There comes a point in every team’s life when someone raises the question “Is there a smarter way we could do this?” This typically happens once someone has recreated the same deliverable for the umpteenth time or discovered a previously tried-and-true method just isn’t working for the project at hand.
Once the first brave soul asks this question, it starts a snowball effect where teammates respond with “Of course!” or “I was wondering the same thing!” You can avoid this whole awkward scenario by creating a playbook.
What Exactly is a Playbook?
Playbooks are process-oriented, living documents can provide your team with both a structure and format to define how anyone on the team should approach common situations, activities, or final deliverables. They capture both the philosophy and the way a team wants to deliver for their customers.
There are other documents that try to do the same thing, such as productization guides, tutorials, and standard operating procedures. Each of these documents tend to be one piece of the whole, however. Playbooks consolidate all this information into a single location and approach things from the angle of what a team CAN do rather than what a team MUST do. This approach offers different values and benefits across the whole team:
- Product Owners: Provides guidance and suggestions on how to plan team activities as they relate to a product roadmap and schedule
- Individual Contributors: Outlines resources and guidance for how to perform common techniques and activities for a project team or customer
- Practice Leads: Outlines areas of growth and improvement based on any gaps within a team’s expertise or feedback that’s been gathered
The Origins of Playbooks
Where did playbooks come from though? It’s an idea borrowed from the sports world that encapsulates all the various plays a team can perform when trying to outwit or outperform an opponent. The coaching team puts the plays together based on the abilities and skills of the team, and the team is responsible for knowing all of the plays and their role in performing them.
Playbooks give the coach a variety of options to deploy on the game field based on how the game is going and the overall performance of the team that day. This concept can be easily adapted to a number of other practices, from user experience to product design and development.
Nearly all digital transformation projects are dynamic due to changing requirements and dependencies as a team digs in and starts building new solutions. In this context, playbooks are a game-changing tool that will prepare your team for nearly any situation that may arise throughout the project lifecycle.
Real-Life Example: The USDS Playbook
In the digital transformation space for federal initiatives, one of the best playbook examples to reference when putting your own together is the Digital Services Playbook created and maintained by the United States Digital Services (USDS) team.
Digital services teams around the federal government have used this document to inform their delivery model. It has also educated and inspired many federal digital service teams to rethink how they approach their work and move towards a more user-centered, agile, and open source mindset.
Benefits of Creating Your Own Playbook
Authoring and implementing a playbook creates value across the board for your teams and organization as a whole. It takes the question of “how should we do this?” and turns it into “which of these methods should we use?” Flipping the script in this way is incredibly empowering. By having predefined methods and procedures to inform a team’s delivery, you can streamline your team’s efforts and focus in the following ways:
Sharing your knowledge
Playbooks turn what was once individual knowledge into institutional knowledge. The catalog of plays serves as a historical record of the team’s strengths and accomplishments, allowing new team members to quickly onboard and level up their own skills and knowledge.
Creating consistency across your organization
By having one or more playbooks in place for an organization, teams can move away from creating a custom delivery approach for every project and customer. Instead, they can find ways to define a consistent delivery model and strategy that is adaptable and agile to meet the demands of customers. This provides the opportunity to define what consistent quality looks like for a team’s performance and output regardless of the project they are assigned to.
Maturing your operations
Over time, playbooks become living documents that capture the growth and maturity of your team. As new methods and plays are introduced or existing ones refined based on the growth of individual team members, you can continue to build on your operations. By logging these changes in a playbook, you ensure that even as team members come and go, your organization won’t lose the value they once brought to the table. You can also capture solutions to common issues and struggles so junior team members can learn from them and new methods can be created based on the lessons—both successes and problems—of the past.