If you’re an experienced IT manager, you’ve probably created more than a few service level agreements (SLA).
Heck, you’ve probably created dozens.
But when is the last time you thought about what an SLA really is?
Or what it can be—an effective and efficient management tool.
It’s probably been a while.
Reviewing what an SLA is and how to create one is instructive—even if you’ve created hundreds of them.
What Is An SLA?
An SLA is a written agreement between a service provider and a client. The client can be internal or external. It doesn’t matter. An SLA has no set length. It can be short, long, or anything in between. Some SLAs are as short as one page. Some are as long as one hundred pages.
A typical SLA describes the services to be delivered, the level of service quality in qualitative and quantitative terms, and the remedies if the SLA’s requirements aren’t met, as well as the parties’ roles and responsibilities, and the agreement’s length.
A typical SLA also describes the monitoring details, the problem-resolution procedures, the way reporting occurs and when, and the metrics used to judge performance. Metrics typically cover things like technical quality, service availability, and service satisfaction.
Not A Contract
An SLA is not a formal contract—contrary to what some people think. Nor is it a legal straight jacket signed in blood. Managers who think of an SLA this way are doomed to have their projects fail.
Instead, think of an SLA as a working process designed to define and balance business requirements with available resources. Savvy managers think of an SLA as a list of targets and goals they can use to drive the quality of a project.
Developing an SLA when outsourcing tech support or customer service is critical. It sets the tone of the provider/client relationship, defines the expectations around the services offered, and highlights the potential gaps and problems in service delivery, among other things.
Steps in Developing An SLA
You don’t need to be a lawyer to develop an SLA. Nor do you have to take months to create one. If you keep an SLA simple and follow a checklist, you can create one fairly quickly.
Below is a checklist you can use to create an SLA. Feel free to adapt it to fit your needs:
- Define the service you want to outsource
- Determine what you can measure
- Describe your business need and metrics
- Obtain your baselines/set service targets
- Decide on how you will monitor and review performance
- Determine your reporting procedures
- Identify the project’s business owner/manager
- Prepare the SLA document
- Review it with the service provider
- Revise the document as needed
- Obtain approval of all the parties involved.
If you create a simple SLA in the beginning and things change, you can always expand on it later.
Action Point: Pick a project you might like to outsource. Then develop a checklist for creating an SLA based on that project.
Selecting The Metrics For An SLA
Selecting metrics for an SLA is a critical step in the process. Using metrics the right way builds agent morale. Using them the wrong way erodes morale. So choose the metrics for an SLA carefully and use them judiciously.
You should also review an SLA periodically. Good times to do that are when the environment changes, the client’s needs or expectations change, the workload changes, and/or when better, more precise metrics and processes become available.
Developing a good SLA can make or break an outsourcing project. So take the time to get it right. A good SLA sets the project’s tone and expectations early on, and drives the project forward.
And if something breaks down, you have the remedies for the problem spelled out in black and white.
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