Brexit II - Just When You Thought You Were Safe!

Posted on 28 June

As both potential Prime Ministers have shown support for a no-deal Brexit, Charlie looks at decision points and synchro matrices as useful tools for planning for a possible no-deal Brexit.


This week the papers are full of articles about the two wannabe Prime Ministers slogging it out in the media and delivering their pitches to Conservative Members. The story changes slightly as they go along, but both have said they would support a no-deal Brexit, to get us out of the European Union by 31st October 2019. With the appointment of a new Prime Minister a month away, plus the summer recess, there is only a very limited time for them to negotiate a new deal with the EU. As we know, May’s deal was rejected three times and the EU have said that there is not going to be any changes to their deal, which all seems to point to a greater chance of a no-deal Brexit on the 31st. In preparing for the last potential no-deal Brexit in March, many organisations put in place lots of arrangements, only to find the date put back. I suspect any planning they did for the Brexit of March might only last for some time. So, the question for us in the business continuity industry is; should we start again and champion further business continuity preparation for a possible no-deal Brexit?

Whilst considering this issue, I cast my mind back to my Army staff office training and wondered if there was anything I learned which might help. There were two tools we used when we planned large and complex operations and I thought these might be useful for those thinking about Brexit.

The first of the two tools is decision points. When planning an operation, you want to try and keep maximum flexibility in your plan, so if the unexpected happens you have the ability to change courses or conduct your operation in a different way. Although you want flexibility, built into the plan are times at which you need to make a decision. As the operations unfold and you come close to a decision point, you could weigh up the pros and cons of the decision, decide on the best course of action and then make the decision. In the same way, we need to understand our exposure to Brexit, which we should have already done, and then, taking 31st October as our end date, look at when we need to make decisions and what the latest possible time we can make those decisions is. Stockpiling additional items, shutting down a factory over the Brexit period or not shipping out products for fear of it getting caught in Brexit port traffic or customs chaos, all cost our organisations money, so we don’t really want to put these measures in place unless we really have to. So, you need to go away and think about when your organisation’s Brexit decision points are.

The second tool we used was a synchro matrix. Again, when you have complex operations you need to make sure all the different parts fit together. A unit cannot cross a river until the engineers have built a bridge and you cannot start an attack until a unit has secured the area you are going to start the attack from. The way this was often done was on a board, with each unit having their own line of activity, with the time along the top. As each unit’s activity was written down with the provisional time, the staff planners could check that all the operations worked together and then adjust the timings to make sure all operations could be carried out in the right order. When you are planning for Brexit, you need to think through what actions your organisation needs to carry out for a no-deal Brexit. Once you have done that, prepare a project plan or a military synchro matrix to make sure the planning is done in an appropriate order. Combine this with your decision points and you should have a good plan in place for dealing with a no-deal Brexit.

Brexit planning is difficult, as there is still a lot of debate on what the impact of a no-deal Brexit would look like and it is hard to plan for something we are not sure what it looks like. However, it is our job as business continuity people to advise our organisation to make sure that they are putting appropriate mitigation measures in place.