.’”

5. Set aside some time to run through your plan.

People who run factories deal with many moving parts. Even during normal times, one tiny thing could go wrong and domino to something disastrous. The toughest thing for any manufacturing business to do is take a step back and focus on the “what if’s.”

It may take a two-hour meeting, it may take a half-day table-top exercise, but you should set aside time to run through your plan of action.

What you don’t want is your operations continuity plan to be a paper-only exercise, one that’s dusted off and tried only when the crisis is upon you. If you have a plan in place, running a dress rehearsal could make all the difference.

Planning and execution

As COVID-19 has shown, when unforeseen circumstances impact a business, it’s not usually a calm situation. Rarely are sound decisions made when everyone’s stressed out.

But if you did all the scenario-planning and thinking ahead of time, all you need to do when the disruption arrives is to follow the playbook and execute.

MxD has assembled a number of resources for manufacturers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.