Business Continuity

December 23, 2008

In the movie business, continuity refers to the process of making sure that scenes shot out of sequence line up contextually in the finished movie.  The best example I can think of is in Ocean's Eleven, where Brad Pitt's character is talking to Matt Damon's character while eating a shrimp cocktail.  In the middle of the scene his cocktail switches from a plate to a goblet.   Whoever was in charge of continuity between the two or three takes that make up the final scene botched their job.

In business there are continuity plans, which are devoted to how the enterprise will continue in the face of some catastrophe, like a major storm, building fire, or other devastating event.  Unfortunately, these continuity plans rarely extend down to the individual employee level.  The team I am leaving does make good use of a "vacation plan" document, created by the person going on leave to provide guidance on projects and issues in their absence. 

We don't, however, have a good process for employee resignations.  And certainly no process for multiple resignations and vacations at the same time.

Our business is calendar year driven, so next Thursday is a big day.  Product revisions are going live, data changes are being made, and new customers are coming on board.  Consequently, the weeks leading up to January 1 are hectic, stressful, and not nearly long enough. 

The six-person team I am a part of had a resignation that saw one team member leave last week.  My resignation is effective next Wednesday.  Two additional team members are on vacation this week; and one of those has had to be hospitalized unexpectedly and may or may not return as planned on Friday.  We are normally shorthanded, so the loss of one person plus the holiday time off schedule has crippled us this week.

Normally when you resign the amount of work you are assigned undergoes a dramatic reduction.  You start handing off responsibilities to other people and begin transitioning out of the daily process so your departure isn't an abrupt halt.  Due to the circumstances described above, I am busier this week than I've been in two years here, with no time to think about transition, and no one present to transition to.

People outside of my immediate team are still unaware of my status, and the demands being placed on me through their ignorance are putting the continuity of this position's responsibilities at risk.  Indeed, a non-trivial portion of the new-for-2009 processing is at risk simply because I won't be available the day it goes to production.  Ideally a company would have a process for transitioning responsibilities away from a departing employee; one that didn't rely upon 100% commitment from someone who has published their intent to leave the company.  I'm willing to do the work, but their reliance upon my character and integrity ultimately hurts them, as the transition won't happen until after I leave.  

It's funny when you find a continuity gaff in a movie, it could be financially harmful to not ensure continuity when employees resign and move on to other pursuits.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.