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Establish governance

Poor, inconsistent governance is a key root cause of excessive customization. A federated governance model—one that balances oversight of global standards and policies with “front‑line” management of local or scoped demands—is the optimal model for ensuring responsiveness to demand while preserving global platform stability.

Key insights

  • Effective governance requires both demand management and adherence to technology best practices.
  • A federated model for demand management is the best way to manage demands for customization while avoiding risks to global platform stability.

Implement effective demand management

Excessive customization is usually the fault of bad governance. Executive sponsors and platform owners need to put guardrails in place to ensure that project teams implement ServiceNow customization only when there is explicit, defined business value that outweighs potential cost.

This requires both effective demand management and adherence to technology best practices.

The root cause of ungoverned customization often stems from an inability to respond to demands for customization—especially as more lines of business or functions come on board to the Now Platform.

Demands for customization can present a dilemma: Highly centralized, command‑and‑control approaches to governance can create frustration for business lines awaiting their “turn in the backlog,” or can even lead teams to pursue custom solutions outside governance guidelines.

In complex organizations with multiple lines of business, we recommend a federated, or distributed, model for governance. In this model, a central governance function:

  • Maintains oversight, review, and approval authority over any global or shared objects (such as a global custom application)
  • Defines recommended standards for configuration and development of scoped applications

Teams within individual lines of business, regions, or functions manage their own demand pipelines within their scoped environments. See the model depicted in Figure 4 for a deeper understanding of the division between the global and local responsibilities for demand management in a federated governance model.

Figure 2: A federated governance model for demand management


Governance at the local or scoped level

It’s important to push governance to the front lines of demand, so customization and configuration are both responsive and tailored to a local business need. Scoped applications, and the other tools and methods you’ll read about in Step 3, give individual lines of business, regions, or teams the freedom and flexibility to develop custom applications and configurations locally—without risking global platform stability.

Governance at the local level can copy demand management and design oversight functions from the global level or adopt more informal mechanisms based on your needs. At the same time, global governance functions should communicate best practices for local or scoped development and configuration, and develop a cross‑ organization community of practice to share best practices for development and governance. 


Governance at the global level

For global applications, establish a demand board to ensure that the proposals adhere to the explicitly defined criteria for business value. (At least initially, a change advisory board, or CAB, can do this in lieu of a demand board.) The demand board should meet at least monthly (or as needed) to accept, intercept, vet, and prioritize new demands submitted by process owners, business partners, and others.

At a minimum, participants involved in demand screening should have sufficient business and technical knowledge to assess the relative business value of a global requirement, the cost of its implementation and support, and its potential technical risks.

Use the scoring criteria from Stage 1 to evaluate common customization scenarios as a “first pass” assessment for new global requests.

Recommended demand board staffing

Demand screening at both the global and local levels should be supported by consistent development requirements and a management process, ideally overseen by a business analyst, with explicit prioritization criteria defined by business and technical leads. Articulate individual requirements in terms of user stories to reach an explicit definition of business value as described in Stage 1. Figure 5 provides an example of a user story applied to ServiceNow.

Table 2: User story development model for ServiceNow


Technology best practices for global governance

Establish a design board or architectural review board (ARB) that meets as needed to review and drive design decisions around approved global demands. Ideally, your design board should be in place when the build activities begin (or earlier) to ensure consistency, efficiency, and quality for the solution.

Recommended design board staffing

A global design board can identify and evangelize best practices for configuration and custom application development at a line‑of‑business, regional, or functional level without necessarily stepping in as a “policing” function. The pipeline depicted in Figure 3, below, shows that the role of both demand and design boards in vetting global customization demands.

Clearly defined architectural and technical standards for developing custom applications are at the heart of design guidance and best practices. Effective governance should define architectural and technical standards for mechanisms and tools to develop custom applications.

These standards and policies should be reviewed with each ServiceNow release and proactively shared with service developers and fulfillers with each upgrade. Ideally, these should be consistently promoted across business units, functions, or multiple instances to ensure global consistency in workflow and data management. Global governance functions should also institute a quarterly “health check” to identify whether any custom applications are creating challenges to performance.

These four steps correlate directly with Figure 3:     

  1. Ideas are submitted by qualified individuals, like process owners, practitioners, and business partners.
  2. The demand board accepts, intercepts, vets, and prioritizes the inbound demand. Ultimately, “demand shaping” will become a priority for the demand board. The tools it uses include the ServiceNow roadmap as well as estimation, value, and benefits realization. 
  3. The design board may engage when the build activities begin (or earlier) to ensure the solution’s consistency, efficiency, and quality. The design board may engage the portfolio management office at this point to oversee the project’s activities and supply a project manager, sales manager, or business admin, or other shared resources. The design board uses development standards, best fit usage, UI standards, and data governance and strategy as its tools.
  4. The platform support team will also engage at this point to deliver on the approved prioritized demand. This team uses release best practices to drive delivery.

Figure 3: The demand to deploy pipeline for global custom application requests


Additional governance considerations

To be effective, governance cannot rely solely on assigned responsibilities and authorities. Effective governance in the federated model described above should promote the right information resources to build organization‑wide awareness of smart customization practices.

These resources include:

  • A well‑defined and well‑communicated roadmap that makes service consumers aware of planned upgrades and customizations to avoid redundant requests
  • Explicit criteria that can help service consumers plan and build a business case for customization
  • Technical standards and best practices (such as those for development of custom applications) that optimize throughput, consistency, and quality
  • Technology channels that standardize how you capture requirements and ensure the effective routing of requirements (or questions) to ServiceNow experts

Second, your governance structures—no matter how you define them—should have the authority to establish incentives that promote good customization. Creating organization‑wide awareness of good customization practices can involve assigning penalties for unauthorized global customizations as well as positive measures, like rewards or recognition for adherence to standards or the establishment of a community of practice to promote and share best practices.

Third, governance should include measurements and their corresponding metrics to evaluate governance effectiveness.

Table 3: Measurements and corresponding metrics for evaluating governance

When you regularly assess your organization’s overall level of customization, you can locate unapproved customizations or identify whether review and approval processes should be more stringent to ensure business‑smart customization practices.

Expert Tip


At the global level, design boards can promote consistent standards and best practices for responding to demands for customization at the local level.

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