ServiceNow Implementations Done Right Part 1: What I Wish I Knew from the Start

5.16.17 By John Duchock

Hi there,

My name is John. I’m going to help you make better choices when implementing ServiceNow, because when you plan for months - and reallocate your IT budget around a new ITSM cloud system - it better work.

This is going to sting, but, like many of its IT project brothers and sisters, a ServiceNow implementation doesn't always have a happy ending.

31.1% of all IT projects will be cancelled before they ever get completed.

And if that weren’t enough

Over half of them are 189% over budget



A long time ago, in faraway Canada, I was a Change Manager in the construction industry, and branched out to learn everything I could about ServiceNow. There are a lot of things that I wish I knew going into an implementation for the first time, or even the second and third times.


First-time ServiceNow implementations that fail often do so because of a lack of attention to onboarding, processes, and requirements. Most folks want to dive right into the tool because of its potential. I suggest starting with a frame of mind instead. And that starts with a question:

How can we be certain that we're building the right instance for our business? 


It takes fluid communications, cultural buy-in, leadership involvement, and more. I learned a lot about ServiceNow over the past six years.


Lessons like:

  • How not to build Snowflakes
  • The value of the CAB
  • How to align that shiny new IT system with your business
  • What to expect from your implementation partner


Lessons that I wish someone would have provided me from the start.


Now I’m going to share what I’ve learned with you - starting with defining what we want from our instance.


We wrote a full white paper on the subject. It's called How to Build (or Fix) a ServiceNow Instance That's Right for Your Business and it contains all the advice you need to prevent an implementation from failing. Click here to grab a free copy.


Lesson 1: Enable the Business to Run Itself


My first experience with ServiceNow was with a healthcare group. I was hired to improve their configuration management database, change management, and service desk. Our group had intelligent folks on staff. The implementation partner attempted to sell us on a larger support role. When we figured out that we could handle the instance ourselves, we limited the partner’s engagement.

To give you an idea of how good our team was, most of them currently work for ServiceNow. Engagement partners should support the customer up to a point. I learned to balance roles between our in-house team and the ServiceNow partner.

By enabling the customer, the burden of project-oriented activities, such as long lead times, greatly diminishes. The empowered IT group can go directly to the change manager with requirements.

At the end of the day, your business is your business.


The Power of the CAB

As an implementation partner, the first thing we do to empower customers is create a change advisory board (CAB). CABs are a powerful decision-making unit, representing every technology component within your business. You might have resources in database, applications, infrastructure, and even telecoms.

People within the CAB vote on whether to approve changes or not. What better audience to engage when improving ITSM processes and ServiceNow?

A CAB also removes the scrutiny of ownership. It is a powerful representation of your IT cross-section, and therefore can has a collective pulse of the company’s IT health.

The next step is to establish critical success factors (CSFs) and ways to measure progress, but we’ll get into that more in future posts.


Lesson: Your ServiceNow partner should help you establish a CAB and critical success factors for the project. Count on them to lead, and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Over time, your team should become self-suffcient on the platform.



Lesson 2: Power to the People


After that first contract, I joined another healthcare group in Texas. This time, I was asked to help with training and onboarding.

The implementation partner was skilled at creating executive documents, but lacked the ability to train people. Communication was limited to executive teams from both sides, making decisions that were forced down to users.

The project suffered from a lack of adoption because the people who were in the system every day were not able to contribute to setting up the instance, and also weren’t properly trained.

Through workshops and setting up communication guidelines, we empowered the team to use the system for the benefit of the organization.


Lesson: Enable those who use the system to have a say in setting it up. Never skip out on training.



Lesson 3: Hire a Strategic Partner


My next engagement was with a large financial institution who used a body shop as an implementation partner. Why is that an issue? Like many IT body shops, this one would implement any requirement a customer came at them with. They simply nodded their heads and implemented. There was no questioning, and thus no valuable insight.

The financial institution always got exactly what they asked for, and all the consequences that came along with it:

  • There was no CAB to make balanced decisions
  • There were no CSFs or established metrics to track gains
  • Everything was done off- the-cuff, causing snow flakes


A snow flake is something that’s built so specifcally for one department or one process that no one else can use it. Take HR onboarding, for example (we have a ServiceNow guide for that, too). If one person defines the entire onboarding process without viewing it from the new hire's perspective - or without consulting with other departments - the tool will only reflect that person's vision.

A ServiceNow partner who is also a steward knows when to say “no” – which can be some of the best advice you will ever receive.

The financial institution I’m mentioning had a past implementation partner who was pushing a square peg through a round hole. One of the things their partner did not do, and a lot of implementation partners don’t do is:


empower the customer to continue.


Whether that’s continue to support themselves or continue to expand their instance with minimal outside help.


Lesson: Hire someone who can advise you on how to use ServiceNow for your business. Otherwise, you risk building an unusable instance. It should be your service partner’s goal to create suffcient IT service management principles that can be leveraged and scaled in the future.


Important aspects of ServiceNow projects:

  • Training: Partners should offer workshops and materials so you can work within the tool
  • Being made aware of mistakes: A partner who challenges you a bit – gently – gets you to think about processes, and move in the right direction
  • Empowering people: Knowing the right people to have at decision-making meetings, and setting up an inclusive project environment helps drive usability and buy-in

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the fundamentals of people, process, and tool haven’t changed.

Most of my engagements were on the tail end of implementation partners. So, historically, it was my job to clean up what the previous partner implemented. In other words:


to start aligning the technology solution to business needs.


Which is exactly what we'll be discussing in the next post.



Don't want to wait? Download your free copy of the full white paper now:

How to Build (or Fix) a ServiceNow Instance That's Right for Your Business - Healthcare Edition

4th Source ServiceNow for Hospitals Blog 3