Maintaining a runbook with routine operations and procedures is helpful for IT admins and operators to troubleshoot and manage systems.
Your server might crash or go down anytime, leaving you helpless and obstructing your business processes.
This situation is common, and the reason could be the lack of automation and required skills within the team.
If you face this situation frequently, an effective and detailed runbook can come in handy for you and help you avert any disruption in your business.
IT professionals like operators and admins can create a runbook that serves as a guide with detailed instructions.
Having a runbook by your side will help you solve urgent and common issues as well as repetitive tasks. It will also help avoid any inconvenience to the customers.
In this article, I’ll discuss what exactly a runbook is, why you need it, and how to create one.
What Is a Runbook?
A runbook is a step-by-step documented procedure or reference that is designed by IT professionals to perform various repetitive, routine tasks and fix common issues. It is an actionable guide that IT administrators, NOCs, and operators follow and utilize to encounter issues and automate tasks to enable efficient operations.
Runbooks are beneficial for everyone in the IT team, whether experienced or new, as it provides detailed instructions for various tasks and allow you to solve them quickly. You can learn from it and follow the steps to accurately solve any sudden issues that may come.
Furthermore, runbooks are available in both physical book form and electronic documents and stored in IT professionals’ systems. Thus, if you encounter a server breakdown or the website’s SSL certificate needs to be renewed, anyone in the IT team can follow the guidebook and perform the needed tasks.
During emergencies, a runbook can help a team quickly address the issue rather than waiting for the lead engineers to solve it. It is highly effective and accurate since it’s based on previous experiences.
Runbook allows senior members of the team to share their knowledge and experience on various tasks with junior members. It enables the juniors to easily solve common issues without having to ask them again and again for the same issues.
Benefits of Using a Runbook
Runbook is used in many organizations as it offers many benefits to users and the whole team. Some of its benefits are as follows:
Easier to Follow
Having a runbook for your daily repetitive task and frequent issues is highly beneficial as it’s pretty easier to follow for solving issues and performing repetitive tasks. They also come in handy for daily business tasks like service requests, server patch updates, and routine updates.
Since it documents all the processes step by step, it helps everyone in the team perform the tasks even when they are the least experienced.
Improved IT Maintenance
When you utilize a runbook for your IT team, it smoothens a lot of daily repetitive tasks like system updates, certificate upgradation, server maintenance, and many more. Several IT tasks are too labor-intensive and take a lot of time to perform manually.
However, a runbook automates a lot of complex tasks carried out on a daily basis without requiring any dedicated assistance. A runbook, when appropriately integrated into the business operation, improves IT maintenance by a large margin.
Lowers IT Incident Management Cost
IT incident management is a headache for many organizations because it slows your business and causes disruption to your customer experience. There are occasions when you face numerous complex IT problems, and your business can come to a halt abruptly.
You will then have to take assistance from highly-trained IT professionals to solve the problem. However, when you have a properly documented runbook, your team will be able to solve the issue without much hassle. Importantly, if specific IT incidents are automated or semi-automated, then your non-technical team can solve the issue faster.
Improved Overall Revenue
Runbooks have helped many organizations increase their revenue and save costs. The reason is when you have a smooth business functioning, it will enhance your customer service, provide you with you a better return, and increase your company’s revenue.
Enhanced Customer Satisfaction
The IT department of your organization is the one that deals with numerous service requests on a day-to-day basis. Whether it is your team members or customers, everyone depends on the IT department.
But it becomes time-consuming and hectic to solve all the issues manually. So, if you maintain a runbook with all the written tasks and instructions to be followed for solving an issue while leveraging the power of automation, you can troubleshoot issues faster and provide quick help. This would ultimately help enhance customer satisfaction.
Improved Employee Productivity
By employing a runbook, your IT team can automate a lot of service requests. This will help increase their productivity in completing tasks and resolving issues. Meanwhile, it also helps reduce the waiting time of customers.
Types of Runbooks
Runbooks are of two types – one is a general runbook, and the other one is a specialized runbook. A specialty of both types is that they can either be manual, automated, or semi-automated.
#1. General Runbook
In general, runbooks are designed to cater to day-to-day IT tasks, and these tasks are usually repetitive tasks. This type of runbook is highly useful for the organization because it focuses on everyday tasks like responding to low-level IT tickets, monitoring performance, doing daily backups, auditing logs, etc.
When the daily IT activities are documented, it helps new and inexperienced employees perform them with ease and maintain a smooth flow.
#2. Specialized Runbook
On the other hand, a specialized runbook focuses on complex IT activities and service requests. Basically, it is suitable for unplanned events like security breaches, power outages, damage control, system failure, or a network halt.
Specialized runbooks help you and your IT team to deal with such situations and reduce disruption in the business.
When Should You Use a Runbook?
A runbook can be helpful in many situations, such as:
When solving complex IT problems or handling customer service requests, runbooks are extremely useful for various incident management events.
When a certain incident gets documented, it helps other members to get to know how they can solve the problem. And if that problem appears again, then your IT team can use the runbook and solve the problem by themselves without requiring the assistance of the experts.
From running daily backups and addressing low-level tickets to regular server maintenance and updating account access, runbooks can be used on many occasions.
For such daily tasks, you can create a semi-automated and fully-automated runbook and streamline daily operations. These runbooks should be updated at regular intervals so that it is usable for future tasks and carries up-to-date information.
Elements of a Runbook
A runbook can only be usable and practical when it carries all the essential elements, including:
Actionable: A runbook should be easy to understand so that everyone in the team, whether experienced or new, can understand them easily. The inclusion of tricky steps, miscellaneous details, or complex terms should be avoided.
Accurate: An accurate runbook will help the end user obtain the outcome they desire. All the latest and error information should be utilized during creation as it will ensure an accurate incident response. When you create a runbook, it needs to be tested under various circumstances and sample data to achieve maximum accuracy.
Accessible: Runbooks are an essential part of operation management, so it needs to be readily accessible to everyone on the team. Not only should it be stored in multiple servers, but it also should be placed in a searchable directory. During runbook creation, you should include metadata for each document so that you can quickly locate any specific incident.
Adaptability: Adaptability is a critical element of runbooks because the IT ecosystem is constantly evolving, and many factors change from time to time. You must create a runbook in such a way that you can make changes whenever there is a requirement.
Authoritative: Every incident or IT process should carry only one runbook, not more than that. But if you create more than one runbook for a specific task, it leads to confusion and creates redundancy. Once you create a runbook, you should also create a feedback channel so that any user can inform you about any error or redundancy.
How to Create a Runbook
Now, let’s check out how you can create a runbook for your organization step by step:
#1. Planning and Task Identification
The first thing you will have to do for creating a runbook is to make a plan, as you will have to create the base for your runbook.
During the planning stage, you need to consider the common incident or tickets your IT team faces, and you can get them by going through the incident reports. You should properly check all the recurring tasks and standard tickets and find out the segments in your infrastructure where you can implement the runbook.
After you have identified the areas where the runbook can be established, then you will have to document the optimal process and solution for the task or issue. You should check the incident reports and ticket solution history and document the solutions that are most effective.
Before documenting the solution, you should also consult with the experts, as they will also provide you with all the vital input regarding various tasks. You should consider documenting the best solution during the planning because it will then fasten up the process.
#2. Writing the Runbook
Once you have chalked out the plan, it is time to start the process of writing the runbook. While creating the runbooks, you should keep certain factors in your mind which will ensure a highly effective and accurate runbook is created. Here’s how to do it:
The runbook should be unique and consistent for all the tasks and issues.
The structure should be the same throughout the applications; otherwise, it may cause discrepancies.
Use straightforward language so that everyone can understand the steps.
The documentation should be simple and concise. You should avoid using unnecessary details.
You should document the solution in such a way that it is adaptable to changes.
Besides, you should also make sure that you have all the important sections included in your runbook, as it will ensure proper documentation. These sections are:
Overview of the service
Information regarding service
All the necessary details and steps to launch the software
All the guidance for commencing the regular activities
A detailed overview regarding the tickets and alerts that are often triggered and instructions to follow when they arise
Plans for recovering from disasters
Service level acceptance
You should adequately review each section of the runbook to make sure they are arranged properly. Moreover, you should make sure that your runbook should have all the core data fields like task name, details, description, owner, status, etc.
#3. Testing and Improvement
When you have properly documented and structured your runbook, it is time to test them and make all the changes accordingly. You should constantly test them and update details accordingly to make sure it offers the optimal result.
You should also test them by changing the system, as it will give you an idea of whether your runbook can be adaptable and flexible with changes in IT operation. Depending upon tasks and your requirement, you can also fully automate or semi-automate them and save time on management.
Runbooks vs. Playbooks
Runbooks and playbooks are two crucial aspects of a business, but people often confuse them due to the similarity in their terms.
A playbook mainly deals with more significant events and issues of your business, and it helps in creating predetermined solutions to address such large issues. From standard operating procedures and structured responses to critical workflows and brand value, a playbook covers a lot of important tasks and activities.
Whereas a runbook is a part of the workflows and procedures, and it outlines small tasks and issues. A runbook is basically a small part of the more extensive ecosystem of the playbook, and it is always a part of it. However, it is not necessarily that a playbook would always include a runbook in its structure.
A runbook is limited to IT operations, and it can’t be utilized in any field. However, a playbook isn’t limited to IT operations, it is also utilized by other operators of an organization which includes sales, remote work, engineering, design, HR, and many others.
Playbooks are used for a vast range of activities, whereas runbooks are only limited to handling activities within the IT team of a business.
Runbooks are useful for many businesses as they help an organization’s IT teams resolve issues and automate routine tasks, and that too without needing a senior member’s involvement. They are easy to create, and once a specific incident is documented, any member can easily follow it and solve them faster.
However, to make it effective, you should feed it with the correct instructions and details; otherwise, it would lead to a discrepancy. With automation, runbooks have become more effective and efficient, avoiding repetitive tasks.