Single Point of Failure

Single Point Of Failure

Last Summer, pre-pandemic of course, my partner and I were enjoying a refreshment at a lovely little bar and restaurant in Hope, Idaho. The restaurant sits right on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille, the 5th deepest lake in the US. The establishment enjoys a very busy tourist season from May through September, and is usually packed every evening and weekend, when the weather is good. On this particular evening, the manager was standing behind the bar, staring at a computer screen, talking on the phone, and obviously stressed. The bartender was doing her best to fill drink orders but was slowed down by having to get clarification from servers to interpret their handwritten scribbles. The servers were rushing to handwrite food and drink orders, but realized too late they would have to write separate tickets: one for food, another for drinks, and somehow figure out a process to put those two tickets back together in order to provide a total check for each table. The kitchen staff was standing around, waiting for direction on food orders. It was chaos. Several customers who had been waiting for tables started leaving, off to venture down the road to another restaurant, further along the shore, where hopefully their computer system was working.

Single Point Of Failure The definition of “single point of failure” is an element or part of a system for which no backup (redundancy) exists and the failure of which will disable the entire system. Pretty serious stuff. It is most often referenced in the industries of computers, engineering, life support systems, manufacturing, and transportation; but it can be an issue with just about any business, including hospitality and retail. In my example above, it was clear the owners and management had no back-up plan for a point-of-sale system failure, yet power outages and poor internet connections are common occurrences in this area.

While having a back-up process is very important for your business’ technology systems such as point-of-sale, credit card processing, etc., having a back-up plan for all critical areas of your business is also a must-have.

When any business is small, or in start-up mode, the leaders must fill multiple roles and do everything from buying, merchandising, creative, advertising, human resources, hiring, staffing, securing licenses and permits, customer service, and everything else. It is rare for any small business to be able to outsource the parts they do not enjoy doing themselves, and/or the parts at which they are not very skilled. A common mistake many business owners and manager make is falling into the habit of just doing most things themselves. Even when they start bringing on employees, it is common to continue doing the more complicated tasks themselves rather than taking the time to train the new employees in certain areas of the business. This misstep creates a serious single-point-of-failure.

What if you had a medical emergency? What if your parents, child, or spouse needed you to care for them, indefinitely? What if you were on a cruise vacation and got quarantined, for a month?! (Just had to add that one in, as implausible as that would have seemed a few months ago!) Taking the time now to figure out back-up processes, before you experience a critical breaking point, is a very smart thing to do. The continuity of your business, and cash flow, depend on it. So where do you start?

“What If” Begin by making a list of “what ifs”. What if we have a power failure? What if the internet connection goes down? What if a pipe bursts; do I know where the main water shut-off is? What if our credit card processor goes down; how can we continue to accept credit cards? What if the city decides to tear up and repave the road in front our business? What if I became incapacitated and cannot come in to work?

Prioritize Organize your list of “what ifs” into categories. Some qualifiers to consider on each “what if” are:

  • Is this a short-term issue or long-term?
  • If this happened would we have an urgent situation or is it more of an annoyance?

Spend your time first on the “what ifs” that would cause your business the greatest harm. Brainstorm with your team on what could be done in each situation. What needs to be done now so you are ready in case that event happened? Do not be distracted by the small, annoying “what ifs”. It is the challenging, big issues that cause your business the most harm that need your attention first, no matter how remote of an occurrence they may seem to be. The first half of 2020 has taught us that building business continuity plans for unthinkable disasters is a very smart thing to do.

The Fix The next step is to put together your “crash kit” for each of the “what ifs”. Now you may think this example I am about to share for a power outage may under the category of minor annoyance, but if you have a business that has to shut down operations when the power goes out because you do not have a back-up plan, then a power outage is indeed much more than a minor annoyance.

An example of a “crash kit” for a power outage might include a container with flashlights, manual order forms with pressure sensitive copies, battery operated calculators, pens, stapler, candles and lighters, etc. Also included might be a bullet point list of action steps to take and who is responsible for each step. Then, if a power outage occurs, the manager-on-duty grabs the tub and starts implementing the action steps; assigning duties and distributing the tools necessary to help everyone stay safe and continue operations, though in a modified way.

Obviously, some of your “what ifs” will require much more thought and preparation than the back-up plan for a power outage requires.

Cross Training As a business owner or manager, you probably got to your position because you are very good at what you do. But no one has become successful completely on their own. Entrusting your team to handle parts of the business is a best practice that gives your employees a feeling of responsibility and allows you to focus more of your time and energy on bigger, more strategic tasks. Having multiple people who have the knowledge and skills to do multiple roles within the business is an excellent part of any back-up plan.

We are certainly experiencing unprecedented times right now. Nothing like a global pandemic to challenge businesses as never before. This experience has caused many business owners and managers to find new and inventive ways of continuing to operate. Hopefully, this has also taught us the valuable lesson that we must take the time to plan and prepare, before the unthinkable occurs.

Look for those single points of failure in your business and take time to figure out how to build in redundancy and back-up plans. Today.

Retail Level Up provides coaching, training, and consulting services to individuals and teams. Visit to learn more and to schedule a free consultation.

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