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Business continuity and technical writing – are they so different?

Sue Woolley
by Sue Woolley

I recently spent three years working as a Business Continuity (BC) Manager and loved it! Prior to that, I spent a very long time in the technical writing field. Many people have asked me how and why I made the transition to BC, and it made me reflect on the similarities and differences in the skills needed for the two roles.

Firstly, what is BC? An effective BC program ensures that a business can respond effectively to any type of disruptive incident and continue working, possibly in a reduced capacity, until a full recovery is possible. The BC Manager’s role is to ensure that sufficient plans are in place to respond to and recover from a disruption, and that these plans are exercised and tested to ensure that they work.

So, what attributes did I bring from my technical writing days, and what additional skills did I require to become an effective BC Manager?

BC and technical writing skills

The skills that I used extensively as a technical writer that I carried over into the business continuity arena were:

  • clear communication
  • analysis
  • understanding of business process analysis
  • writing
  • working with people across all levels of the organisation
  • working alone
  • extensive understanding of information technology.

The skills I had to improve in order to be a more effective BC Manager were:

  • presentations
  • workshop facilitation
  • influencing
  • selling and motivating.

Communication

Clear, concise, tailored and timely communication, managing expectations and getting people to commit to deadlines is a key technical writer skill. This is crucial to a strong and effective business continuity program.

General and business process analysis

Technical writers must be able to both see the big picture and delve into minute detail. Analysing an organisation to identify all the business processes, working out recovery time objectives to quantify how critical each of those processes are and to prioritise the recovery efforts gives those analysis skills a good workout.

Identifying and understanding the processes that make an organisation unique is one of the cornerstones of the BC Manager’s role, and the BC program has to be aligned to the strategic business objectives and management decisions.

Writing

Well, what can I say, this is what a technical writer does for a living. Interviewing subject matter experts and using this information to develop business continuity plans, contingency procedures, emergency response and crisis management plans and disaster recovery documentation is a key component of the BC professional’s role.

Working with people across all levels of the organisation

Technical writing and BC professionals need to be comfortable working with all different levels and all different types of people. They need to be able to “speak geek” with the techies and be equally as comfortable having quick, targeted and effective conversations with time-poor managers. They need to be able to understand what motivates each group of people and listen, listen, listen.

Working alone

Both technical writers and BC Managers often need to be able to work alone, stay motivated, set and manage deadlines that involve staff who are not their direct reports and work closely with senior management.

Extensive understanding of information technology

Technical writers come from all kinds of backgrounds, and IT is not necessarily a core skill for all writers. However, it is a very useful skill, and many technical writers do come from an IT background. BC Managers need to have enough understanding of IT to be confident with developing IT disaster recovery procedures. Most organisations depend heavily on technology to operate, so the disaster recovery component of BC is crucial to the success of any BC program.

Presentations and workshop facilitation

BC Managers need to be able to conduct workshops and give presentations across all levels of the business and to a variety of audiences including senior managers, technical IT and operational staff.

Influencing, selling and motivating

Business continuity work is never considered urgent, until a disruption occurs of course! So, BC Managers are constantly having to “sell” the program to the management of the organisation and motivate people at all levels to contribute.

BC Managers typically don’t have direct authority over the people they need to work with, so influencing skills are critical to a successful program.

In summary

I believe that to be an effective BC Manager, you need to deeply understand the business you are working to protect. Many of the skills that make a professional technical writer successful are directly transferable to business continuity roles.

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