Ever so often an excellent project plan and delivery is marred by the accompanied poor service delivery. The most neglected portion of the project is – how we are going to run it once it is delivered. All promises made at the start for the end product to be closely aligned with the initially defined goals are forgotten in the excitement of the journey and more often than not, a product is delivered and the service is forgotten.
Service delivery once baselined needs to be audited throughout the course of the project by imposing well defined checkpoints. Same metrics should be then retrospectively applied after the project has been delivered and the dust has settled to ensure the product or the service is supported to the agreed standards. Over the years, I have come to ask the following questions to sense check that the team haven’t drifted off-course and also ensure that the quality of service also continues to the other side:
1. Are we delivering what we agreed to deliver?
Make sure that service and/or product has been defined to the agreed Statement of Work. More often than not you will find that project requirements start drifting away from the defined goals much earlier on. It is always a good idea to set regular review session to make the project is on course and if found to be otherwise, what would it take to realign.
2. Have all impacted areas been identified?
Service delivery should always factor in the famous trio of people, process and technology that it is going to impact. You should always keep in mind that the ultimate goal of the project is not only to deliver a product instead it is delivering a mechanism to sustain the delivered benefits as part of the package. This cannot be achieved without making provision for all affected areas and managing change from the onset.
3. Are you segregating your issues from risks correctly?
It took me a long time and risk master class to understand the difference between risks and issues from the service delivery perspective. At the fundamental level the only thing you need to remember is that risks are something that you are capable of managing and issues are areas which you need additional help with – which may be from your circle of influence, stakeholders, peers, line managers, senior managers, third parties, etc. Always remember that you need to be very clear to separate out of your risks from issues. If you start raising all risks as issues, it will only serve as a way to ruin your image and loose your trust in the eyes of your clients. Conversely, if you try to manage your issues as risks, your action time will be questioned and your delivery will be affected. Walk that line with due care and diligence.
4. Are we communicating enough?
The most important link during the course of delivery and which later on graduates to become the glue that holds Business-As-Usual together is communication. The importance of which cannot be stressed enough. Make sure you set the lines of communication upfront to work effectively and in a timely manner. Make sure the escalation lines are clearly defined and tested and agreed. Keep auditing these channels at regular intervals to find any gaps and areas of improvement. 80% of project and operational success is attributed to communication and rightly so there is nothing more important than it to work.
Always keep in mind there will be times when things will go wrong and standards might not be met. Preparing for such eventualities always keep the element of surprise to a minimum which means in other words that you are better prepared to deal with these situations and have also set the expectations accordingly. Focus on agreeing and defining the escalation processes in detail to cover these exceptional scenarios and always remember to also include the guidelines for the corresponding chain of command.
5. Have we prepared for the worst?
I always say, “Its good to be optimistic but a realist will always stand a better chance”. It is a no-brainer to thoroughly test all provided services, Business Continuity should however always be given a thought as part of all service delivery plans. You must make sure that appropriate business continuity and disaster recovery plans have been devised, agreed and put in place. Since its about preparing for something that does not (or at least not likely to) happen often, always make sure these plans are tested by creating artificial war situation to test their metal. Keep a keen eye on the results to verify if they have worked as they were expected to and don’t hesitate to make adjustments. Always treat these plans as an evolutionary piece and not something set in stone. Make sure you test appropriate chain of command and communication channels as a fundamental part of the exercise.
While you are at it, make sure you cover all three bases. You should never forget the triad of people, processes and technology. More often we are too focused on people and technology that we forget about the processes that hold these two together. Take time to ensure clear processes are in place to cover all scenarios for exceptions and escalations.
6. Have we agreed to realistic Service Level Agreements?
Its an old adage you must have heard a hundred times (if not thousands) in your professional life, “Under promise and over deliver”. This is also true for agreeing to a Service Level Agreement for service provision. If you are into the business of standard service provision, you might already have standard templates available for these agreements and the figures therein should be supported by your records. However, if you are delivering bespoke services, you need to make sure that the expected standards are agreed in advance in consultation with the client. Make sure you are aware of the industry standards and practices, and map them onto what you as a service provider can agree to deliver.
Thinking about these SLAs upfront allows you to identify the gaps between desired levels of services and your organisational capabilities upfront which you can start working towards filling in. Sometimes it might need infrastructure upgrades and sometimes the gaps might mandate the upskilling of your team’s knowledge and skills. Whatever it is, dealing with it head-on and proactively can only bring in rewards.
Don’t forget to ask the question about the need of support from any third parties (B2B arrangements). If we do, have we made sure that the B2B SLAs are more aggressive than our agreed service levels for our customers.
7. Have we got Appropriate Operational Level Agreements?
While a lot of effort is spent on defining and agreeing the Service Level Agreements, one of the most often overlooked areas is the internal capabilities that the organisations need to ramp up to deliver those agreed standards. If you are a company with well defined functional departments it is not possible to deliver any of the external services without first achieving internal synergy between your operational departments.
Operational Level Agreements (OLAs) are the internal agreements within the different functional and operational areas of the business which defines thresholds and agreed standards within the organisation to come together to provide business services to their clients. In other words, OLAs are the internal glue for the service provider to ensure the whole organisation works towards a common goal through clear communication and common understanding of the client needs. This is the lifeline to adhere to the externally agreed Service Level Agreements. The key is to make it part of your service delivery strategy to keep these areas on your radar. Revisit it often to ensure any agreed OLAs will stand the test of stress and time. Make sure the back-end processes have been geared up in parallel to your service delivery commitments.
Same as above, don’t forget to ask the question about the need of support from any third parties (B2B arrangements). If we do, have we made sure that the B2B SLAs are more aggressive than our agreed service levels for our customers.
8. Demand and Capacity Management
One of the important questions to asks is how its going to work in real life. How much demand will the service have? What are the non-functional requirements to ensure the volumetric expectations. What additional stress and demand will it impose on your systems, people, processes and infrastructure. Once these questions have been answered, you will be better placed to determine the position you want to get to and you would be better equipped to work out gap. Make sure you plan capacity in advance to at least match and (budget allowing) ideally surpass the change in demand and volumes.
One of the fundamental consideration is to forecast the peaks and lows and work out the standards required to to deal with occasional spikes in demand without putting too much constraint on your budget. Make sure you use these projections while forecasting future demand. This applies equally to human resources and inherent processes to ensure delivery is covered end-to-end.
9. Have you remembered to record the change?
Systems, processes and technology continue to evolve – you must have heard that the only constant thing is change itself. People on the other hand are subjected to turnover. While it is a healthy trait of any organisation to have a decent amount of turnover it subjects it to inherent vulnerability of knowledge kept in the heads. Unless there is a process to capture and relay changes, any evolution or turnover will subject the organisation to unnecessary risks. This mandates the need to capture all changes. The methods to capture change will vary from organisation to organisation based on their size and maturity – for a small start-up it might be captured in electronic documentation however for a mature organisation Configuration Management may be the answer.
Regardless of what the solution is, any service delivery exercise must factor in the optimal ways and means to record changes to the solutions, operating processes, procedures, tools, technologies, job roles and any else that is appropriate within the context of the change. Change must always be documented and processes must be put in place to ensure it is continued to be so.
10. How are we Going to Continuously Improve our Service Delivery?
Any system, no matter how excellent, if does not learn from its mistakes or simply does not open itself to evolution eventually gets marred by destructive attitudes and behaviours. As part of every service delivery, honest efforts should be made to define a mechanism to continuously evolve. This evolution must allow best practices and tools from the industry to be incorporated in your working model and experience from within the system itself to be used as valuable lessons learned. The learnings from the corrective measures are then made a fundamental part of the system to avoid repeating the same mistake twice.
Trust me when I say that it is much easier said than done. From the implementation level it might be as simple a case of maintaining an issue log to keep record of whatever has gone wrong, how it was fixed and what can be done to avoid it in the future. These learnings are then brought back to the core working principles of the system. The harder part is to get your people to adapt these continuously evolving processes against the inherent complacent nature of human beings – however if you look around, you will see all great organisations and processes are owned, built and managed by people who embrace change as a natural part of their life and are in a habit of using it all to their advantage.