A Service Level Agreement sounds so reasonable.
It sets out explicitly what will be done for a customer.
A service level agreement (SLA) is a contract between a service provider (either internal or external) and the end user that defines the level of service expected from the service provider.
SLAs are output-based in that their purpose is specifically to define what the customer will receive.
This way, there’s no arguments about whether performance is up to standard and a person is getting what they should be getting.
Except it’s total balls.
In 3 words, it manages to squeeze in 3 little lies that mean your service level agreement is none of those 3 words.
Here they are!
Lie 1: Service
If somebody does something for you, your ultimate question is “Was my problem solved?”.
This is not answered by the service in a service level agreement.
The service to be provided is the focus, not whether the problem has been solved.
The question is not “Has the problem been solved?” it is “Did we do what we said we would do?“.
This is supply side focused. Not on the demand itself and what matters to the customer, instead by defining in advance what will be done, it is taking an inside-out view, based on things that inevitably are what the supplier considers important. In advance of the actual problems to be presented.
“Service” is established and detailed in two ways that are incorrect:
- BEFORE the demand is presented, and therefore…
- WITHOUT knowledge of the specific unique demand presented each time.
If the service is defined in an agreement before the demand is presented, which it is, how can the service exactly solve the problem presented? It might partially meet the demand, if it has been defined based on knowledge of what demand has presented in the past, but it probably won’t be exactly what is needed for this problem presented right now and here. Because people are different, their circumstances are different. Because their circumstances are different, their service should be too.
Lie 2: Level
This is a splendid word. It implies regularity, a removal of any doubts, no ifs and buts and depends-who-you-ask or the day of the week, here’s the level you will receive.
Except you don’t.
Specifying the level of service does not deliver that level of service. Remember that service is defined by what is done not by what is received, the existence of a contractual relationship queers the partnership in favour of delivering the specifics of a contract rather than helping the customer solve their problem.
Real Life Example: A customer orders a kitchen from a kitchen showroom to be delivered and fitted. The kitchen is delivered, as ordered. The kitchen fitters arrive, work for 2 days, then leave without finishing the job of fitting the kitchen. They are contracted in a SLA to work for two 8 hour days.
Once they have, they leave. Normally a kitchen can be completed in 2 days, but in this instance it couldn’t. No matter, they worked to the level specified.
Attempting to specify a level really objectively has the same effect as a numerical target, it causes unintended consequences as people will meet the numerical target (fit a kitchen for 2 days) at the expense of meeting the purpose, (fit a kitchen).
It also causes purposeful gaming, not just accidental as with the kitchen fitters. Specifying the “level” of service in numeric terms that an IT service will provide on its Helpdesk results in all sorts of cat and mouse between callers and IT who are faced with different incompatible motives.
A customer with an IT problem is motivated by “solve my IT problem“, whereas IT are motivated by “close the call as quickly as possible“. This results in calls closed without being fully solved, as a second call from the customer is just one more call to be closed within target time.
Neither the kitchen fitting or the multiple IT calls are anybody’s definition of a smooth predictable level service.
Lie 3: Agreement
The agreement is specified (see first lie, above) so it can be delivered at an objectively assured level (see second lie, above) and is guaranteed by agreement, the final lie.
“Agreement” is the most reasonable part of the three little lies. Not a contract, though they actually are if made between parties who aren’t from the same organisation. Not a “service level unbreakable-oath-punishable-by-death-and-dishonour“, but an agreement.
What’s the word that comes in front of agreement? A GENTLEMAN’S agreement of course, something from a more civilised age.
Except its not really an agreement. The agreement wasn’t with you, the customer, was it? With your problem? No, SLA’s are generally agreed years ago, by someone else, people separated from the results of this SLA and the current circumstances you as a customer are in.
SLAs are just another boring feature of command and control style management, an attempt to manage people and work from a distance, by people who won’t be delivering or receiving the work. Because they are so far away, all they can do is manage through contractual relationships rather than by what actually matters in any given case.
It’s as accurate a way of dealing with reality as a grabber machine at the amusement arcade.
Think how often you are able to pick up a pony. That’s how effective pre-written agreements are at guessing reality in advance. If the person was there themselves, in the situation rather than 2 years ago in another building, it would be like you just shoving your hand in that grabbing machine yourself, you’d be able to grab armfuls of the cuddly pink ponies.
Then. instead of a Service Level Agreement, they’d be in a Service Level Scenario. Right there, where the demand was being presented, ready to respond appropriately.
Service Level Agreements stink.