Documentation

Runbook vs. Playbook, SOP, User Guide: How Do They Compare?

Understand the various documentation formats to level up your efforts. Read this blog to know the difference between a runbook, playbook, SOP and user guide.

Introduction

Robust documentation is the key to unlocking the maximum efficiency of a TechOps function. It can:

  • Give every team member better clarity into the processes
  • Brings everyone on the same page to streamline workflows
  • Eliminate guesswork to maximize operational excellence.

But without a clear documentation strategy, your efforts are like driving without a map — you might know the destination but get lost on the way. 

Multiple factors come into play to shape a team's documentation strategy, like deciding the format you want to follow for recording different workflows and tasks. 

Will a runbook work best, or do you need a playbook? Will an SOP fit the bill, or is a user guide more relevant? If you're not ready to address these questions, this blog will prepare you from the ground up. 

Let's dive into the different document formats to understand how they fare against each other. 

What is a runbook?

A runbook is a documentation format that records the step-by-step process of performing a task. Runbooks typically cover two categories of functions: routine and incidents. 

Routine runbooks include everyday tasks, like preparing database backup.
Incident runbooks focus on more critical situations, like a server outage. 

Here’s a great runbook by Oracle to show this in action. This 58-page document covers different steps involved in the application continuity process. It also conveys secondary information about the process to offer a comprehensive explanation to a new member. 

Runbooks come in three different types, depending on the level of automation.

  • Manual: Show the exact steps the operator should follow and don’t have any level of automation. 
  • Semi-Automated: Details what is expected of the operator and has some automatic triggers. 
  • Automated: Doesn’t require an operator and runs automatically without any interference.

Runbook vs. playbook

A playbook is a manual that records an organization's workflows and policies. These guidelines define the big picture goals for the company and lay down every team and member's role in achieving these objectives. 

Think of a playbook as the guiding light for seamless operations where every employee knows their contributions. 

Playbooks help teams organize critical business information in the most easily accessible format. In doing that, they also simplify employee training and quality of outputs. More importantly, they allow teams to level up resource management to meet their targets as planned. 

Here’s a great example of a sales meeting playbook by HubSpot. It’s a two-page guide for sales reps to hold a successful meeting with a prospect. 

How it differs from a runbook

A runbook documents a single process or task. On the other hand, a playbook documents a company’s overarching goals and strategy. The two differ primarily in their purpose — runbooks have a narrow focus while playbooks cover org-wide aspects. 

Besides, a playbook is a set of guidelines, while a runbook is a set of instructions to trigger action. You can also automate runbooks for instant action. 

Runbook vs. standard operating procedure (SOP)

A standard operating procedure defines clear and to-the-point instructions for performing different tasks. Teams rely heavily on SOPs to document recurring processes and achieve better operational excellence. 

Unlike process documentation, an SOP offers a more ground-level explanation of a process/task to help employees perform it without any errors. 

SOPs systematize processes for a company to minimize friction between different stakeholders. 

You can create these documents in multiple SOP formats, such as:

  • A step-by-step guide.
  • A flowchart.
  • A hierarchy. 
  • A checklist. 

Put simply, an SOP clarifies the organization’s expectations and communicates the best way(s) to execute a task. Here’s what an SOP typically looks like. It outlines the purpose, steps and resources required to carry out a process. 

(Source)

How it differs from a runbook

An SOP comes close to a runbook in its design and functionality — but differs starkly in scope. SOPs focus on recurring tasks or processes critical to a company's operations. 

On the other hand, runbooks document specific IT tasks to smooth the functioning of a company's technical infrastructure. 

SOPs have a broader scope and cover more ground than runbooks. 

Either way, you can create runbooks or SOPs in a few minutes using a documentation tool like Scribe. Just turn on the extension or browser application. The tool will auto-generate a step-by-step guide.

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Here’s the best part: you can compile all runbooks or SOPs for a specific team in a single place with Pages. List multiple Scribes together to create a library of SOPs, like this one:

Runbook vs. user guide 

A user guide or product manual covers task-based information about a product. It helps users explore the different features and get the best out of a product. A user guide contains instructions to educate customers, answer queries and troubleshoot issues effectively. 

A user guide essentially documents all the technical details related to a product, such as:

  • Features. 
  • How-to tutorials. 
  • Valuable tips and shortcuts. 
  • Frequently asked questions. 
  • Troubleshooting solutions. 

Properly documented user guides maximize customer delight by offering easy and quick solutions to any concerns. You can create a user guide in many formats, such as a collection of quick reference guides, a knowledge base or something similar. 

Here’s an example of a user guide by Wix. This self-service help center covers different topics to train new (and existing) users about various product features with the ease of searching for anything they'd like to learn.

How it differs from a runbook

A user guide is an entirely different concept than a runbook. Unlike runbooks, user guides walk users through every single aspect of a product. These are comprehensive manuals for a user to find answers to any question about the product’s functionality. 

On the flip side, runbooks aren't meant for the end users. This documentation format only covers IT processes essential for the internal functioning of an organization. 

Streamline your documentation process

Documentation is one of the biggest determinants of success for modern businesses. A clear and actionable documentation strategy enables organizations to manage knowledge effectively internally and externally. 

If you’re just getting started with your strategy, this short guide will come in handy for setting the right foundation. 

Start by understanding the different types of documentation you can use to manage institutional knowledge and leverage its benefits. Once you’re clear about the difference between these formats, you can take the next steps. 

When it’s finally time to present and deliver, use Scribe to do all the heavy lifting on your behalf. You can standardize all your documents and compile them in a single place with Pages

Don’t get into the hassle of documentation — it’s a breeze with Scribe.