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Make your ServiceNow project a success: Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

During my career as a seasoned ServiceNow professional I have seen many projects: Some have been success stories, others cautionary tales. In this article I want to share the common challenges of ServiceNow projects, and my best tips on how to avoid them.

In general, the easiest route to success is to have experienced ServiceNow specialists on board. They will know how to navigate around projects with ease and can help you spot issues before they escalate.

However, the basics of managing successful projects also apply: Clear goals and a defined scope, deciding the desired approach, transparent communication, and managing resources and budget efficiently.

Here are some of my experiences on how these basics often effect ServiceNow projects, and what to watch out for.

Start with setting goals and adjusting scope

A project should have goals. If it does not, it is hardly a project but rather business as usual or support-type work. Setting clear goals and defining the scope of a project are the first steps to success. After all, it is hard to deliver results if no goals have been set. Incomplete scope impacts stakeholders, processes, ServiceNow and third-party applications. Unclear project scope can lead to severe misunderstandings of deadlines, deliverables and so on.

What is the solution then? Set the goals in your ServiceNow project early on and define them clearly. Making them SMART is a good idea: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound (SMART).  Your goals should also be frequently discussed, ambitious, specific, and transparent (FAST).

To ensure you have a clearly defined scope, list and define:

Decide if you want a big-bang or a phased approach

I have seen many ServiceNow projects struggle with the same decision: How much of the features should be included in the first release? How much should be scheduled to be released later? Usually, the larger the project, the higher the risk concerning the project’s scope, resource, cost, and time management.

I recommend prioritising project objectives and dividing the project into as many phases and releases as possible. If the big-bang approach is the only viable way to go, set up multiple project streams and reasonable milestones. Try to split the project into multiple parts to manage them more efficiently, for example. The planning and execution phases of a project can even be delivered separately to minimise execution budget risk by allocating only a solution design budget at first.

Avoid silos by emphasising the role of ServiceNow solution architect

Siloed thinking in ServiceNow projects can make it difficult to convince the project team to move in the same direction. In these cases, stakeholders sometimes only think about their own areas of concern rather than the bigger picture. The risk project silos increases when stakeholders request unique and custom solutions related to their area of responsibility or which come from legacy toolsets.

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To avoid silos, place strong emphasis on the ServiceNow solution architect role. This way, you can ensure that standard solutions are implemented across impacted functional areas and processes. Help project stakeholders see the opportunities of ServiceNow automation in their areas of responsibility with extensive training and coaching.

Crippled communication is the ruin of many projects

Effective and clear communication is an absolute necessity in any successful project. Without it, unclear tasks and vague stakeholder expectations internally and externally easily create issues: Disagreements on deadlines, deliverables, and solutions to be used, for example.

It is a good idea to establish a frequent and clear habit of communicating with internal and external stakeholders and project members. At the start of your project, schedule a detailed kick-off meeting and ask stakeholders what their expectations are. This way, you can avoid surprises like scope changes down the line.

As the project goes on, schedule regular meetings with both project team members and external stakeholders to go over milestones, tasks, and status reports. Gather feedback regularly on areas such as solution design, sprint results, and testing results. The ServiceNow Agile Development application can help you improve transparency and communication between project stakeholders.

Keep resources, budget and costs in check

Balancing resources and budget can make or break any project. In ServiceNow projects, there are two common ways to plan resources: based on a fixed scope and price or determined based on time and materials.

In fixed-scope fixed-price projects the goals and scope should be defined in detail. Otherwise you will risk budget overrun, poor service quality, and late delivery. If you are considering a time and material approach to resourcing, you should find yourself a proven service provider who knows how to use resources effectively.

To keep your ServiceNow project budget in check, I recommend splitting the project into multiple phases to manage the costs more efficiently. Agile project management gives you a way to split requirements, like the user story backlog, into multiple parts based on stakeholder priorities. It is also a good idea to track earned value in your ServiceNow project. Periodically look at the used resources, completed project tasks or delivered features, and make adjustments as needed.

Be a realist when scheduling your ServiceNow project

If you are familiar with project work, you likely know that some scheduling mishaps are to be expected. However, frequent deadline breaches or reschedules can drive up costs and create issues with resourcing, when previously planned and agreed resources need to be re-arranged.

The reasons behind missing deadlines or rescheduling are typically inefficient planning, unexpected technological challenges, and lack of skilled resources – just to name a few. Sometimes, dependencies to other projects only become visible when the project is already underway. Cloning ServiceNow sub-production instances for a higher priority project is a good example.

Realism is key when planning a ServiceNow project’s schedule: Be realistic about how much time and effort tasks take. A senior ServiceNow expert can help you make accurate estimates. Also constantly be on the lookout for project dependencies. It also helps to be realistic about people’s availability, including holidays, and their expected level of utilisation.

If a reschedule is necessary, consider the impact on resource allocation and cause availability as well as utilisation conflicts before agreeing. If you find these types of conflicts, communicate them transparently to project stakeholders.

Did you know you can enjoy the benefits of ServiceNow even without deep tech know-how? Read how L&T succeeded!

Zalan Heil is a headin Sofigate CEE. He has extensive experience working with ServiceNow solutions and is always ready to help customers succeed in their ServiceNow projects. If you have any thoughts or questions related to ServiceNow, feel free to connect with Zalan on LinkedIn or contract him at