Sunday, December 2, 2012

Service Management Goals and Service Level Agreements

(Much of this article is also posted as part of a co-authored piece on

What is the relationship between Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and Service Management goals? A common misapplication is that your SLAs are your goals, or at least that they are a part of your goals.

I'd take the goals discussion a level higher and focus on missional goals first. Using a soccer analogy (sorry, I'm an American ... "football"), SLAs are not the goal. Scoring more than the opponent is the goal. SLAs are more like defining the positions for the players, and communicating what the purpose is for each position. Then you have tactics, the designed plays and maybe a few pre-planned what-if scenarios. These are your defined processes, which should, AT A MINIMUM, meet the SLAs. As the coach, you have selected who should be on the field at any specific time, usually based on how well they are suited for the current/adjusted objective. It could be a push for scoring when you're behind late in the game, or it could be defending a lead while taking as much time as possible off the clock.

The point is that SLAs are not the primary means to meet the overall goals. They are certainly one of the tools you have for communicating expectations, but we also understand that the real goal is to make money, to delight the customer, to maximize their experience, etc.

To summarize this perspective on SLAs:

  1. SLAs are one tool, out of many in your SM toolkit.
  2. Poorly done SLAs (badly written, poorly negotiated, poorly communicated, etc.) will often inhibit excellent service management far more than any benefits you get from simply having a defined set of expectations.
  3. Even well written and communicated SLAs often degrade the customer experience. Too much focus on SLAs in order to meet goals can inhibit talented service delivery people who can read a situation and determine a better means to achieve the customer experience goals. I've seen too many scenarios where talented, creative people were ignored off pushed aside due to SLA adherence being the exclusive way to meet goals. I know it sounds far fetched, but it does happen.

Customer experience strategy can be a more effective way to define expected outcomes, while taking individual talents into consideration. I highly recommend the book "Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business" as a great approach to this perspective.

It's not "either-or", but rather "yes-and".