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Your Guide to Service Level Management Best Practices

Myra Nizami
SLOs & Metrics

What is Service Level Management?

Service Level Management, or SLM, is defined as the process of negotiating Service Level Agreements and ensuring that they are met.

Service Level Management is a fundamental part of SRE and DevOps. It encompasses the expectations and perceptions that both the business and the customer have about the service and its performance. Service level management will include existing and new services as they are added, with the service level agreements (SLAs) being modified accordingly. 

The basic components of service level management include: 

  • Service level requirements (SLRs): Requirements that customers need for the IT service based on their expectations for the service. For example, a requirement could be that users can create new database entries with your service.
  • Service level agreements (SLAs): Based on the SLRs defined, service level agreements are negotiated between the IT service provider and customers to guarantee a level of reliability for a given requirement. For example, an SLA could agree that users should be able to create new database entries within 1 second 99.99% of the time. SLAs can also stipulate penalties for violating the SLA.  

Why is service level management important?

Service level management is necessary because it brings IT services together and ensures service delivery remains a priority. Service level targets become a way to improve the customer experience while reducing friction across development and operations. 

Organizations follow different types of service level management, but they tend to have one thing in common: the customer experience. Service level management is a way to ensure that teams stay focused on improving the customer experience by putting achievable targets of service level management and having a cohesive strategy behind it. If your goal is well beyond customer expectations, it won’t improve their experience in a way that matters and results in wasted effort.

Having a service level management process also ensures that everyone is on the same page. Rather than teams operating in silos, service level management establishes a framework that can be used to keep the customer experience at the heart of every decision across departments. Framing choices in the context of how it impacts the user experience allows you to prioritize user happiness and business success.

Service level management is crucial for building trust with customers, especially as new features and products are deployed - they know they can rely on what they’re using, and that’s a huge draw for customers. Service level management allows potential clients to understand the true investment they’d be making in your service, by showing them exactly how quickly, how much, and how often they’re able to use your service.

Additionally, service level management is crucial for stability and scaling infrastructure at a reasonable pace against growth. Rather than overspending, you can ensure that your efforts keep pace with your capabilities while not disappointing customers.

What are the processes for service level management?

For most organizations, the service level management process is rooted in teams coming together to create shared goals and targets for service levels. The objectives that underpin a service level management process include:

  • Define and document products and services in use
  • Agree on methods and metrics to monitor, measure, and report the level of IT services available
  • Set reasonable service level targets and continually revisit to evaluate performance and readjust if needed.
  • Monitor the customer experience against service level management for key metrics such as satisfaction 

These are some basic steps for a service level management process. The metrics will vary based on the organization’s goals and needs. Development and operations teams need to work together to ensure the service level management process works for the team and has a tangible impact on customer experience.

The other aspect to note is that the process for service level management does not just end once service level targets are achieved. Organizations must continually go back to their metrics and customer feedback to improve further what they are offering. Once targets are met, teams can work together to set the next benchmark and improve service level management.

This improvement isn’t always about making your service levels higher, however. Past a certain threshold, users won’t be able to notice an improvement. For example, if you set a service level that your pages will load in 0.1 millisecond instead of 1 millisecond, it’s likely that users won’t notice, and you’ll have wasted effort. On the other hand, if users would be just as happy with 2 millisecond load times, you can make your service levels more lax and use the extra time to implement more features.

How to implement service level management

Once you’ve identified the types of service level management that are most appropriate for your business, you’ll then need to undertake a few different steps to write your service level agreements:

  1. Gather data: You’ll need to evaluate your current service, including tools and software, and where improvements can be made
  2. Start planning: The next step is to identify the people and tools that will facilitate the process of improvement, including capturing data and metrics. Potential costs for tools and resources will also need to be mapped out. 
  3. Workflow design and execution: A workflow can be designed once all the elements are in place, such as teams and tools, to make service level management a smooth addition to current processes. This step will involve drafting SLAs and gaining approval from key stakeholders.
  4. Establish a service level management process: Upholding SLAs will involve using service-level management tools that automate the workload while giving teams the necessary data to act on. Automated alert monitoring systems are crucial for ongoing service level management to keep teams aware of issues and monitor performance and trends.
  5. Review and reporting: After executing measures, it’s essential to establish timeframes for reporting and review post-implementation to optimize the process

The main challenge most teams face during the process is identifying the right services that are relevant to customers and establishing reasonable measures for success. To compensate for this, there needs to be some room for errors in service level management, and teams need to be chosen strategically to ensure they can uphold the level of service offered. 

Service level management and service level agreements 

Service level agreements are a fundamental part of service level management. SLAs are essentially an agreement on the service being provided and what level of service can be expected. SLAs will also include metrics teams can measure against the service to ensure the agreement is met.

Crafting SLAs is about understanding what the business is trying to achieve and where service level management fits in. SLAs must be related to a specific service and have a measurable business outcome to evaluate progress. When the customer signs up for your service, what they are agreeing to pay for is a certain SLA. Failing to meet these agreements will cause customer dissatisfaction and churn.

SLAs vs. SLOs are crucial parts of the puzzle when bringing together service level management processes. You’ll need service level objectives (SLOs) as a safeguard for your SLA. These metrics reflect how your users expect your service to run. They’re set to be more strict than your SLA, so you can take action to improve the SLO before it breaches and risks breaking the SLA.

There are different types of SLAs, including service-based SLAs, customer-based SLAs, and multi-level SLAs. 

Service-based SLAs cover all issues related to a service relevant to customers. A customer-level SLA will differ in that it relates to specific issues customers face, such as security measures. Rather than focusing on a particular service, it broadens to encompass potential customer issues across your entire product. Multi-level SLAs bring together customers and services to create a more comprehensive agreement. 

SLA structures will depend on the organization and what it defines as the optimal customer experience. For example, what are the different services that customers use, and what is the minimum expectation of how the service performs and the maximum expectation? That can be considered a starting point for designing SLA structures. 

However, going deeper, there are other elements to consider to ensure that the SLAs are reasonable and achievable. They need to be designed with flexibility and some room for error. Finally, key stakeholders for SLAs need to be identified, as well as metrics for measuring success. 

How can Blameless help?

Service level management requires rock-solid, ongoing processes to ensure SLAs are on track and catch any issues before they worsen. Defensive coverage for service level management can accelerate development velocity without risking the customer experience. 

With Blameless, that’s possible. Blameless simplifies incident response with powerful automation features and captures data and metrics needed for robust retrospectives that help you improve moving forward. Blameless includes a suite of features, including runbook automation, severity level customization, and real-time SLO tracking; achieving a strong service level management process has never been easier. Sign up for a free trial today.

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