ServiceNow Design Playbook

In your ServiceNow implementation, how do you know you are making the right decisions?

Here are some tips to avoid some design and programming mistakes you can make with ServiceNow. Make your ServiceNow instance great and really build ServiceNow excellence at your company.


Obviously this is a joke in the image to the right. There are a lot more to Google and Apple programs than just a couple buttons. Unfortunately there is still some truth to this joke, ITSM programs can get complex.

Just because you can build it, doesn't mean you should.

ServiceNow is a powerful product.  You can design whatever you want.  However often you don't always need so many fields and such complex workflow. 

Design something too complex and your users will mutiny against you.  They will turn back to trusty old email and excel spreadsheets, and won't use ServiceNow at all.  Your investment will be waste of time, energy, and money.

A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it's not that good.

It isn't easy to do that, to keep people's expectations in check, still be liked, and build a product that people enjoy using.  However it is worth the effort.

Sometimes we lose track that real people need to use these applications.  It is part of their daily lives and your design does make a tremendous difference.


Aesthetics are important

In my travels, have seen some real ugly forms and some exceptionally awful CMS sites.  There is a certain element of style that goes along with with designing ServiceNow. 

Tip: When you are designing a form, try to break it up with sections and logically group items together for ease-of-use.

Eye Pain: Ne Theme

When building a CMS/Service Portal site, use a site that recommends complementary colors.  There are popular trends for colors that people will like as it reminds them of other apps/home decor they like.  For example, when you look at the Helsinki Themes I made recently, I stuck to the color wheel for most of them, with the exception of maybe the Hulk or Ne theme.  The Ne Theme makes my eyes hurt.

ServiceNow's switch to use AngularJS and Bootstrap is a great step to keeping ServiceNow look and work great.  They are really on the right track in terms of great UI.  It is up to you to keep things looking nice.


Setting Key Stakeholders

If you ever held a workshop with 20 active participants, you may realize quickly that is a mistake.  You will get more input than you likely can handle in a group that size. It is a lot easier to limit the participants to smaller groups such as 5 - 10, so that you don't frustrate the participants and also get more focused responses.

We give advice by the bucket, but take it by the grain.
- William Alger

This is difficult at times, as you want to maximize company buy-in and accept ServiceNow at the end of the project.  However by not limiting the number of stakeholders, you are delaying finalizing requirements and sometimes even delay the implementation cut-over date.


Not only do you want to determine stakeholders for ServiceNow implementation.  Also find owners for ServiceNow applications, configuration items, groups, etc.  This will help keep items up-to-date, and set voices for enhancements in future.

don't Try to rebuild the past

Often we see people trying to recreate their old application in ServiceNow.  Everything from "Remedy ServiceNow", "HP ServiceNow", and "Salesforce ServiceNow" are attempted.  People are used to that old application and it is easier for them just to make the new application a little more like home.

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it
-George Santayana

As I get older, I understand.  You grow personally attached to something you worked on for a long time. It is very tempting to recreate that familiar application in ServiceNow. 

However the "rebuild" is nearly always a mistake.  Here are some common mistakes by people that have trouble letting go:

Mistake #1: Everything on the form

In old applications, the AJAX popups on fields didn't exist.  So you would put all the caller fields on the form.  You don't need to do that in new modern systems though, they show you a normalized popup show you the data just fine.  

Mistake #2: Everything on one table

Another example is dot-walking/drilldown.  In old applications, you could not dot-walk and you need to put all the fields on a main table (denormalize).  You needed that data in reports, and that was the only way to build the report.  However you can drilldown in the new systems and that isn't needed anymore

Mistake #3: Crazy Workflow

People hated the old program and it was difficult to understand.  It was designed for people who long left the company.  Why rebuild that?!  

Trying to explain, understand, and maintain complex workflow can be very difficult for everyone.  Making smaller catalog items, smaller workflows will benefit you greatly in the long run.

Mistake #4: Complicated Emails

In old systems, you couldn't click in an email to view the record as they didn't allow html links.  Also you didn't have self service.  So we put a lot of stuff in the emails.  With the new generation, they want short emails.  Sending them "a book" via email is not what they really want.

Mistake #5: Customized to the Max

ServiceNow does allow you to customize it and it is encouraged. However there are areas of ServiceNow you should fear to tread, like ServiceNow-created UI Macros, UI Scripts, and Script Includes.  By modifying that core functionality, you may cause issues with upgrades.  It isn't a huge deal, but it should be noted.  Also why modify it so much?  Is that truly needed?

Check this article: Resistance to Change

always ATTEMPT TO automate

Recently ServiceNow commissioned Lawless Research to design and conduct a study about the state of work in companies with 500 or more employees.   Their findings help confirm what we already knew, working via email processes is difficult and costly. See Productivity Drain report.

There are many different ways people can automate tasks and speed delivery in ServiceNow.  Use them and you will save time and more important get more out of your ServiceNow System.


ServiceNow didn't always have workflow in the earlier versions.  It was "state-driven" and used Business Rules to automate certain tasks. 

Workflow can allow more visibility into the current process, it is easier to explain, and faster to modify than standard Business Rules. Also you can use workflow to generate approvals, events, and other tasks.

There are still areas of ServiceNow that don't use Workflow, however it is easy to add it


Email notifications in ServiceNow fire automatically when certain conditions are set.  Often in older applications this was a manual process.

Trying to get people that are involved in Customer Service to use an automatic email process sometimes it a big change for them. It is worth it however just due to the sheer amount of time saved by automatic notifications.

Task Routing

Another way to boost efficiency to use Assignment Rules to automatically assign incidents, changes, problems, etc. You can also use Business Services to route tasks. Nearly every customer uses this along with inbound email actions to automatically route their incidents to the appropriate group.


Orchestration is one of the most popular new tools this year in ServiceNow.  Here is the pitch for orchestration:

It’s hard to drive value across the business when your time is spent putting out fires and completing manual, error ‑ prone tasks. As much as you want to automate tasks and processes, dealing with disparate tools and lack of coordination between teams will only slow you down.

Orchestration lets you increase agility by automating IT and business processes for operations management. You can reduce tasks with Password Reset and Client Software Distribution, and improve end‑user productivity by giving users the ability to access services directly. Codeless automation and activity packs also automate and accelerate processes for employee onboarding, managed file transfer, configuration automation, and remediation.

People love orchestration, as it takes the manual, error-prone tasks out of the system.


ServiceNow Discovery application finds computers and other devices connected to an enterprise's network.

Compared to manual imports or other integrations, ServiceNow Discovery is a great way to keep your CMDB up-to-date.


Many customers I talk to are often interested in best practices and finding a playbook. "Best practices" are just opinions and observations. Playbooks are just a way to plan out your implementation

Although I think no playbook truly captures all situations and company needs, the concept and idea behind planning your ServiceNow implementation is very valuable.

I do know it is often tempting to just turn the system on and start using it now.  I mean you are already paying for licenses on day 1.  However with a little bit of planning and using long-term vision, you can get a greater value for your investment.

Some examples of long term vision:

Determine Ownership

Who owns Incident Management?  What CIs are owned by which person to keep up to date?  It is important to determine ownership so that the system continues to have valid data and works well.

Build a Maintenance Plan

I wrote an article recently, ServiceNow Monthly Maintenance.  A good idea is to expand upon this article to build your own company maintenance plan for you instance of ServiceNow.

Learn Update Sets

Teach yourself how to use update sets right away.  Don't wait until after your implementation date to start using them.  Without update sets, you might be inclined to write code directly in production.  This is a really bad idea for lots of reasons.  Especially if you are not exactly "servicenow elite" initially and may make a few mistakes.

Roadmap Forecasting

Really difficult to release all the ServiceNow applications at once at your company.  Build a roadmap and stagger your releases, set expectations, and plan out your future.

Read the instruction manual

I do recommend reading the ServiceNow WikiServiceNow Share, Release Notes, (and this website!) before you start building a new customization.  That customization might already exist.  ServiceNow has been around for a long time now, and there are no original ideas anymore. :)