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September 29, 2022

What is a runbook?

What is a runbook?

A runbook is a comprehensive, step-by-step guide that outlines the tasks and their dependencies that are required to manage and operate technology infrastructure, applications, and services in a data center or cloud environment. Runbooks detail the actions that need to be taken in response to specific events, alerts, or incidents. Today’s runbooks are usually digital, although paper runbooks that have to be updated by hand have been used for incredibly complex tasks, including landing on the moon!

Automation runbooks like Cutover’s integrate with an organization’s tech stack to orchestrate complicated workflows and procedures, like technology resilience activities, application releases, cloud migrations, platform implementations, and more. Let’s take a closer look at the basics of general runbooks and how Cutover’s runbooks are different.

Different runbook types

Different types of runbook provide guidance on a variety of functions:

  • Manual runbooks provide detailed instructions that enable team members to use standard tools to complete described tasks. They are often the first stage in standardizing routine tasks and operations but can involve a lot of manual work, which makes them prone to human error.
  • A fully-automated runbook completes basic tasks using automated tools without the need for human intervention.
  • A collaborative automated runbook uses a combination of tasks carried out by people and automated solutions to manage complex operations. Repetitive, manually-intensive tasks are automated but people still have full visibility and control and are able to make informed decisions at critical points.

Runbooks ensure that everyone involved in a specific operation knows their role while also providing easy access to all the information they need. Not only does this improve overall performance, it also reduces system downtime when used for disaster recovery, supporting the productivity and output of the wider organization.

Using a runbook effectively

You can enhance the value of your runbooks with automations and integrations with the rest of your tech stack. Automation runbooks enable you to streamline complicated workflows, freeing up people to focus on the tasks that require human skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and decision making.

By integrating with the tools and applications your teams use on a daily basis, runbooks streamline your technology resilience or cloud migration activities by bringing them together in a single, centralized location.

The benefits of using runbooks

Runbooks provide many advantages for companies looking to enhance their business operations. Here are some of the top benefits of using runbooks:

  • Standardize repetitive processes: Runbooks enable you to standardize and codify tasks and procedures for processes such as IT disaster recovery or cloud migrations. They ensure that everyone involved has the tools, expertise, and information needed to complete their role without having to be on multiple calls or hunt through spreadsheets.
  • Optimize existing resources: Runbooks enable internal teams to access information more quickly and complete complex tasks more efficiently. This dramatically shortens the time-to-value for major strategic initiatives like cloud migrations and application releases while freeing teams to focus additional time and energy on other high-value priorities.
  • Reduce risk: Runbooks ensure standard procedures are in place for when organizations need to react quickly to an outage or cyber threat. Additionally, automation can reduce the risk of human error during a recovery or implementation, and runbook platforms with post-event review features help regulated organizations provide better audit information.
  • Improve IT disaster recovery: Whether it’s an outage or data breach, an IT incident can be highly disruptive to organizational operations and, worse, customers. IT disaster recovery runbooks give IT personnel the tools they need to restore infrastructure, recover lost data, and stabilize IT functionality. In addition to detailing necessary incident management steps and procedures which enable faster recovery, IT disaster recovery runbooks also enable key stakeholders to stay informed of progress throughout.
  • Streamline cloud migration: Cloud migrations are highly complex processes that involve numerous tasks and stakeholders. Runbooks can be used to outline the path to success,  reduce the likelihood of mistakes, and ensure you’re able to derive the efficiency and flexibility of the cloud in as little time as possible.

Creating an effective runbook

Follow these steps to create high-quality runbooks that deliver the business value and technical guidance you need:

1. Assess your processes

It is important to take the time to assess each of your individual processes to understand where runbooks will be most helpful. Highly complicated and/or technical tasks, routine procedures, and job functions with high error rates are all great candidates for runbook creation.

2. Gather the necessary information

When assembling your information, it’s best to assign highly experienced team members to undertake each specific task and record each of their steps in detail. As part of this process, they should include all necessary runbook documentation, login credentials, software programs, and other necessary components needed to complete each individual step. They should be as detailed as possible, even if many of those details don’t make it into the finalized runbook.

3. Write each step in a detailed fashion

Record the necessary information in a step-by-step formatted guide that takes into account the dependencies between tasks to ensure that the plan flows correctly. Cutover workspaces offer a starting runbook template for a number of scenarios including ITDR plans and cyber recovery.

The key to this phase of runbook creation is simplicity and clarity. Runbooks should be highly intuitive and easy for team members to use. An overly complicated runbook that requires additional support defeats the purpose, so do your best to avoid unnecessarily complicated language.

4. Automate and integrate

Optimize your runbooks by automating manual steps through integrations with your existing technology stack. For example, link your runbooks with your existing communications tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams to automate comms through those channels, or link your runbooks up with your ITSM platform so that your systems or record and execution are synced.

5. Improve runbooks periodically

Your runbooks are living organisms that should be routinely reassessed and updated as needs and procedures change. As teams complete their assigned runbook tasks, encourage them to make and share improvements to update guidance for future use. You might also consider identifying any manual steps within your runbooks that could be automated with the implementation of APIs and specialized runbook automation tools.

Runbook best practices

If built correctly, runbooks can be powerful tools that ensure your deployment process is consistent and efficient. Here are some tips to keep in mind when building a runbook:

  • Conduct internal audits: It’s important to have an in-depth understanding of the details you’re aiming to automate. Ensure your subject matter experts have up-to-date knowledge of the current processes and technology stack before assigning them to document information. This mitigates the risk of workers wasting time recording obsolete information. 
  • Simplicity is key: Try to keep runbooks clear and concise. Envision it like writing a function in a programming language, single-purpose with all the necessary information. These steps can make your updating procedure easier in the long run.
  • Test your runbooks: An essential step in making sure your runbooks are effective. Take time to carefully check information and dependancies for any errors or inconsistencies, and rehearse to ensure timings are correct. This assessment will prevent issues from arising in the future.

How Cutover runbooks are different

The standard definition of runbooks applies in most cases, but Cutover runbooks are different. A Cutover runbook is a dynamic to-do list. It brings together the teams, tools, and tasks involved in a program of work in order, from the very first task at the top to the last at the bottom.

What is a Runbook? Dynamic to-do list

Simply import existing runbooks

They’re simple to create. Import multiple runbooks from your existing operations via .csv or quickly and easily build new plans from scratch in Cutover. Assign tasks to the people responsible for them and set up task dependencies and timings to ensure that everyone knows exactly what they need to do and when.

When you start the work, in-built communications keep everybody on track — via email, text, or Slack. You can even set up calls and video chats on the platform. Start and finish tasks to notify teams and stakeholders as you make progress and see exactly how far along in the plan you are without needing to disturb the people doing the work.

What is a Runbook? In-built communications

Integrate and automate your runbook

Cutover runbooks integrate with the tools you use every day and automate almost any manually intensive process. Close ServiceNow tickets, create Jira tasks, or send Slack updates without leaving the platform.

See here if we integrate with your tech stack

What is a Runbook? Integrate into your tech stack

Runbook dashboards keep everyone up to date with the latest live status, so there’s no need to manually compile reports. High-level stakeholders can see progress at a glance from their laptop or mobile device.

A live runbook also records every single action and communication into the audit log, ready for review, reducing the burden of work post-event and making it easier to provide accurate information to regulators.

Find out the 5 ways runbooks will transform how you manage complex work.

Simplify your work, increase efficiency, and connect teams — join the #runbookrevolution.

See Cutover runbooks in action:

Chloe Lovatt
IT Disaster Recovery
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