“Hit by a bus syndrome” refers to the fact that it is possible, anytime, any day, that a certain resource may not be able to fulfill their role within their company whether it’s temporary or permanent. In other words, your team member might get hit by a bus during lunch while getting food.
It’s a figure of speech obviously, but we can use other more probable examples such as an employee leaving the company (permanent) or a team member getting injured and must take a 2 week leave (temporary).
The idea here is to have a backup plan if something like this happens and prevent more trouble when that particular event occurs.
Backup plan for team members
A great exercise is to simulate what would happen if each team member would suddenly be unavailable. You can try it: list all your team members, and one-by-one, list negative effects that would have on projects or even on the company.
Depending of each person’s role, the impact might be larger, and if your time is limited or the team is large, you may want to concentrate on those resources for now, but it’s better to do it for everyone.
Now that you see the impact, you identify what would need to “fix” this. That way, you can easily identify what could be done right away to make sure you are ready.
For example: If your senior programmer is suddenly unavailable, two major projects would be delivered late and will cause severe damage to the company’s reputation towards those important clients. The solutions might be: always have 2 team members amongst the team that can execute each task, or, have a list of outside resources (freelancers or agencies) your can contact to help you out. Meanwhile, you search for a new senior developer.
Either way, when the event occurs, you know exactly what to do, and do not waste precious time.
Backup plan for material
I doubt that a bus will destroy a whole building, but for example, let’s use a fire. It’s extreme, but it will give you a good idea of the importance of this way of thinking.
The whole building catches fire, the whole team evacuates, everyone is alright, but all the material is lost. What do you do? You have no idea? All backups are made internally so absolutely no data can be recovered?
You get the point.
Although less probable, events like these happen, and it’s a good idea to list the most probable of the bunch and have a backup plan or mitigation plan. For example, have backups made of all your company’s data outside the company’s building; other companies offer that service, and their monthly rate is far cheaper than having to rebuild everything.
Nobody wishes anything bad to anyone or anything, but these things happen, avoid assuming that it will never happen. Last tip: Do not overdo it (do not have a plan for the end of the world…), use your best judgement!
Also, note that this applies outside of work too.