Runbook vs Playbook: What's the difference?

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Runbook vs Playbook: What's the difference?

What’s the difference between Runbook and Playbook?- for once and all we’ll end this confusion today.

If you find yourself worrying about forgetting the detailed process of the incident your team just resolved, you’re not alone. This is where documentations like Runbooks and Playbooks come into play.

Runbooks and playbooks serve as the organizational guides, providing essential information and instructions for teams to navigate through tasks and processes effectively. They not only help your team help themselves but also frees up your time for your ever-growing to-do list. While teams might toss around terms like runbook and playbook interchangeably, it's worth noting that these two types of documentation aren't cut from the same cloth.

So, what is the difference between Runbooks and Playbooks?

When your team needs step-by-step instructions for specific tasks, the trusty runbook is your go-to. On the flip side, playbooks have a more expansive focus and are perfect for documenting intricate processes. Consider a playbook as the comprehensive manual for assembling a piece of furniture – it covers the entire process, from opening the box to the final product. In contrast, a runbook is akin to the step-by-step instructions for troubleshooting a specific issue with that furniture – precise, focused, and task-oriented.

In this guide, we'll dissect the key differences between a playbook and a runbook, explore when to use each, and provide tips for crafting top-notch documentation to support your team.

What are Runbooks?

Runbooks serve as operational guides, detailing step-by-step procedures for various scenarios. They act as essential resources for operational teams, ensuring consistency and efficiency in executing routine tasks, troubleshooting, and incident resolution. These documents are straightforward, presenting a series of steps for manual execution, full automation, or a combination of both by your team.

Typically integrated into a playbook, runbooks serve specific purposes within broader processes. Similar to playbooks, runbooks prove beneficial for routine or crisis-related scenarios.

Where are Runbooks useful?

From system maintenance to Incident Response, Runbooks play a vital role in ensuring tasks are executed precisely. Some idle use cases for Runbooks include:

  1. Incident Response scenarios, guiding teams through predefined steps to address and mitigate incidents. 
  2. Routine system maintenance tasks, ensuring that teams follow a consistent and efficient process when performing updates, patches, or system checks.
  3. Automatically create a new server instance, install the web application software, configure the application settings, and deploy the application to production.
  4. In data management, offering a detailed sequence of steps for regular data backups as well as procedures for swift and effective data recovery in the event of unexpected loss and downtime.
  5. Making changes to network configurations, ensuring that modifications are executed systematically and with minimal disruption to ongoing operations.
  6. When rolling out new software or updates, runbooks guide teams through the deployment process, reducing the risk of errors and ensuring a standardized approach to implementation.
  7. For unforeseen and miscellaneous emergencies or firefighting P0 incidents, runbooks serve as a critical tool for outlining precise steps to be taken, facilitating a swift and organized response to critical situations.
  8. Simplify user access management by providing a clear set of instructions for tasks such as user provisioning, deprovisioning, and access modifications, ensuring security and compliance.

What are Playbooks?

A playbook is an in-depth document that outlines how to execute a process while keeping the team's overarching strategy in mind. This type of document provides a high-level overview of the team's processes.

Take project management, for example - a playbook for project initiation could cover defining goals, setting timelines, allocating resources, and conducting team briefings. It provides a strategic overview, team roles, and an insight into the company's project management methodology.

Playbooks often contain more contextual information than a runbook. This might cover the playbook's goals, an organizational chart, and the company's mission and vision statements. These guides also serve as a safety net in unforeseen circumstances. While playbooks may involve automation, they typically require a person to execute some or all of the steps.

QnA Time!

Q: How does a playbook improve incident response?

A: A playbook can be your go-to manual for handling past incidents. It not only guides you on how to fix issues but also brings teams closer by keeping all the essential information in one place. You may use the playbook as a shared strategy guide for navigating challenges and working seamlessly together during incident resolution.
Squadcast helps you create easy runbooks within the platform itself! Try now.

Where are Playbooks useful?

Playbooks show the bigger picture and their relevance suits the following examples:

  1. Guide teams through the strategic steps for a successful product launch, covering marketing plans, customer communication, and cross-functional collaboration.
  2. Offer a structured approach for disaster recovery, including data restoration, system rebooting, and stakeholder communication to minimize downtime.
  3. Provides a comprehensive guide for integrating IT systems and aligning business processes during mergers and acquisitions.
  4. Help define procedures for efficiently handling complex customer support issues, ensuring consistent and effective escalation processes.
  5. Document procedures for compliance audits, data handling, and reporting to ensure standardized and controlled regulatory adherence.
  6. Serve as a phased guide for adopting new technologies, covering training, system integration, and troubleshooting for a smooth transition.
  7. Outline processes for strategic IT planning, including technology assessments, capacity planning, and resource allocation aligned with organizational goals.
  8. Define communication protocols during crises, ensuring timely and consistent information dissemination to mitigate reputational risks.

When should you opt for a runbook over a playbook?

Choosing between a runbook and playbook for documenting processes involves understanding key differences in their applicability. Both serve well in sharing organizational knowledge, facilitating skill development, and suggesting process enhancements without burdening senior team members.

Playbooks excel in documenting extensive processes. For instance, an Incident Commander might employ a playbook to delegate Incident Response responsibilities to a senior leader. On the other hand, runbooks shine when detailing specific tasks, like an IT manager sending instructions to the team for everyday duties.

To determine the best fit for your team, consider:

  1. Scope of Documentation
  •  Playbooks for large, multi-phase processes.
  •  Runbooks for specific, task-oriented instructions.
  1. Project or Task Handoff
  • Playbooks for delegating entire projects.
  • Runbooks for task-specific guidance.
  1. Resource Optimization
  • Playbooks when another team or member can handle a project.
  • Runbooks when aiming to streamline and clarify specific instructions.

By addressing these areas you can pinpoint whether a comprehensive playbook or a focused runbook is the optimal solution for your documentation needs.

Runbook vs Playbook

Criteria Runbook Playbook
Scope Task-specific Broad-reaching, encompassing multiple tasks
Focus Step-by-step instructions for a specific task High-level guidelines for achieving a strategic objective
Automation Can be automated Typically manually executed
Purpose Ensure consistent and efficient execution of repetitive tasks Guide the execution of complex processes
Use Cases Deploying and configuring applications, managing infrastructure, troubleshooting and resolving incidents, performing routine maintenance, enforcing compliance Defining strategies, coordinating teams, managing resources, aligning work with organizational goals
Approach Structured Adaptive
Audience IT professionals Project managers, business leaders, executives
Team Interaction Streamlining daily workflows Enhancing collaboration and learning from experiences

6 Best Practices for Runbooks and Playbooks

While the main aim of this blog was to provide an understanding of how Runbooks compare to Playbooks, let's also quickly go over some best practices when working with them:

Runbooks best practices Playbooks best practices
Maintain Clarity and Simplicity Maintain Strategic Alignment
Include Step-by-Step Instructions Make sure of Cross-Functional Collaboration
Version Control Contextual Detail
Regular Updates Regular Review and Revisions
Automation Integration Include Realistic Scenarios
Include Testing Procedures Training and Familiarization
Strategic Alignment

Runbooks Best Practices

  1. Keep runbooks concise and focused: Runbooks should be focused on a specific task and provide clear, step-by-step instructions. Avoid including unnecessary information or details that are not relevant to the task at hand.
  2. Use screenshots and diagrams: Screenshots and diagrams can be helpful for illustrating complex steps or procedures. They can also make runbooks easier to follow and understand.
  3. Use a standard format: Use a standard format for your runbooks so that they are easy to read and understand by all IT professionals. This will also make it easier to update and maintain your runbooks over time.
  4. Version your runbooks: Version your runbooks so that you can track changes and easily revert to previous versions if necessary.
  5. Automation Integration: Integrate automation wherever possible to streamline execution and reduce manual effort.
  6. Review and update runbooks regularly: Review and update your runbooks regularly to reflect changes in systems, procedures, and best practices.

Playbooks Best Practices 

  1. Define clear objectives: Playbooks should have clearly defined objectives that align with the overall goals of the project or initiative.
  2. Break down the process into manageable steps: Break down the process into manageable steps and provide clear instructions for each step.
  3. Identify key stakeholders and their roles: Identify the key stakeholders involved in the process and clearly define their roles and responsibilities.
  4. Establish timelines and milestones: Establish timelines and milestones for each step of the process to ensure that it is completed on time and within budget.
  5. Document the process: Document the process in a clear and concise way so that it can be easily understood and followed by all stakeholders.
  6. Review and update playbooks regularly: Review and update your playbooks regularly to reflect changes in the process, the organization, or the industry.
  7. Incident Response Simulation: Simulate Incident Response scenarios using playbooks to validate their effectiveness and identify areas for improvement.

How to Create Runbooks?

You can leverage runbook creation tools to document and automate operational procedures and workflows. These tools enable teams to standardize and streamline processes, facilitating easier management and troubleshooting of systems and applications. However, for a modern approach to runbook creation that supports automation without the need to switch between tools during incident resolution and even Root Cause Analyses (RCAs), here's what you should choose:

~ Squadcast Runbooks

Why Choose Squadcast Runbooks Above Discrete Runbook Creation Tools?

Squadcast provides a centralized platform for managing all your runbooks, making it easy to find, share, and update them. This eliminates the need to store runbooks in multiple locations or rely on manual distribution methods. In fact, while your Incident Response team is working on resolving those incidents, members can swiftly share or attach runbooks from within the Slack channel itself.

Squadcast has a built-in version control system that tracks changes made to runbooks over time, enabling you to easily revert to previous versions if necessary. This ensures that you're always using the most up-to-date runbooks and helps to prevent errors caused by outdated documentation.

To foster collaboration among engineers and On-Call members Squadcast enables shared ownership of runbooks. This allows multiple team members to work on runbooks simultaneously, share knowledge, and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Squadcast's intuitive interface makes it easy to create, edit, and manage runbooks, even for professionals with limited experience. So, everyone on your team can contribute to the creation and maintenance of runbooks.

With automation workflows, you can attach runbooks to specific high-severity and priority incidents. When an incident is created, and a particular service is affected, you have the ability to define actions such as attaching runbooks, along with notifying a subject matter expert or stakeholder. 

Above all, the need to switch between multiple tools vanishes when you use an Incident Management tool with best SRE practices.

How to Create Runbooks in Squadcast in 3 Simple Steps?

For creating Runbooks in Squadcast follow these simple steps: 

  1. Navigate to the Runbook menu in the left navigation bar and select "Create Runbook."
  2. On the "Create Runbook" page:
  • Enter a Name for the Runbook.
  • Add steps by clicking on the "+ Add Step" button. You can use Markdown formatting for each step, including Code Blocks, Bold, Italic, Lists, Images, and Links.
  • Consider adding each action as a separate step for clarity and progress tracking.
  • Switch between Edit mode and View mode (Preview) using the Visual/Markdown option.
  • Rearrange steps by dragging and dropping.
  • Click "Save" to create the Runbook.
  1. After creation, view, edit, or delete the Runbook as needed.

Attaching Runbooks to Incidents

Post incident resolution, you’ll want to attach runbooks to incidents for referring to them for future references: 

  1. Open an incident and go to the "Runbooks & Tasks" tab. Click on "Attach Runbook."
  2. Select the Runbook(s) to attach and click "Attach Runbooks." You can attach multiple Runbooks.
  3. The attached Runbook will be listed. Follow the steps and mark completion by checking checkboxes.

Feel free to contact us for any questions on Runbook automation and creation. You can also explore detailed Runbook documentation

Squadcast provides runbook automation features in its Premium plan, available for $16, and its Enterprise plan, available for $21. For detailed pricing information, please refer here. You may also initiate a 14-day free trial anytime!

Over to You 

In essence, playbooks and runbooks share more similarities than differences. Both demand thoughtful planning, delivering faster, consistent results that enhance overall efficiency. Whether as Word documents, Confluence, or Wiki pages, they necessitate regular updates to align with evolving business and IT landscapes.

Squadcast is an Incident Management tool that’s purpose-built for SRE. Get rid of unwanted alerts, receive relevant notifications and integrate with popular ChatOps tools. Work in collaboration using virtual incident war rooms and use automation to eliminate toil.