You need to know how to create a runbook if you’re an IT professional who consistently undertakes specific tasks such as installation and configuration of software, checking firewall logs or backups, or training new employees. Although creating it may be as dull as it sounds since it requires a lot of time and monotonous work, a runbook can make your life and the life of your co-workers much easier. Especially if you know how to create a runbook that rocks – one which saves you tons of time and effort and helps you get through the complex routine procedures without any fuss. Moreover, we will share a secret on how to create a runbook automatically – in a breeze. Sounds intriguing and much less boring, doesn’t it?
You likely carry out some tasks every few months and have to deliver them to your teammates. Do you know how to complete them without mistakes every single time? Or do you have to go through a trial-and-error process at every attempt? Do you always have to explain to your coworkers how to do this or that? Do new employees come to you again and again as they do not have an effective way of learning on their own?
If you’ve been asking yourself these kinds of questions for a while, then you need to create an easy-to-follow runbook. Rest assured, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, you’ll learn how to create a runbook that rocks in a pinch, who needs it and why, and what tool will help you to do it automatically, hence ten times faster!
What Is a Runbook?
A runbook is basically a guide that allows you to execute an appropriate set of actions to react to a particular external or internal issue. It is an extensive set of documents, procedures, and instructions which help IT professionals perform daily tasks and troubleshoot problems. In general, a runbook contains instructions that help system administrators and other IT operators start, stop, run, and monitor their system. This includes procedures for handling common recurring tasks, contingencies, and troubleshooting problems.
Why are runbooks important? Because they provide your employees with process documentation that supports their daily tasks, and the health of IT infrastructure within the organization, which frequently relies on the knowledge of its employees. The goal of using runbooks is to allow IT operators to run and maintain computer systems effectively. In case of disasters and system breakdowns, consulting a runbook can help decrease downtime as it gives employees detailed procedural information on what to do in such situations. Also, a runbook can help you train employees and delegate tasks. This can help you save time and increase productivity.
How to Create a Runbook?
In short, you should take the following steps to create a runbook:
- Plan the process you need to describe from beginning to end.
- Plan the brief content of your runbook, make sure you don’t forget anything.
- Write a runbook: include enough detail, make use of visuals.
- Improve and edit your runbook to make it easy to understand.
- Go through the procedure described in the runbook and make amendments again if needed.
Now, let’s discuss these steps more thoroughly. Before creating the runbook, you need to spend some time on planning steps 1 and 2. During the planning stage, think of the processes that you undertake on a regular basis. For example, disaster recovery and data backup are some common tasks that are regularly needed. Make sure you know where the procedure starts and when it’s completed successfully.
When writing the runbook, keep in mind that it needs to provide a comprehensive and easy-to-follow guide. Write clearly and concisely. You will need to include sufficient detail and make sure the instructions have a logical flow. Remember that, later on, new employees will refer to the runbook during onboarding and training. This means you should avoid using abbreviations and jargon.
Take advantage of visual materials such as screenshots, a short video tutorial, or a GIF file, visuals make instructions easier to understand and reproduce. To get a realistic procedure that includes step-by-step instructions, it’s best to actually do the task. As you go through the process, take screenshots and record everything you do. You can either do it manually, or automatically with StepShot Guides. This tool automatically captures screenshots of each your steps as you click the mouse and also records all your keyboard and mouse clicks as step descriptions. Using OCR, you can also recognize any text on your screenshot to insert it to your guide. So, you basically do not have to do this all manually – StepShot Guides automates the process and you just can go directly to step 4 after finishing the procedure to edit and improve your guide. At this stage, StepShot Guides can also help you with its custom Word and PDF templates, corporate branding, and export to various formats.
After you complete the runbook, you will need to work on improving it. The best way to do this is to let someone else do the procedure. This will give you an idea of how clear and comprehensive your instructions really are. Allow an employee to go through the process following the created runbook and see if he/she understands everything and completes the task successfully. If there are any steps that are unclear or any unresolved issues, make sure to optimize the guide.
What to Include in a Runbook?
The essential parts of any runbook include an overview with an explanation of the process and the reason it exists, and instructions on the software that provides service information on where you can download it. The next critical part is instructions on how to deploy the software and build a server from scratch. Then there are detailed instructions that will guide the user through every step of common procedures and problems. A runbook should also include a list of every possible alert for a particular service, along with instructions on what to do in such situations. The final two components every runbook should contain are Disaster Recovery Plans and a Service Level Agreement. An example of a good runbook will include screenshots, diagrams, graphs, and/or tables. Similarly, the roles of those who are responsible for particular procedures should be stipulated. Along with written instructions, all of these will guide the user through a procedure step by step.
On the other hand, a bad runbook would include too detailed or obvious instructions, such as telling someone to turn on the PC. A bad runbook would also lack steps which seem obvious for its creator but unclear for new employees. The lack of visuals, warnings, and inconsistent formatting would also make a runbook less user-friendly.
When to Create a Runbook?
Since you are already reading this post, chances are you already know the answer to this question – it’s now. In case you are not sure, here are a few telltale signs you should learn how to create a runbook:
- You constantly need to repeat instructions to your coworkers.
- You have completed a task once in months and have trouble remembering the procedure for the next time.
- You aren’t as productive as you could be.
- You waste time repeating the same mistakes in routine procedures.
- New employees in your company need extensive instructions for completing tasks.
- You have plenty of recurring tasks.
- You would do your tasks more effectively if you had documentation you could refer to.
- You need to delegate tasks.
- You need a contingency plan in case of emergencies.
- You need an effective way to onboard or train employees.
Types of Runbook
Now that you know what a runbook is, when and how to create one, it is time to learn about the different types of runbook. Depending on their purpose, there are a few different types of runbook you can create and use. Here is a brief overview of the most common ones:
Reaction to Monitoring Event
When you are engaged in monitoring activities, there are certain tasks you can do. For example, when you use the Monitor Event Log activity, you can invoke a runbook in which new events matching a predefined filter show up in the Event Log. As a reaction to the event that you are monitoring, you can use runbooks to investigate or correct certain issues.
Disaster Recovery Process
The most common disasters that affect IT systems include power outages, hardware failures, and network failures. In the event of a disaster, the runbook will provide you and your coworkers with the necessary procedure to handle the recovery and restore your system. It will provide a plan of action to recover your IT system as well as a list of critical components. The documentation that needs to be prepared includes the immediate action that needs to be taken after a disaster, responsibilities of certain individuals, description of the configuration of the recovery system, and the recovery procedure itself.
New System Setup (Deployment)
The deployment runbook includes the steps necessary to apply the deployable package to the chosen environment. In this runbook, there can be both automatically and manually-fulfilled tasks. This type of runbook will typically include the installation requirements, setup instructions, and configuration options.
Basic Everyday Routine Process Checks
A system administrator certainly has various daily tasks which include process checks. This type of runbook can help you make sure you have documented all processes while conducting assessments and reviews of the software and equipment. Your daily tasks checklist might include, for example, reviewing audit logs, performing daily backups, monitoring system performance and conducting other checks.
Power of a Script: A Runbook Isn’t Needed Anymore?
While we are stating that runbooks play a crucial role in the IT infrastructure, many of us, including Jeff Goldschrafe, have reasonable doubts. We understand that routine monotonous tasks which require simple following certain steps like pushing a button can be completed with the help of modern technology instead of IT professionals. The latter has a lot of more important and creative tasks to work on while some repetitive tasks can be performed by a script for a program. So, why would you want to learn how to create a runbook?
Firstly, there are still many issues a script cannot solve. On the one hand, a runbook guides, coordinates, and assigns responsibilities to employees in emergencies to help them solve the problem as soon as possible. On the other hand, there is process automation of which is either impossible, too complicated, or too time-consuming, as it can take weeks or months. In this case, it’s favorably to deliver such tasks to a human being rather than a program. Secondly, any script can fail and the help of IT staff is still needed to complete the task and resolve the issues according to a runbook. The last situation, in which a runbook is still needed, is a combination of automated and manual accomplishment in which the runbook for an employee includes instructions about when to assist the program.
By no means are we diminishing the power of script, but even to write a good, maintainable script, you need to first understand the requirements for the script, and this is when runbooks come in handy. They can help you maintain clarity and logical workflow.
Tips & Tricks: How to Create a Runbook that Rocks
If you think that creating a runbook is a daunting task, don’t fret. In one of our previous posts, we gathered and presented four useful recommendations that will make it easier for you to create a runbook. Now, we’d like to complement this list with the following tips and tricks:
– Keep it simple yet sufficient
Including as much helpful detail as possible will help users execute the task proficiently. Still, you will need to determine which information is required and avoid details that are unnecessary. Most importantly, the runbook needs to be comprehensive so that the readers won’t need to ask you or others for additional information.
– Make it visual
One of the trump cards of any runbook will be the visuals, especially screenshots demonstrating the whole procedure step-by-step. StepShot Guides can help you automatically capture the procedure and insert the images into your guide to save your time.
– Invest effort & save time
Depending on how extensive your runbook is, you will need to invest an ample amount of effort in its creation. You shouldn’t take this task lightly – work on documenting procedures regularly and consistently. However, using StepShot Guides will save you up to 90% of the time you invest in creating a comprehensive runbook – do it automatically.
– Consider your audience
Chances are you won’t be the only one who will use the runbook you create. Your co-workers, and especially new employees, will surely refer to it at some point. This is why it is crucial to be aware of how to create a runbook in a way that makes it easy to understand for others, not just for you.
– Use the right software
Creating process documentation can be a breeze if you have the right tools like StepShot Guides at your disposal. Owing to AI-powered functionality, Stepshot Guides can help you significantly reduce the amount of time spent on creating a runbook and make its creation process less boring. Stepshot can also help you create knowledge-base articles, train employees, document business processes, delegate tasks and deliver documentation for clients – just think how many assignments you can complete automatically.
Creating a runbook will bring numerous benefits to your company. From saving you time and making you more productive to helping you onboard and train employees and delegate tasks. Since runbooks are extensive collections of process documentation, creating them takes a lot of time and effort. However, with the help of the right tool like StepShot Guides, creating a runbook won’t be a complicated or tedious task. Instead of documenting procedures manually, you can automatically fulfill the tasks with this process-documentation software.
You wanted to know how to create a runbook that rocks? Now you know how! Try StepShot today and take advantage of its rich features which will save you a lot of time and effort!