The importance of a Runbook: The evolution of model documentation

edited August 2023 in Blog

Author: Marc Weinzimmer, Certified Master Anaplanner and Senior Manager at Lionpoint Group.

We've all been in this situation before. You find yourself in a conference room, and someone asks, "What documentation do we have on our monthly process in Anaplan?" Panic starts to set in as the room falls silent. The truth is, maybe you had documentation, but it's become outdated because no one is responsible for updating it. Perhaps there was no documentation to begin with because it was assumed that user stories and acceptance criteria would fulfill that role. However, it's no longer acceptable for them to be the sole source of truth regarding all aspects of the model.

So, where do we go from here? The answer lies in a Runbook. A Runbook is a simple concept — it captures every task that needs to be performed (over any given time period) for the model to be fully configured and functionable. It allows administrators and end users alike to feel confident that the model is set up and ready to perform without a hitch. Additionally, it provides users with peace of mind, knowing what's been completed and what still needs to be done.

How does a Runbook work?

First and foremost, you must list every single task that requires manual intervention. This may include data loads, input overrides, calculation reviews, and various other activities. Think DISCO! For each task, you capture its description and then ask a series of simple questions: Who will perform the task? What will they do? When does it need to be accomplished? Where should it be done? How should it be done? And finally, why is it necessary?

You can then order or group the tasks, either based on their logical workflow order or assigning them to specific categories. The idea is to gather as much information as possible, especially for instances when someone fills in for a team member and needs to complete a task they are unfamiliar with. At any given point, you can see who has completed which tasks and how much work remains for each person.

To track individual items, you can use statuses. Tasks start as "not started" before moving to "in progress" and finally "complete." A useful pie chart can display the distribution of tasks across each status. You can even have an overall status indicator showing the percentage of completion within the current time period.

Speaking of time, since the Runbook is organized by time, you can always refer to past records. When was the data loaded last month? Ah, yes — it was on Monday of the second week. Perhaps this month it needs to be done on Friday or Tuesday due to a holiday. The runbook has you covered and provides you with the necessary tools for preparation.

There is one critical piece of information that I have yet to mention — one key factor that is crucial for a successful Runbook implementation. Can you guess what it is? It's the fact that the Runbook is designed and updated directly in Anaplan, of course! This means that administrators or end users don't need to leave Anaplan and use another tool (I'm looking at you, Microsoft and Atlassian) to manage their workflow. You can link pages directly from tasks, include necessary actions, display key performance indicators (KPIs), or incorporate data validation metrics — whatever suits your needs.

Now, the Runbook isn't perfect. It won't update itself — unless you possess otherworldly skills with actions. It also won't automatically add new tasks that need to be included — unless you're an actual wizard. However, with just a few minutes here and there, you can save yourself from a lot of headaches in the future.

A Runbook is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It must be tailored specifically to your business, taking into account unique tasks, components, and usability. The critical aspect is that your Runbook helps drive the organization to optimize the way they think about and use Anaplan for their modeling.

So, the next time leadership asks, "Hey, where can I review the day-to-day tasks being performed in Anaplan (that I am ultimately responsible for)?" you'll have an immediate response: "Well, it's all captured in the Runbook, of course!"