Don’t Let an Emergency Throw Your Project Into Chaos

A minor disaster in my home town (water contamination) makes me think about the impact of disaster situations on software project teams. It’s frustrating to have a project derailed by events beyond your control.

Disasters happen to the best projects. It’s how the project team prepares and responds that matters. Unexpected emergencies sabotage teams and chew up precious time. Avoid them and you’ll sleep better at night.

There are several high-risk areas where a little planning can minimize the disruption caused by typical emergencies. You can’t prevent all failure scenarios but by being prepared, you can minimize the damage and speed up recovery efforts.

Hardware Failures

Even the best equipment fails from time to time. These failures often result from the two worst enemies of electronics, dirt and heat. Keep your electronic systems clean and cool.

Be ready to deal with the breakdowns by evaluating major systems and identifying those that are mission critical. Keep redundant equipment or spare parts on hand. If this isn’t practical, find a technical support service that can guarantee 2-4 hour response.

Be sure all systems are backed up regularly and test the restore process periodically.

Disgruntled or Mischievous Employees

We’d like to believe that all network intrusions and unauthorized information retrievals originate externally. Unfortunately, it’s been shown that many such activities originate on the inside. Angry or unhappy employees can cause serious problems by virtue of the inherent trust placed in them.

Reasonable precautions can stop or at least minimize errant behavior. Have clearly documented policies and procedures for using team resources and accessing information. Use security techniques such as passwords, encryption and internal firewalls to separate and protect sensitive information. Make sure doors to sensitive areas are locked at all times.

Software Vulnerabilities

Every software package is vulnerable, particularly if it accesses information over a network. While vendors may leave the door open, ultimately the burden of protecting your network lies with you.

It’s imperative to keep systems up to date with the latest vendor patches. Implement a policy for testing and deploying patches on a monthly basis. Many companies that suffer serious consequences from an attack simply failed to keep their systems updated. Don’t let this happen to you.

Natural and Artificial Disasters

If equipment is damaged by flood, fire, wind, temperature extremes, or any other cause that results in damage to the building, quickly restoring the hardware won’t be enough. In these cases, operations may have to be moved to another location. Employees may have to work from home.

This is where a business continuity plan comes in. This type of plan is essential to maintaining critical services after a catastrophic disaster. It also helps to have an IT asset database to make insurance filing and equipment replacement easier.

Be prepared

We hear about all the events discussed above on a daily basis. None can be completed avoided but the impact on your project teams can be minimized. Take some simple precautions.

No one likes to have their normal routine thrown into chaos and their project ruined.

Updated: September 27, 2011 — 10:34 pm


  1. Hi Vin,

    On point #2, “Disgruntled employees” I would like to say something.

    We once had recurring problems of a database disappearing on a server serving our project, we first thought that the database was being deleted by a badly written PHP script, we eventually realized that a team member used to go to phpMyAdmin and drop the database.

    Obviously, he was fired, but we then realized that we should never rule out team members as a destructive force in the project.

    1. Good point. It’s hard to believe that a trusted teammate would harm the team but it happens.

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