Imagine you’re a service provider (unless you already are, of course) without a defined Service Level Agreement (SLA) to share with external customers purchasing your solution. Now, that’s a mess in the making.
Not only are you putting your business at risk of contractual disputes, but you’re also setting yourself up for lower customer satisfaction rates, poor engagement, and an overall lack of trust in your brand.
If your customers are paying for a service, you have a commitment to meet their expectations.
An Operational Level Agreement (OLA) holds similar weight. If OLAs aren’t prioritized, it can lead to pretty dire implications for internal collaboration and business continuity.
We’re sharing a free template that you can start using right away for to build simple and descriptive OLAs for your business. But first, we explore the importance of this template and why it remains relevant in workplaces today.
What is an operational level agreement?
An Operational Level Agreement (OLA) is a document that outlines the terms and expectations for cross-departmental collaboration within an organization. It formalizes the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved in a particular process by clearly listing all compulsory services and requirements, standard operating procedures (SOPs), and incident management protocols.
Essentially, an OLA is a North Star for internal departments and service providers to get their tasks done right. Failure to comply with the terms outlined in an OLA puts business goals at risk, giving companies the right to take necessary action (this is also included in the document to keep all parties accountable).
The most common use case for OLAs is to define standards and expectations for IT services within an organization.
For example, companies use OLAs to communicate the responsibilities of IT departments in delivering network stability and technical support within the organization. This document is also used to state requirements for managing IT emergencies, like guidelines for incident response times, reporting, and communicating with employees and stakeholders.
Why is an OLA important?
So, we now know that an OLA keeps internal collaboration in check so businesses can run full steam ahead. But why exactly is this necessary? What would a company lose out on if don’t document the roles, responsibilities, and requirements of cross-department processes?
OLAs set employees up for success by helping them:
Maximize existing resources
Beyond improving collaboration, OLAs give teams visibility of the timelines, tools, and people constraints they must work within. You’ll see fewer missed opportunities, deadlines, and duplicate work. More importantly, you’re less likely to have too little of something to get through the finish line.
When it comes to cross-collaboration between departments, there’s always the risk of a blame game. The last thing you want is to have operations slow down — or worse yet, come to a complete halt — because one or more parties don’t do what they need to do. With an OLA, you can prevent finger-pointing and have a single source of truth to keep collaborators accountable for each other’s goals.
Track & measure growth
OLAs also outline the minimum requirements for all tasks and build a structure for assessing performance throughout the process. You’ll have more transparency about targets that were not met and the reasons behind poor outcomes. From there, you can keep optimizing and refining operations to deliver ROI.
8 Components of an operational level agreement
Scribe’s pre-built OLA template has the common components you need to build a modern and user-friendly document. In a couple of clicks, you can duplicate this template and customize it completely with guidelines and tutorials for your team.
We’ve included examples and brief instructions to show you how to create and use step-by-step guides to build an engaging document.
- Purpose or general overview: The purpose or overview section describes why the OLA was created. What is the primary objective that you want to communicate with all parties? Why is it important for all parties to pay attention to this document? Provide a brief high-level summary of the services mentioned in the document and relevant information like scopes and goals that provide deeper context.
- Service description: Explain the details of the service provided under the OLA agreement. Be specific about what the service entails, expectations for success, delivery timelines, and service-specific terms and conditions that may impact availability and quality.
- Roles and responsibilities: Use this section to define what each party under the OLA is responsible for throughout the duration of the partnership or process. You must include specific information about the tasks that fall under each party’s jurisdiction, including the protocols that must be followed, basic measures of success, and performance standards.
- Service dependencies: This component calls out any deliverables and targets reliant on the services outlined in the OLA. Stating these dependencies upfront helps teams deliver services more efficiently to prevent delays and missed targets. It also helps teams prepare for scenarios where dependencies lead to risks and urgent turnarounds.
- Communication guidelines: You can use this section to dive into the communication channels, protocols, and best practices each party must use to prevent communication breakdowns. Beyond outlining emergency points of contact and crisis management plans, you can use tutorials to educate parties about specific tools and templates used for communication and documentation.
- Task and workflows: Outlines the processes involved in delivering the service, like tutorials for different tools, protocols for moving tasks forward and collaborating with different roles. To make this document more actionable, you can fill this section with screenshots and screen recordings to better visualize digital processes.
- Metrics and reporting: Use this component to call out metrics and targets that need to be tracked. You should centralize all reporting requirements here to standardize how all parties collect, analyze and interpret data. If specific people are responsible for managing reporting activities, list them here.
- Revisions overview: This section defines processes for updating any of these components in your OLA agreement. You should have clear guidelines for organizing, communicating and implementing revisions. These guidelines include instructions on how to make changes, where to make changes and what steps must be taken after changes are made.
One study found that nine out of ten employees say it's a frequent challenge to locate the most updated documentation.
With Scribe’s OLA template, you don’t have to worry about versioning issues slowing you done. The template is cloud-based so edits can be made and reflected immediately wherever it's used. It’s also shareable via a URL that lives forever, so you can skip having to reshare the same document to your team repeatedly.
Best practices for writing an effective OLA
Now that we have a template to begin working with, let’s highlight a few other strategic tips to tie everything together.
Be upfront about your objectives
An OLA has little to no impact if it isn’t tied to a clear direction and tangible outcome. Before spending your time building this document and roping departments into the process, decide on what you’re trying to achieve. This allows you to better delegate roles and responsibilities, and more importantly, it helps you set boundaries and guidelines that build trust and healthy collaboration.
Involve stakeholders from the very beginning
It’s impossible to get an accurate idea of each department’s capabilities and expectations unless you communicate with them right off the bat. More often than not, you’ll need teams to compromise on some sort of middle ground that’s attainable but still beneficial for all. Failure to address and overcome differences early will cause delays and poor performance that put your business at risk. It can also lead to unethical behavior and mismanaged issues that harm your team’s reputation.
Avoid jargon and ambiguous language
An OLA should be a concise document that departments can quickly use as a reference point. Use clear language that’s easy for every party to understand. Nobody should have to spend more time searching for additional explanations on what’s covered in your OLA. As we’ve suggested in our pre-built template, you can also include visual step-by-step walkthroughs of different processes in your document instead of writing them all out.
Set guidelines for end-to-end communication
Communication will make or break your OLAs. As many of us might know, communication is arguably the most challenging aspect of cross-department collaboration. From service delivery to daily updates and reviews, incident management, and reporting — all parties need standardized methods to capture and share required information. Your OLA should define communication protocol and cadences, including the tools and systems all parties must use to centralize progress.
Create a framework for continuous evaluation
You won’t know how effective your OLA is until you’ve set processes to periodically review your progress and make necessary improvements. Beyond stating the goals and targets that need to be hit, you should also describe the metrics and KPIs that all parties can use to ensure they’re on the right track. You can also create a plan of action that all parties can follow to optimize performance if those metrics indicate a problem.
You also want to include a structured approach to updating all your documentation with new and refreshed information. Keep your document in an organized database, assign points of accountability, and use cloud-based and automation tools to streamline your maintenance and distribution efforts.
Keep your OLAs agile & accessible
We’ve discussed what you should add to an OLA document to make it the most efficient and productive for your team. But the harsh reality is that things don’t always go as planned — and that’s OK!
This is why the biggest tip we want to share with you today is to keep your document flexible. Your OLA should be easy to access and update so you can easily implement changes that help build successful partnerships within your organization.
Building a process-driven culture should be simple
Even one efficient and highly relevant document can make a difference in the speed and accuracy of your internal operations.
In modern workplaces, it’s the new norm to work with fragmented software and communicate across different channels and formats. Investing in tools like Scribe to digitalize document creation and maintenance can give you back more hours than you think.
We hope you use this template to start your journey by simplifying and customizing all your operations documentation. 💡
P.S. We love seeing all the creative ways teams use the tool at work and even at home. If you’ve built Scribes that you believe would be helpful for our community of users (like the many featured tutorials in our Scribe Gallery), share it on social media and tag us!