Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2010/05/27

Policies and Procedures are boring…Until they are not

One of the things I do for clients is write policy and procedures. Thinking through  contingencies and writing very good policies and procedures is difficult and takes a balanced brain. To wit, a good consultant must have both a vivid imagination to see all of what can go wrong and an equally strong ability to perform calculations and include all of the details. It is neither a job for pure “thinkers” or pure “feelers.” Recently, details have emerged that poorly written safety policies and procedures caused considerable chaos in the minutes following the explosion on the  BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico:

“The vessel’s written safety procedures appear to have made it difficult to respond swiftly to a disaster that escalated at the speed of the events on April 20. For example, the guidelines require that a rig worker attempting to contain a gas emergency had to call two senior rig officials before deciding what to do. One of them was in the shower during the critical minutes, according to several crew members.

The written procedures required multiple people to jointly make decisions about how to respond to “dangerous” levels of gas—a term that wasn’t precisely defined—and some members of the crew were unclear about who had authority to initiate an emergency shutdown of the well.” (WSJ)

While much will change as a result of this accident–there is one lesson we can all learn: A disaster plan is only as good as its most ambiguous or poorly conceived step. After writing a disaster policy or procedure, get a room full of people to tear it to shreds. Assign people to play devil’s advocates, slackers, cheaters, and hot-heads. If your disaster policies and procedures can survive this, publish it. When it comes to disaster planning: hope for Heaven, but prepare for Hell.

* Photograph accompanied original WSJ story. Associated Press.


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