Documentation

Types of Runbooks & When You Need Them (+ Examples)

Want to learn more about runbooks types to prepare laser-focused documentation for your team? Read this guide to get a clear idea about runbooks and when you need them

Introduction

Runbooks are standardized documents created to record different IT processes and tasks. A library of runbooks helps teams maximize efficiency, collaboration and consistency. More importantly, runbooks allow IT professionals to tackle emergencies and offer quick resolutions whenever required. 

But before drafting this document, you want to understand typical runbook types and use cases. You can get the best out of this documentation method only when you know how your team can use it. 

This blog will offer a deep dive into the concept of runbooks and why you should use them. Below you’ll also find the different types of runbooks and situations when they can help. 

What is a runbook? 

A runbook documents the steps and other relevant information for performing a task or executing a process. This document is handy for IT teams to record all the processes related to a system. 

So, if the designated professionals are unavailable to do a task, others can do it on their behalf by referring to a runbook. 

6 benefits of making a runbook

A runbook offers step-by-step instructions for any task. While this simplifies the job for new team members, benefits aren’t limited to new hire training. 

Here’s what IT teams can achieve through a collection of runbooks.

  • Improved collaboration: Runbooks maximize collaborative work — especially for large teams. Everyone knows their role in each process. 
  • Repeatable success: Since employees — new and old — can refer to runbooks for any task, these documents help create repeatable success.
  • Proactive preparedness: You’re better prepared to tackle emergencies if you have runbooks to guide your team through adverse incidents. 
  • Knowledge sharing: Expert professionals can share their insights with the less experienced members of the team. 
  • Quick reference point: Employees can easily refer to a runbook while executing a process instead of memorizing the procedures (and potentially making mistakes).

Types of runbooks to document IT processes

Depending on their primary application, runbooks are primarily categorized into general and specialized documents. Let’s break these down into more detail.

General runbooks

General runbooks are designed for routine IT tasks. Think of everyday system processes and activity logs. These runbooks help the IT staff handle any low-level tickets coming from the team. 

If an employee from the audit department can’t access the primary tool, they can raise a ticket with IT. Then an agent will connect with this employee to offer a helpful solution by referring to a relevant runbook for this issue. 

You can create general runbooks for several daily tasks, such as performing backups, maintaining system performance, evaluating audit logs, and more. By documenting all these tasks, runbooks equip all your team members to complete these processes daily without depending on one person to do the work. 

Here’s a general runbook example on installing Apache. This simple runbook helps agents automate the process of installing the web server. 

2. Specialized runbooks

Specialized runbooks document more complex processes specific to every organization. These runbooks help the IT staff with more advanced and intricate issues, primarily emergencies and disaster recovery cases. 

You can create specialized runbooks for cases like a server outage, hardware failure, damage control, network failure and security breach. All these scenarios can dramatically impact the organization and call for immediate resolution from the IT team. 

Think of specialized runbooks as an emergency escape route to quickly mitigate the risk and minimize damage. 

Besides creating situation-specific runbooks for incident management, you can also make specialized documents for specific use cases. For instance, employee assistance can be one type of specialized runbook that explains all the steps to help employees facing issues. 

Here’s a specialized runbooks example of hardening an Ubuntu server. This runbook automates an Ubuntu server’s security configuration to protect it against viruses and threats. 

3. Automated and non-automated runbooks 

You can also create runbooks with different levels of automation. Here are the three main types of runbooks depending on the degree of automation:

  • Manual: involves zero automation — the operator has to execute this.
  • Semi-automatic: involves some level of automation but still requires the operator’s role.
  • Automatic: fully automated runbooks programmed to run without the operator.

You can create manual runbooks using tools like Scribe. It records your screen while you perform a task to capture all the steps and automatically compile it into a guide. You can customize the document and make edits at any time — automatically populating updates anywhere that Scribe is shared or embedded. 

The best part: keep all your processes in a single, secure repository with shared access to all your runbooks.

Here’s what it looks like.

When would you need a runbook?

Creating a runbook starts with deciding the goal — the purpose it would serve for the IT team. You can develop runbooks for a variety of objectives. Here are a few most important ones to consider:

1. Incident response management 

Your IT team is the first line of defense during a security breach. But what if the team itself isn’t aware of the emergency protocol? With the right set of runbooks, you never have to worry about this. 

Runbooks help prepare the entire team to respond to critical incidents. Anything that disrupts your company’s day-to-day operations qualifies as critical — like a security breach, server outage or hardware failure.

This runbooks example tackles the emergency of DNS failover. 

2. System and application maintenance 

Runbooks lay down the step-by-step procedure for maintaining all the systems and applications in your org. This ensures your IT staff is always up and ready to perform the daily tasks without hiccups — like creating database backups. 

Most teams also create runbooks for something as basic as debugging a service. This is important to train new hires and maintain uniformity across all processes. 

3. Automating workflows 

Automation is slowly transitioning from a nice-to-have to a must-have for large organizations. The IT team is responsible for developing, executing, monitoring and fixing an automated workflow from start to finish. This is where a runbook guides the team. 

Executing a new automated workflow might result in a flurry of tickets from employees. A collection of runbooks covering every detail can enable IT professionals to resolve all concerns effortlessly. 

4. Sharing domain expertise

You can also create runbooks to share your seasoned professionals' expertise with the team. These actionable and accurate runbooks help train new employees and maintain institutional knowledge from your team's most experienced members. 

On the flip side, runbooks also help bridge employee skills gaps. So, if you feel the current team doesn't have the skills to perform optimally, create runbooks to train and test them for improved productivity. 

Level up documentation with runbooks 

Runbooks allow IT teams to function as a unit and work efficiently with a single point of reference. The simpler and more actionable your runbooks are, the better. 

Organizations can use runbooks to prepare their emergency response and manage daily operations. These documents equip IT professionals to resolve concerns effortlessly and offer high-value support to their peers. 

But before you draft your runbooks, read this quick guide to learn about all the runbook types you can use. Prioritize the processes you want to document, categorize them into these runbook types and start the research process.