• United States
Managing Editor, Network World Fusion

Back-up planning

Mar 25, 20033 mins
Data Center

* If key people are out for the day, or month, or forever, are you covered?

You know that to-do list you have, the one in the junk drawer or hanging on the refrigerator or stuck in that seldom-used pocket of your briefcase? Yeah, that one. It’s that piece of crumpled paper that lists things like “Tape down hallway rug,” “Organize power tools” and “Scrapbook Joey’s 1st birthday photos,” and Joey is 13.

It features what organizer companies call “long-term goals,” which in my case is code for “Things I need to do but never get around to.” But then you end up slipping on that hallway run or misplacing your power drill, and you’re bummed you didn’t heed that to-do list.

If you’re like me, you have the above to-do list, as well as the workplace version that, if not attended to, can cause you considerably more grief than a lost screwdriver. One of the items I’m always trying to stay on top of (and have varying degrees of success with) is back-up planning. Specifically, ensuring that for every employee there is at least one other person who can do his or her job with little chaos. Just like you need to avoid a single point of failure in a network, you also need to ensure redundancy in your staff and their abilities.

Sure, pretty much anyone can manage to cover for a person for one day. But what if the person, God forbid, was out on short-term disability, or up and quits? If that staffer is responsible for a key piece of your department’s productivity, you’re in deep. Plus, you don’t look too hot when you have to admit, “Well, no one really knows how to do her job.”

How do we avoid such problems? Pretty simple, actually.

* Have each employee write out – in excruciating detail – how to cover for him or her. Make sure he or she breaks down their job functions according to each day of the week, if applicable, so it’s even easier. This “coverage list” should detail everything: tasks, deadlines, how-tos, contacts in other departments, you name it. Avoid any statements like, “Update project timetable on the network.” Instead press for “Update project timetable at /projects/upgradeIS/2003 on the J drive.

* Review these coverage sheets with each employee to make sure nothing was left out. If they stall on writing it out (because it can be tedious) make it one of their goals for their next review or bonus.

* Ensure these how-tos are stored on the network. Instructions aren’t any good if they’re on the sick employee’s laptop at home.

* Make sure the lists are updated frequently to cover any changes in procedures, equipment, duties or staff. Once a quarter should work.

* Take them on dry runs. Have Employee A cover for B, using the instructions, when B is in the office.