How to Make an IT Disaster Recovery Plan


Data is more fragile than we think. It can be corrupted, hacked, stolen or accidentally deleted; it can be destroyed by power outages, water damage or earthquakes.

There’s so much that might go wrong that, if you don’t have an IT disaster recovery plan in place, the damage could be irreparable. Action must be taken immediately. That means you have to have an IT contingency plan figured out long before anything disastrous happens.

We sometimes can stop disasters from happening, but we can certainly plan for recovery. Just like any project plan, an IT disaster recovery plan is made up of pieces.

What Is an IT Disaster Recovery Plan?

An IT disaster recovery plan is exactly what it sounds like—a plan to respond when something dire happens to your IT system. It is made up of policies and procedures and notes the tools necessary to enact the plan and save or recover the technology infrastructure, systems and data of your IT program.

When formulating disaster recovery, it is assumed that the main area where your IT is located is not salvageable, at least not immediately; therefore, the plan speaks to the process of restoring data and services to another IT site that is workable. The site of the original incident is not of primary concern.

Organizations are encouraged to have a holistic pre-disaster plan as it saves money in the long run. It is believed that for every dollar spent beforehand you save four times as much if responding after the event. So consider planning tools and additionally fail-safe investments.

Why Is an IT Contingency Plan Important?

As we move deeper into a digital world, the need for IT systems has become more pronounced. Just over the last few decades, there’s been a huge migration from analog to digital. The advantages have been detailed, but the risks are not always self-evident as people uncritically embrace the new.

We put a lot of faith into our technology, but the truth is that our tech is not infallible. They break and fail all the time. The more we place our well-being, and that of our businesses, on their backs without safeguards, the more we’re asking for trouble.

There is almost a religious zeal when talking about technology and how it’s the cure to all our ails. If only we could remove the human component, machines would usher us into a new age. This magical thinking is dangerous. It romanticizes technology and denies the fact that machines and software are not perfect. They make mistakes, so we have to have a contingency plan.

Business Consequences

While we can control our corporate attitude towards the technology that helps us do our business, the minds of our customers are not as malleable. They expect products and services to be perfect. They don’t want to see how the sausage is made. Therefore, knowing technology can crash, companies need to have an IT disaster plan to keep delivery to their customer base uninterrupted.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart
IT plans are best made with online Gantt charts. Learn more

This again speaks to the bottom line. If a technological issue occurs, it’s likely to result in the loss of some customers. That might not seem too high a price to pay, but retaining customers is not so easy, and rebuilding trust is an uphill battle. Therefore, an IT contingency plan will protect you from having the damage bleed out to customers.

Outside of your customers, losing your data impacts the productivity of your employees. The instability resulting from an IT disaster has ramifications beyond hardware and software. It leads to lost revenue and a damaged reputation on top of the loss of data.

How to Make an IT Disaster Recovery Plan

When creating the plan, take these things into consideration.

  • Have emergency contacts for staff and external contacts, including developing a notification network to reach out effectively.
  • Try and figure out what the scope of the recovery will be.
  • Get a disaster recovery team and note each member’s responsibilities. This will include having a team leader and a management team responsible for the process.
  • Enable the recovery and continuation of critical technology, infrastructure and systems.
  • Focus on the information and/or technology systems supporting critical business continuity.
  • Keep all essential business aspects functioning despite significant disruptive events.
  • It’s considered a subset of business continuity.

IT Disaster Recovery Plan Outline

To create an IT disaster recovery plan, whether it’s invoked following a natural disaster (such as a hurricane, tornado, fire, flood, etc.) or a man-made one (such as errors, breaches, sabotage, etc.), follow this outline.

  • Inventory: Know your IT, from systems, hardware to software. List all your inventory and define which parts are vulnerable to what kinds of mishaps.
  • Recovery Timeline: Note what is an acceptable amount of time to recover your listed inventory and get back into operation.
  • Get Buy-In: First, you have to get approval from stakeholders, then everyone in the organization must know the plan and how it will be enacted.
  • Backup Data: To avoid disaster or at least the scope of damage when disaster hits, set up backups, such as external drives or to the cloud.
  • Physical Damage: Backing up saves your data, but don’t forget about your hardware. Have a backup generator for power outages, for example.
  • Human Error: People can intentionally or unintentionally cause damage to your IT system, so thoroughly work out who has access to what.
  • Insurance: The best-laid plans…as they say. Insurance can be a life-saver. It’s an upfront cost from which there might never be a return, but it could save the business.
  • Test: Once you have a plan, test it regularly to avoid surprises when a real disaster hits.

Free Templates That Can Help with IT Contingency Planning

Building an IT disaster recovery plan is a big endeavor. There’s a lot to take into account and track. To help you get a foothold, ProjectManager has dozens of free project management templates, including some that are designed for just this purpose.

IT Risk Assessment Template

Knowing what might happen will inform your plan when responding to IT damage. If you can identify risk to your IT, and then you can preemptively plan and assign a team member to lead the initiative. The free IT risk assessment template collects all the data you’ll need to note how the risk can impact your IT and how to potentially control it.

Issue Tracking Template

Trouble usually doesn’t come alone. As you’re working through recovering data and repairing damaged hardware, you’ll need a structure to track the identification and resolution of these issues. The free issue tracking template gives you a space to describe the issue and what its impact is. Then you can set the priority, date it and assign a team member to own the issue and manage its resolution.

Lessons Learned Template

Because an IT disaster recovery plan is a living document, you want to revisit it and revise it with some regularity. That is often after testing has uncovered some issues you hadn’t thought of or in the aftermath of a real disaster. Either way, our free lessons learned template is a great tool to gather up what you’ve discovered. Be sure to bring your whole team into the proceedings. The more perspectives, the more insights.

How ProjectManager Can Help with an IT Disaster Recovery Plan

Templates are great, but they are limited. They’re just documents and lack the dynamism you need to plan your IT disaster recovery. ProjectManager is an award-winning project management tool that helps you to organize your plan and recovery.

Robust Security

Rather than respond to a problem, you’d prefer to avoid them. We have security features that restrict who can do what when they’re in the software. You can assign only who you want with administrative duties. Others can be onboarded, but only have defined privileges.

ProjectManager's security settings

Timelines & Schedules

Building a plan requires organizing tasks over a timeline. It can get complicated. But we make scheduling your plan simple with an online Gantt chart that lists every task in your plan and sets the duration for each, so they can then populate a project timeline. If you have tasks that can’t start or end until another starts or ends, just link the task dependencies to avoid bottlenecks later on.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart

Live Tracking

Monitoring your plan as it’s executed to make sure that your IT is recovered and your systems are back on as quickly as possible, is how you keep on track. Our real-time dashboard monitors your recovery plan automatically and creates graphs and charts to keep you updated on task status, variance and much more.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

ProjectManager is a cloud-based tool that helps you build plans to recover IT and monitor the process in real-time. Our features help you control every phase in your IT contingency plan. See why over 10,000 teams use our software to stay ahead of problems by taking this free 30-day trial.

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