The operating manual for a software product, SaaS web application or app contains all relevant information and procedures to install, maintain and support it.

What is an operating manual?

An operating manual contains all necessary information and tasks to operate and manage a product or object. For software products, the operating manual is mostly relevant for IT operations to install, integrate, manage and upgrade the product.

What is the difference between Operating Manual, Operation Manual, Operations Manual, System Administration Guide and System Manual?

Operating Manual is mostly used in relation for a product, device or other “thing.” It describes how to set up, use, maintain and interact with this item.

Operation Manual and Operations Manual are used to document how to operate a company or organization. It contains business processes and standard operating procedure (SOP) and departments. Employees are described with role, job description and specific position along their activities and responsibilities.

The System Administration Guide normally describes the duties and practices to maintain a (software) system and is written for a system administrator (also known as sysadmin or admin). It is similar to System Manual or Operating Manual, but might only contain IT-related content.

The System Manual describes – according to LawInsider Dictionarythe operative and instruction guide supplied to Buyer by Seller with the shipment of the System. So it is similar to the Operating Manual, with focus on technology and equipment.

The difference between a user manual and a operating manual is the audience of the document:

  • user manual is clearly targeted to the end-user of the product or software
  • the operating manual is an important documentation targeted to the IT or operations department that install and maintain the product or software after the purchase

What should an operating manual include?

An operating manual or system manual should contain all relevant information, features, knowledge, procedures and task to install, update, maintain and remove the product or software. It should also describe the main tasks and solutions to typical problems or questions in detail for the involved stakeholder.

For a software product, business-related app or SaaS/web application, the following topics and procedure might be relevant and should be included in the documents:

  • System overview: main software components, applications, interfaces, external dependencies, host names/IP addresses (if necessary), ports/protocol and firewall rules
  • Installation and onboarding:
    1. Prerequisites (specific hardware/software/server configuration and requirements, licenses, …) and check lists
    2. Step by step instructions to install software or system, e.g. how to integrate the Single Sign-On between customer’s cloud provider or on-site Active Directory, and the products user authentication module to integrate the employees
    3. How to check and validate the proper functionality of the system
  • Monitoring and maintenance of the system – e.g. check disk space, run security and safety audits, backup and recovery of data, archive old data, get and install updates and upgrades
  • How to proper uninstall and remove the software by the system engineer for all parts
  • Information to handle typical questions and support requests by the end user, for the support department of the customer – e.g. faq, link to support portal of vendor, contact to vendor’s support for 2nd and 3rd level support to get assistance, along with the support level agreement (SLA), along with possible emergency procedures and guidance in case of human error or system outtake

The information is relevant for the IT department to stay in compliance with the vendors procedures. It might also contain additional regulatory and privacy related rules and requirements. At the end, the CIO or Operations manager of the customers organization is part of the purchaser team – and a great system manual will be very helpful during the sales process.

What are examples of great operating manual and system manuals?

The Swiss project management method HERMES is not known outside of the small European country. It contains a specific item “Operating manual” (German: Betriebshandbuch) that describes how to operate and integrate an (IT) product into the organization.

It also contains a free template as Word doc file that can be converted to an operation manual pdf file.

Operating Manual
Screenshot of the Operating Manual (source:


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