BlogMaking Service Level Agreements Matter

Making Service Level Agreements Matter

October 7, 2014, Expense Management

It’s back to school time here in New York and the chaos of the new school year has hit. New teachers, different schedules, last minute school supply additions, drama about friends that didn’t make it into the same class – you name it and it’s going on right now. Things should settle out within a few weeks as the chaos settles into routine.

As a parent, outside of making sure that my child’s needs at home are taken care of, the most important thing is making sure that he gets the best education that he can. Education is certainly subjective but things like standardized testing have been put in place in an attempt to make it more objective. While there are no contractual Service Level Agreements (SLAs) in place between parents and schools (at least not public schools), there are several things that come to mind that parents discuss which could be considered as parameters for SLAs. This list includes: the bus arriving on time in the morning and the afternoon, regular testing, minimum sports skills learned in PE, daily homework assignments, adequate lunch and snack time and qualified teachers.

Let’s take a look at the first one – the bus. At face value, this one’s easy, right? You get a letter before the school year starts from the school saying that the morning bus pickup time is 8:10 and the afternoon drop off is 3:15. They ask that you have your child ready five minutes ahead of that time in the morning and that you’re home by 3:10 in the afternoon in case the bus is a few minutes early. As a result, most parents block out 10-15 minutes in the morning and afternoon for when the bus will show up. And most of the time, it does.

What happens when it doesn’t?  What’s your recourse? Usually a missed time window is due to a mechanical breakdown, the weather or an issue with the bus driver. If it’s a persistent issue, you bring it up with the transportation department (escalate) or beyond if it isn’t resolved. But what about other bus-related issues? If the only bus SLA is that it arrives in a 15 minute window in the morning and afternoon, how do you address issues like a rude bus driver or getting a noisy bus fixed or replaced?

In this example, a set of bus-related SLAs might be:

  • The bus shall arrive each school day between 8:05 and 8:20 am and between 3:05 and 3:20 pm, weather permitting, each school day. If the bus’ arrival time falls outside of these times more than twice in a given calendar month, notify John Smith at the school transportation department. If the arrival time is missed more than twice in consecutive months, contact Mary Jones (John Smith’s manager).  This is a good SLA. It sets the parameters to be measured, it’s easy to measure, there are concrete actions if the SLA isn’t met and it supports the important objective of getting our son to school on time so he can get his education (and back home for homework).
  • The bus, when driving or idling, shall not be heard from more than X feet from the vehicle. This isn’t a good SLA, as it is subjective based on how well someone hears and how sensitive they are to the noise. While a loud bus is a nuisance, a couple of calls to transportation can get that fixed. Unless the bus is so load that it impacts the children’s hearing, this parameter doesn’t support the main objective.
  • The bus driver shall always be courteous. If the driver is rude more than twice a month, contact Bill May to get a new driver assigned. This SLA isn’t too good either, as it’s subjective and may not fully support the main objective.

More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to SLAs. The key to good SLAs is knowing what’s important to measure, being able to measure what you need to, setting realistic expectations around the measurements and having clear definitions around what will happen if the SLAs are not met. I need to run now – the bus is here (on time!).