Runbooks serve as a means of streamlining operations, helping reduce human error and ensure consistency across critical business tasks. But just like any documentation or guidelines, runbooks should adhere to best practices to maximize their usefulness.
Here, we’re going to cover runbook best practices, followed by outlining a handful of runbook examples for your reference.
The runbook basics
Runbooks are comprehensive documentation that provide step-by-step instructions on how to complete a specific task. Runbooks are generally utilized by IT departments and other related operations teams, but their principles can be applied to various business processes and functions. Collaborative automated runbooks are generally adopted for tasks that necessitate human judgment alongside the automation of repetitive, less critical components.
Automation is also commonly applied as manual runbooks become better understood and organizations seek to optimize their operations. Automation is further enhanced through the use of cloud-based runbook software, which provides the infrastructure and tools necessary to execute automated runbooks efficiently and securely.
Common runbook components
Runbooks ought to be simple to navigate and understand — formatted in a way that facilitates the quick, efficient, and consistent execution of tasks. Optimal formats generally involve the following:
- Task name and description: Each task should have a clear and concise name or title that describes the action to be taken and/or its intended purpose. A brief description can also be included to provide further context.
- Task prerequisites: Outline any prerequisites or conditions that must be met before the task can be executed successfully. This could include information such as system requirements, user permissions, and specific configurations, and more. With collaborative automated runbooks, you can set up your runbook so that a task cannot be started unless certain requirements have been met.
- Process procedure: With automated runbook technology, you can optimize a runbook’s process through clear dependencies, integrated communications, and real-time visibility into runbook progress.
- Task completion confirmation: Detail how to confirm the task’s successful completion. Depending on whether an organization has adopted runbook automation software, this may include various verifications or post-execution steps to ensure that the desired result has been achieved. With runbook technology like Cutover’s, an audit trail of task completion is automatically recorded, removing the need for manual post-event reconstruction. Additionally and where applicable, Cutover integrates with existing ticketing systems, facilitating the seamless opening and closing of tickets.
- Version history: Keep track of different versions of the runbook and document any changes or updates made across time. This is particularly important in ensuring that the runbook remains up-to-date with changing systems or processes.
- Structure: It can be useful in some cases to create a structure of parent and child runbooks. For example, a parent runbook may be used to manage an IT disaster recovery as a whole, and link to child runbooks for recovering each individual service.
It’s also common practice to include a task ID, identify a task owner, and include all stakeholders who will be involved in the runbook’s operations. While these factors are generally adopted, runbooks are oriented in such a way that they can be easily customized to fit the specific needs and processes of an organization.
Three runbook best practices
Creating a runbook involves a multi-step process which doesn’t necessarily end once the runbook is created. Rather, they require ongoing attention throughout their lifespan to ensure they remain relevant and up to date.
Here are three best practices that pertain to a runbook's full lifespan: conduct internal audits, test your runbooks, and automate where possible.
1) Conduct internal audits
These audits involve a systematic review of your existing runbooks to identify and rectify any discrepancies, outdated information and/or potential improvements. Consider the following when conducting an internal audit:
- Schedule periodic reviews of your runbooks — quarterly or semi-annual reviews are common, but the timeline should align with your organization’s operational dynamics and/or occur in light of a change in technology infrastructure.
- Involve members from different teams and departments in the audit process. Their expertise can help uncover areas for improvement while ensuring that the runbook remains relevant to all stakeholders.
- Check that all information coheres with current systems, ensuring that any outdated information or processes — whether relating to task descriptions, prerequisites, procedures, or other relevant information — are updated accordingly.
Particularly for subject matter experts assisting in the runbook creation/optimization process, having a holistic view of the organization’s operations via an internal audit can provide the insights necessary to ensure that the runbooks serve their intended purpose effectively.
2) Test your runbooks
A test and review process validates the effectiveness and accuracy of your runbooks. Testing ensures that the document’s instructions are practical, error-free, and capable of achieving the desired results.
Consider the following two testing measures: role-based testing and error simulations.
Role-based testing involves assigning specific roles and responsibilities to relevant stakeholders and having them follow the runbook’s instructions. This simulates real-world scenarios and helps to identify any gaps or ambiguities in the runbook. Look to gather feedback from each team member on their experience with the runbook, highlight any concerns they may have encountered, and/or suggestions for improvement.
Error simulations assess how well the runbook allows you to handle unexpected situations. Having the ability to dynamically alter your runbook during an execution is key to responding to real-world scenarios like a cyber recovery where you may be getting new information or have issues arise throughout.
3) Automate where possible
Runbook automation can significantly enhance efficiency and reduce the potential for human error. The advantages of automated runbooks include:
- Automated orchestration: When you use spreadsheets and standard project management tools, the burden of orchestrating all the moving parts during execution usually falls on a person. Not only is this a highly inefficient and error-prone way of working, it also takes that person away from being able to do valuable work elsewhere. Automated orchestration removes that burden and allows for a more efficient and smooth execution.
- Integrations to your existing automation tools: You likely take advantage of the benefits of automation in many areas of your business but, for many organizations, these automated pieces are disjointed and there is inefficiency between these areas of automation. Being able to integrate the other tools you use for your disaster recovery, cloud migration, or implementation activities with your runbooks creates a central area of execution to bring all your automations together.
- Automated audit trails for compliance and improvement: You can integrate your automation tools with Cutover via REST API. This not only simplifies the integration of Cutover with your existing tech stack but also enhances the flexibility and scalability of your runbooks.
Three runbook examples
For your reference, here are three contexts for which runbooks can be utilized: IT disaster recovery, cloud migration, and technology implementation.
IT disaster recovery runbooks are designed to provide step-by-step guidance for recovering from IT outages, cyber attacks, system failures, and more. An IT disaster recovery runbook will outline the steps to restore affected systems and services to normal operational conditions. This includes a clear view of task dependencies, resource allocation and timelines for each step, among other factors. Runbook technology, like that of Cutover’s, works to improve/streamline the recovery process via real-time progress analysis, a clear and intuitive outline of relevant dependencies and prerequisites, and the integration of relevant software to recovery processes, as well as an automated audit trail for post-recovery audit and improvement.
Cloud migration runbooks facilitate the smooth transitioning of on-premises applications, data and workloads to cloud-based platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform (GCP). These runbooks ensure a successful migration process by providing a structured approach to planning, executing, and monitoring the transition.
Lastly, technology implementation runbooks help in managing the deployment of new technologies, software updates, and patching. These runbooks are designed to minimize disruptions while safeguarding the integrity and functionality of existing systems.
Technology implementation runbooks may entail the following components: planning and preparation, testing and validation, deployment procedures, monitoring and post-deployment activities, documentation and knowledge sharing, and communications factors.
Cutover’s runbook technology
Cutover’s Collaborative Automation SaaS platform enables you to build automated runbooks and manage your application operations — covering IT disaster recovery, cyber recovery, cloud migration, release management, and technology implementation. With our automated runbook technology, you can:
- Create standardization across your technology operations with a centralized template repository.
- Automate your global communications in one place, so the right people are engaged at the right time.
- Visualize critical paths and gain real-time visibility and reporting into runbook execution.
Additionally, Cutover runbooks help you meet regulatory compliance with the immutable and auto-generated audit log, and extend the value of your existing technology by seamlessly integrating third-party solutions and applications with the REST API.
The Cutover platform helps enterprises reduce their planning and execution time by upwards of 50%, reduce audit preparation time by 60% and enhance their overall agility and resistance in the face of operational challenges.
To learn more about how Cutover’s runbook technology can enhance your organization’s resilience and improve its operational efficiency, click here to book a demo today.