So, here’s the thing. We’ve all heard horror stories of “watermelon” service level agreements (SLAs). You know the ones where, from the outside, everything looks great, i.e. green. But underneath that green exterior hides a wealth of red. Where the availability targets are being met and incidents and requests are being resolved on time. But sometimes the SLA dashboards that are all green hide the real story.Sure, uptime and availability targets are met but what about performance? If it takes an age to load a page or five minutes for a transaction to complete, then you can have all the uptime in the world, but the service is still practically unusable. And where incidents and service requests are being provisioned/fixed on time, what about the tickets that have been closed in error or where tickets are being closed just because the end user hasn’t been back in contact.
So, what should good look like? To help, this blog looks at nine key elements in building SLAs that your customers actually want.
1. Focus on what’s important
There’s very little value in creating SLAs for services that your customers don’t even use. We’ve seen organizations struggling to get a handle on service level management and sometimes the issue is that there are lots of SLAs in place but nothing that covers the applications or services that are most used (and are most important).
Who needs an SLA for Microsoft Access when it’s not being used and there are mission-critical applications in place with no SLAs to agree and manage the support efforts? So, work with the business to identify the most critical services and check to see what SLAs are in place. This not only gives you a starting point, but it also helps you to focus on what’s truly critical such that you can prioritize your service level management and improvement efforts accordingly.
2. Work on your relationships
Involve the business – and by this, we mean key people within the business – from the outset. Your end users depend on the products and services you’re creating the SLAs for so make sure that their views are represented. Talk, really talk, to your key business stakeholders to get their understanding of how the service works, what good looks like and any concerns or gaps in the current service offering.
By talking directly to your customers and asking for any feedback, you can look at what’s working, capture any opportunities for improvement, and ensure any gaps or issues are addressed.
3. Use the right language
So many SLAs are not referred to because they’re too long, too complicated, or too full of technical terminology.
An SLA document serves both parties and therefore should be clear, concise, and easy to understand for both parties. As a service provider, we sometimes focus so much on getting the technical aspect of the service just right, that we forget about the people aspect. Your SLA should be an agreement between IT and other areas of the business that’s written in terminology that EVERYONE understands.
So, make sure that you define the services you’ll deliver, the performance that will be provided, and how the service will be measured and monitored in business language such that everyone is on the same page.
4. Ensure that you cover the basics within the SLA
What’s most important to both parties (the service provider and recipient/consumer)?
Once known, ensure that your SLAs cover these elements along with the “essentials” for running and managing services to deliver the desired business outcomes. Potential essentials to include are:
- Service overview – what does the service look like and what is and isn’t included?
- Support teams – who are the primary support teams?
- Vendors – is additional third-party support or consultancy needed?
- Supported hours
- Agreed service targets
- IT responsibilities
- Business responsibilities
- Escalation routes
- Review process and schedule
5. Empower IT to do what’s best (no matter what the SLA says)
There’s nothing worse as a service delivery manager than being sat in a review meeting with a customer knowing that a service is terrible but having to put on a brave face because technically the SLA has been met.
Instead, IT needs to be empowered to provide the best possible levels of service, and not be constrained by SLAs. Ask your service delivery and relationship managers what things they feel are missing from the current SLA offering such that any gaps can be identified and dealt with. Ask your techies and engineers about any quirks or vulnerabilities in the system such that you can build in contingencies or manage the risk appropriately.
6. Talk to your support teams
Make sure your SLAs will hold up in real-life situations by making sure that they’re supported by operational level agreements (OLAs). OLAs are like mini SLAs but instead of the agreement being between IT and the business, OLAs tend to be between different IT teams.
Confused? Don’t be. Let’s say your SLA states that all Priority 1 incidents will be fixed within four hours. Your OLA also states that Priority 1 incidents will be fixed within four hours so we’re golden, right? Wrong. What happens if the ticket has to go to multiple teams? What about handovers? What about building in additional time for comms? Map out your scenarios for incident management and make sure that your SLA is supported by OLAs that take into account escalations, multiple teams, and handoffs.
7. Talk to your vendors
In the same way that SLAs need to be supported by the appropriate OLAs, there also needs to be something in place to manage the support agreements between IT and third-party vendors. This is typically done by using underpinning contracts. So, make sure that the support requirements are understood by all parties, are achievable in practice, and that the correct contact and escalation details are captured.
8. Keep it fit for purpose
Make sure that each SLA is reviewed regularly to ensure that it stays fit for purpose. Both the business and IT need to be part of the process such that any changes can be agreed upon by both sides.
By building an annual review into the SLA document you’ll also ensure that any new business requirements are captured and that continual improvement is supported across new technology, best practice processes, or ways of working.
9. Keep talking
SLAs don’t negate the need for the business stakeholders/champions and IT to talk with each other. If you don’t have regular reviews start scheduling them – inviting the key players from the business and IT.
If you meet regularly, the relationship will improve, and you can catch small hiccups before they spiral into bigger issues. It’s important to realize that your SLAs should enhance your relationship with the business not replace it.
What do you think? What would you add to this list? Please let us know in the comments.