Business Process and Training

Beware the Bike Shed: How to Workshop a Successful ServiceNow Environment


At some point in your IT career or recent ServiceNow workshops, you may have heard a reference to building “the bike shed,” a fictional story used to illustrate Parkinson’s Law of Triviality.  Here’s how the parable goes:

“A committee was formed to develop the plans for a nuclear power plant. Instead, the group became hyper-focused on how they would get back and forth to the plant. Finally, they decided to build a bike shed for the staff; and spent several hours going back and forth on what materials would be used, what color to paint the shed, etc. At the end of the session, they not only didn’t have the final shed plans but no power plant to put next to it.” 

If someone mentions the bike shed story to you, you most likely just experienced a frustrating workshop gone awry. We’ve all been there. Any time you collect a group of people to work on a common goal, there are the chances of going off topic and focusing on the wrong items. If not rigorously managed and moderated, a workshop can end with missed expectations, or without the information and decisions necessary to execute your project.

We are such evangelists for ServiceNow due to its power to transform your organization. Unsuccessful workshops threaten that transformative potential by sucking out initiative and energy need for your project. They can also create risks like demanding additional meetings to attempt the same goals, force unwanted scope creep, or prevent your team from meeting your ultimate ServiceNow project goals.

This blog compiles lessons learned from hundreds of ServiceNow workshops to help you maximize your time and ensure your project creates your desired goal, and not a better “bike shed.” When the time comes to gather all the players together to envision how ServiceNow will exist in your world, here are my five recommendations for a successful engagement:

1. Name the key players. 

Specifically, identify a Process Owner for each module that will be defined and built within your ServiceNow environment. In your workshops, they will be responsible for:

  • Making themselves available for all workshops pertaining to their process.
  • Naming and assigning roles for other people that have important roles within the process.
  • Consistently engaging during the workshop sessions, keeping the team on track, and facilitating decision-making.

Process Owners do not need to be managers or system administrators, but they do need to be empowered by the company to make decisions and be a consistent contact for the process.

2. The process (or a good idea of one).

The goals for your workshops will likely encompass more items than simply gathering a group of requirements on what you want to build in ServiceNow.

To maximize your workshop outcomes, make sure to come to them with a process. That process doesn’t need to be described in minute detail, or accompanied by illustrated diagrams, but it is crucial to come into your sessions knowing what is and isn’t important to your company when it comes to the process.

For example, if you have a Business Process Consultant (BPC) involved, there may also be a discussion of ensuring or aligning your processes with best practices (usually within ITIL guidelines). Preparing your own ideas on process and goals will make the conversations with the BPC valuable and help mitigate the chance of veering off topic into bike shed territory.

3. Do your homework.

You’ve named your process owners. Those owners have identified the process currently in place, or have talking points around the process. Now you’re ready to prepare for the workshops!

It may feel counterintuitive to do a ton of prep before your workshops: isn’t that what workshops are meant to be for?

Not necessarily. Like most things in life, success in your ServiceNow workshop comes down to preparation. Coming with pertinent data will increase the efficacy of the workshops, enabling the workshop moderators to focus on gathering requirements and defining process.  Some examples of information to bring to workshops:

  • Categories used for Incidents
  • Items to be requested in the Service Catalog (and their fulfillment processes)
  • Company standards for branding
  • Reporting needs

4. Know your workshop partners.

While you are busy preparing for workshops, your ServiceNow Partners are equally busy.  There are many roles that participate in the planning, each working to ensure all successful engagement. Workshop participants may include:

Engagement Managers are the consistent glue throughout a project.  They will work with both sides to not only schedule the workshops, but also provide all the necessary prerequisites and expectations for the workshops. Engagement Managers are also your “information finders,” keepers of your timelines, and most importantly, the single point of contact for the project.

Consultants will be the moderators and leaders of the Workshops. They will define the goals and purpose(s) of the workshops. Consultants will walk you through your current process, and ask you questions about its purpose. They will ask for your needs and goals within your ServiceNow instance and guide you to identifying requirements.

During the workshop, consultants will walk through the out of the box behavior of ServiceNow, and explain the decisions of that configuration in terms of the value.  They will work to keep the topic of the workshop to the process at hand while identifying points to put aside for another workshop or conversation (often called a “parking lot”).

5. Reap the benefits of your ServiceNow workshop.

After all the hard work is done in the workshop, the reward will be the output:

  • Requirements: At the end of your successful ServiceNow requirements workshop, your Partner team will use your shiny new requirements to configure your ServiceNow instance. Tactically, the consultants will go back and groom the requirements after the workshop into statements of functionality. For example, Acorio’s AAIM Methodology utilizes User Stories to capture requirements in a way that provides the customer and consultant a clear definition of the requirements.
  • Follow-ups: In the AAIM Methodology, we call our next action steps “Risks, Issues, Decisions, Actions and Changes (RIDAC).”

What do those look like? During a session, questions or concerns may come up that impact the project. You would capture those as a Risk. Similarly, you might discover the team needs to make an adjustment to your work scope, other previously agreed-upon levels of effort, and ultimately create a “Change” documentation. Identifying and enumerating these changes during your workshop allows for the workshop to move forward, without getting stalled on stage one.

So, how do you prevent a Bike Shed?

After a hundred workshops, we have discovered the key to prevention is to develop an intentional, comprehensive system to approach your ServiceNow program.

At Acorio, we have developed an Agile Implementation Methodology (AAIM) that crystallizes our experience in those ServiceNow workshops and provides our customers with clear expectations on what to expect in workshops. We send workshop preparation materials, and set expectations for each workshop ahead of time, and allow teams to prep in advance.

The keys to preventing a ServiceNow workshop veering off course and into a bike shed planning session, are the right people, deliberate planning, and one person responsible for keeping everyone’s eye on the ultimate goals.

Acorio ServiceNow Succcess