Creating a playbook isn’t easy — here’s what we learned


Written by

Laura Bosco

The featured image for this blog post.

For a long time, we didn’t like the idea of corporate sounding “SOPs” (standard operating procedures) and felt we had better things to pay attention to — like deadlines and emails, thankyouverymuch.

Then all that changed.

Here’s what happened, why we wound up creating a playbook of SOPs, and what other company and agency leaders can learn from our experience.

In this article, you’ll find:

What do we mean when we say “playbook”?

There are playbooks and there are playbooks. It’s popular to call a marketable guide a “playbook” these days, and those are usually a series of business, marketing, or sales tactics you can run to see z, y, z


Heskin’s download is free and has some good stuff in it, btw!                                


And then there are the traditional playbooks athletic coaches rely on. You know, spiral bound with all the circles and loop-de-loop arrows saying you go this-a-way while that guy goes that-a-way.

But when we say “playbook” we’re not talking about a prescriptive PDF download or our favorite Panther’s plays here. When we say “playbook,” we mean a collection of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and thought processes — aka “how we do things ‘round here.” We mean a regularly updated guide that gives everyone on the team clarity, confidence, and more than a little of their sanity back.


What’s in our playbook?

If you’re anything like us, the first thing that came to mind when you heard “standard operating procedure” was a task checklist. Our playbook does include more than a few checklists, but it’s not all it has.

If you were to click around our playbook, you’d notice we currently have three different types of how we do things documents. Those are:

How did we come up with those three? Well, we didn’t, exactly. These page types more-or-less arose naturally as we thought through the information (1) a new hire would need during their first week in various roles and (2) current employees need to excel in their jobs.

Note: If you’re curious about all that looked like, we’ll get into the weeds of “how we did it” a bit later.

For now, here are some of the biggest takeaways we’ve learned from putting this together and what the team thinks of it so far.

4 key takeaways for other founders and team leads

1. Creating SOPs positively impacts every level of your organization

A playbook (or collection of SOPs) positively impacts every level of your organization:

Founder-level perks


Manager-level perks

Employee-level (and contractor-level) perks

Plus, as Asia Orangio pointed out on Twitter, all those employee benefits can mean employees enjoy their job more (they’re not roadblocked and frustrated) and you feel more satisfied as a manager (your people are happy!).

When we stepped back and thought about it, we’d rank all those improvements as urgent, important, or both for our team. And according to the Eisenhower Matrix, a simple and powerful decision-making tool, the playbook needed to happen.                                          



While your reasons for wanting a playbook may differ from ours, the benefits — and where they fall on your priority list — are worth considering.

2. Choose a documentation tool that works for YOUR needs

Many tools let you document procedures. Choosing the “right” tool to document, edit, and store them will depend on several variables. Here are a few you’ll want to consider:

Find a tool that meets almost all your criteria — remember, no tool will be perfect — and start using it.

3. Enlist help from your team, maybe VAs and writers as well

There’s how a process ought to work, how leadership thinks it does work, and how it actually works on a week-by-week basis.

To suss out those differences, spot improvements, and move the “actually” closer to the “ought,” you’ll need to talk with your team members and/or ask them to document how they’re doing what they’re doing.

If you’re particularly short on time, you may also need to pull in an admin, VA, or other forms of support to help you get processes down. Creating a comprehensive list of SOPs takes a good deal of time and effort. Distributing the effort helps ensure it doesn’t fall by the wayside.

4. Measure qualitative gains as well as quantitative ones

Yeah, it would be great to point to hard data around billable hours, tasks completed, or other metrics (“team satisfaction is up 15%” or “we’ve gained 12% efficiency every week!”). And who knows? Maybe you’ll be able to tie your playbook to hard numbers like that.

But so far, we’ve found the impact of our playbook is mostly qualitative — and no less critical. From the clarity it gives new hires during onboarding, to the teaching tool it’s become for our lead developers, to the sanity it’s helped the partners regain, team members cite plenty of benefits to having a playbook.

For example...

Qualitative results we’ve seen so far

Better onboarding

Our latest hire, talented UI/UX designer Nathan Nash, used it right away. He says, “I read it on my first day and reference it to learn about how to organize design files.” Bina, our project manager, also found it useful when she came onboard: "it was helpful when I started here because it covered a lot of admin details that get missed during meetings, as well as step-by-step guides on how to do certain things like track time."

On the flip side of the hiring process, partner Austin Price says, “Having a thorough playbook has also drastically improved the onboarding process. With each step of the onboarding process documented, hiring new Kritters has become a much smoother gives new Kritters a reference to help them get context and get up to speed more quickly.”    

“with each step of the onboarding process documented, hiring new Kritters has become a much smoother process..."

— Austin

Improved processes

The playbook also helps team members keep track of the many processes an agency requires. Garrett Vanglider told me, “Having a playbook allows our team to codify workflows and gives new (and old) team members a place to either learn or remind themselves of the processes we have put into place.” It also helps team members easily spot and make improvements. Garrett pointed out, “Since we're taking time to document our workflows, it also allows us to find new places to make tweaks and changes to existing processes for efficiency's sake.” Austin confirmed, “it’s helped us think through our processes more thoroughly, and see the holes where we need to create, document, and improve on missing pieces.”

Sanity and accountability

Finally, it helps with sanity and management. I could almost hear the sigh of relief when Austin said, “The playbook has been huge in a few ways for us. First, it got a lot of information and processes out of individual people’s heads and put it in one place where everyone can see it.” Garrett also mentioned the playbook has been an invaluable teaching and accountability tool. He noted, “I also personally love that when providing feedback to a team member I have something I can actually point to as an example.”

"I also personally love that when providing feedback to a team member I have something I can actually point to as an example.”

— Garrett                                       

But we didn’t get there overnight. Here’s how we decided to prioritize the playbook, choose a tool, pick a starting point, and get the team involved.

Choosing a tool, figuring out where to start, and getting the team involved

From the initial idea to what the team thinks of it, here’s an inside look at how we created our playbook.

We’ve tossed around the idea of playbook for some time

We’ve admired polished playbooks for quite a while. There’s the one Hanno used to have, the excellent one thoughbot put together, and the stupid-useful one by Human Made that gives us heart-eyes.      

For years, we’ve dreamed of creating one ourselves, too.

Except we...didn’t get around to it. In the beginning, one of the reasons we pushed it off is because we were pretty small, and most of our procedures were common knowledge (or at least it felt that way). Then, as we grew, other tasks competed for our time and attention (client projects, payroll, generating sales, you get the idea). Those usually felt more urgent than documenting our thoughts.

Plus, whenever we did have some space, creating a playbook just didn’t seem, well, particularly fun.

Apparently, we’re not alone in this.

The tipping point (from “cool idea” to “let’s do this”)

But as the agency kept growing — and we kept not documenting — we started experiencing aches and pains.

The company wasn't falling apart, but we were all feeling stressed. Little details were slipping through the cracks: This task is a week overdue. This task wasn't part of the original scope at all. This feature is in the done column, but it's still buggy, what gives?

Andrew was trying to decide whether to hire a Project Manager (PM) and, if so, what a PM would need to do their job well. In the meantime, he brought on Brennan Dunn as a business coach, and Brennan suggested creating Standard Operating Procedures, also known as SOPs.

Let’s just say we weren’t immediately onboard...

At first, Andrew was resistant to SOPs. It sounded like a corporate acronym and reminded him of RFPs (Request for Proposals — Andrew says, “At one point in our early life as a company, we wasted a ton of time competing for big contracts through RFPs. It's not something I ever want to do again.”)

Thankfully, Brennan pushed through that resistance and explained SOPs aren’t jargon or suit-and-tie mumbo jumbo. In their most basic form, SOPs are checklists. They're step-by-step guides that explain how to accomplish repetitive tasks your team deals with. They’re checklists with benefits; well-written SOPs increase efficiency, provide consistency, and hold everyone accountable.

...but efficiency, sanity, and accountability were too good to turn down

Those benefits make sense. When you have to spend time remembering how to do a task, that's inefficient. When team members tackle tasks in different ways, results vary wildly. And when you don't tell people what you expect of them, it's hard (and unfair) to hold them accountable.

What’s more, SOPs aligned with one of Andrew’s long-term goals as a founder: “For the last year, I've become obsessed with the idea of firing myself repeatedly. I will consider my job at Krit successful when it can run at a high level without me.” From Brennan’s explanation, Andrew realized a well-documented playbook could be a huge step toward Andrew “firing himself.”

Choosing a tool, getting started, building momentum

Once we realized creating a playbook of SOPs was both a good idea and worth prioritizing, we turned our attention to making it happen. This involved choosing a tool, figuring out where to start, and involving the team.

One tool to organize it all

We knew, at minimum, the right documentation tool needed to have a text editor, permission settings (some people could view, others could edit), and linkable access.

Many options check those boxes. A non-exhaustive list includes:

While we’re big fans of Google Docs for visibility and collaboration, we’ve tried using Google Drive to organize similar past projects, and we always ended up with a mess of folders.

So, we decided to go with Notion.

At the time, this was because it didn’t require any development or design time, we’d heard good things about it and, frankly, had been itching to try it out. We’re on the Team Plan and are happy with it so far. It lets us share access with everyone who needs it (the founders have admin access and team members can create and edit pages) and allows us to organize the information coherently.


The only downside is it’s not our favorite text-editor experience (it can be a bit wonky at times), but no solution is perfect.

Which processes do we document first?

Once we picked a tool, the next decision point was, “well, what’s the first thing we should put in it?”

Building a complete collection of SOPs takes time and effort. We didn’t have the bandwidth to do it all right away, so we started small.

We chose a few procedures, including:

This list was a mix of easy wins, decently-defined processes, and critical procedures:

Andrew started with easy wins (aka momentum builders), moved on to the decently-defined procedures, and then tackled the critical items.

Expanding the playbook and keeping it up to date

Once Andrew created a setup in Notion and documented those first few pages, expanding the playbook is largely a story of getting the team involved and keeping the pages up to date.

Getting others involved has included:

From there, keeping the playbook up-to-date is largely an organic process. For example, we hire team members in new time zones and realize we need to clarify meeting times in the onboarding section. Or we implement a new process and replace the old approach.


At some point, we may need to set aside time to review the playbook on an annual basis. For now, this works well enough.

The current state of the playbook

Here’s what it looks like so far:                                 


We’ve documented key processes in almost every area of the business. Some are just quick notes, others are very detailed processes. And anything in gray is something we think we need but haven’t written down yet.

Our ideal structure of each page includes:

This list works for us, but keep in mind there are other items you may find helpful to include. For example, Asia Orangio adds a video to each SOP for extra guidance and clarity.                                                            

P.S. If you’d like to read some excerpts, we’ve published how we come up with content ideas, write first drafts, and edit blog content.

Where do we go from her

It’s hard to predict exactly where we’ll go from here. But our best guess is this:

For now, we can confidently say documenting our SOPs in a coherent playbook is worth the effort and, if anything, we wish we had started sooner!

Laura Bosco is a writer and people person. She helps tech startups do tricky things, like explain who they are and what they're doing. Ping her on Twitter to say hi.