When planning your tabletop exercise, consider asking these 5 questions:
1. Why are we conducting this exercise?
Is this a request from senior management or has it come down from the board? Is it a new internal or externally regulated requirement? Whatever the purpose, you should try to clearly define the reason you’re about to conduct the exercise. This will help you define the exercise objectives and the overall direction.
2. Who will be participating in the exercise?
This may sound obvious but I have seen this be a problem many times. Once you’ve defined your objectives, you will have a better understanding of what lines of business and business functions will be represented in the exercise. For instance, there’s no point inviting the communications team to an operationally focused tabletop exercise.
3. Where and When?
This would also seem like a fairly easy decision to make, however, choosing the right environment and date/time is essential to ensuring maximum participation and engagement. Some organizations like to get away from the office due to the many distractions, others like to utilize their internal tools and resources as part of the exercise and therefore keeping it within their own environment is important.
When you conduct the exercise also requires some forethought. Mondays and Fridays may not be the optimal days for your company. Have you thought about running one over a weekend or throughout an evening? These sometimes work well especially if your organization has 24/7 operations and your crisis team might be required to activate the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) in support of an operational or other significant event.
4. What will this cost?
Consider what the cost might be to set up your exercise. Detail how many days it is going to take you to develop exercise content and other related costs such as materials and any external labor. Will you be bringing someone else in to conduct the exercise or at least evaluate it? It’s often good to separate the delivery and evaluation team. If you do the session off-site, how much will it cost for a hotel training room, lunch, and other related costs?
5. Do I have support?
This should probably be one of the first questions you ask yourself. If you’ve been requested to put an exercise together, ensure that you have the support from upper management before you start your planning process. Once you have senior level support, you should then decide what other personnel would make ideal exercise design and delivery team members. You might be left to your own devices or you might be able to gather a few others to help design a creative and though-provoking exercise that everyone remembers.