Can OLAs Harm Service Levels?

As process maturity in your IT organization increases, you will deliver better service to your users. When you get to the point of signing Operational Level Agreements among various IT teams, you would expect things to improve. However, it is not always the case.

Big Teams Get Benefits

Operational Level Agreement is a tool intended to help large organizations manage complex IT services. By having various service components delivered by specialized teams, the service itself becomes better. Sometimes, specialization is not even a help, but rather a pre-requisite.

In large organizations, there are many teams with many people in each of them. OLAs help to break down SLA deliverables to pieces relevant to every team and – conversely – every individual. Therefore, it is easy to see which service components are performing above expectations and which are underperforming. Service Improvement Plans can be built based on such facts.

Smaller Groups Get Pain

However, there are situations, where OLAs can do more evil than good. This is mostly relevant to smaller organizations. First there would be some work in creation of the OLAs. The approach could be similar to my 7-step formula for creating SLAs.

The problem is that the work involved in breaking down the services to smaller chunks could be disproportionally big compared to the size of the department. The process could be perceived as bureaucratic and definitely not helpful – contrary to the intention. That is not the biggest issue though.

Development of the OLAs might create, or amplify, the "us-them" mentality. Instead of working together towards the SLA, the teams would focus on meeting their own metrics. Small teams are used to work hand in hand. An OLA might create an artificial wall and hinder their cooperation.

Alternative Approach

The problem is not constrained to smaller departments. However, large organizations have no real alternative but to refine their OLAs and stick to them. In smaller teams, there is another way to deal with it. It is in the same spirit, as simple approach to Change Management.

You might choose not to have OLAs at all. Instead, gather the IT leadership team on a meeting and have them sign the SLA together. This way, the whole IT feels responsible to deliver the same service. You might consider this "SLM-lite" approach as the first step in implementing Service Level Management in your department.


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