How to Develop a Service Level Agreement

Service Level Agreement: Setting Rules

It is often overlooked that ground rules need to be set up for a successful working relationship.  What needs to be done is to not focus on the agreement, but on the process for how the teams will work together to create the Service Level Agreement.

Subjects up for discussion include the division of responsibility for tasks, scheduling challenges and any constraints that need to be identified. By identifying similarities and differences right up front, you have a better chance of having an effective agreement in place.

The Downside of a SLA

Dissatisfied business users may hope to use an SLA as a hammer with which to club the IT organization whenever service slips. Before engaging in SLA efforts, the objectives must clearly communicate the impact of the faulty service and the changes needed. The organization must also try to understand what the IT organization can and cannot accomplish.

When a relationship is plagued by distrust and finger pointing, it is not the right time to establish an SLA. First fix the underlying problems, and then establish the SLA.

When Is a SLA Really Not an Agreement?

Defining the services and the managerial tasks are necessary if an SLA is to be effective.  Many times we miss the managerial elements in the SLA, for example: the business impact and revenues that are impacted as a result of a downtime.  This will result in having an SLA that really doesn’t add the value that both, the IT organization and the business, hope for.

A useful agreement requires more than entering the elements into an SLA template. The process of planning, establishing, and implementing an agreement is a time consuming process of information gathering, analyzing, documenting, presenting, educating, negotiating, and building consensus.  If your business users are not part of developing the SLA, it's not an agreement and will never be followed or honored.

Conclusion

I have successfully used the template below for developing all of my agreements.  It provides just the right amount of detail and provides a consistent format for a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between the IT organization and one or more IT customers requiring technical services. The purpose of this document is to ensure that the proper elements and commitments are in place to provide consistent service support and delivery to the business unit by the IT organization.

In summary, a comprehensive service level agreement is an essential requirement for running your organization. It defines the parameters for the delivery of the service for the benefit of both parties.

The quality of the agreement is very important. It must be complete, comprehensive and accurate in its coverage. Both organizations must really grasp the contents and their obligations described within.

We often wonder where to start and how to establish what is required.  The template on the next two pages provides the detail required to successfully develop an understanding between IT and the business.  I found it useful and hope you all do as well.

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