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Simplify and standardize fulfillment workflows

When your workflows are standardized, your users can more easily track their progress. Keep these workflows simple so everyone benefits.

Key insights

  • Design fulfillment workflows with a threefold approach—standardize, simplify, and automate.
  • Define fulfillment stages, and their expectations, that are meaningful for the user.
  • Create a rigorous process to handle exceptions.

The advantage of implementing the ServiceNow Service Catalog is that you can create multiple workflows that streamline and automate a sophisticated fulfillment process. But be cautious when you create new workflows—your design can quickly become too complex to manage.

Many organizations create a separate workflow for almost every catalog item. In the hurry to meet their go‑live deadlines, they don’t really re‑engineer their existing workflows to simplify or even clarify the fulfillment process. Because of this, they can struggle to maintain their catalog or pinpoint the challenges in their fulfillment process.

Many catalog items have similar fulfilment processes. Instead of reinventing the wheel each time, design standard service request fulfillment workflows you can reuse for multiple catalog items. Focus on:

  • Removing redundancies
  • Automating administrative manual processes
  • Creating meaningful fulfillment stages
  • Enforcing good workflow design discipline with your fulfillers

Note: Reengineering the fulfillment process and designing a standard workflow requires deep process design experience. Your team’s catalog manager and service owners should consult with the solution architects (in‑house or external) to design lean processes before you convert them into standard workflows.

Create a minimal, standard set of reusable workflows

Keep the number of request approvals and fulfillment workflows to a minimum. With too many workflows, it can become extremely difficult to diagnose problems and maintain a streamlined experience for both customers and fulfillers. While a few of our customers have gone to the extent of having a single workflow for all their catalog items, we recommend aiming for a set of three standard workflows: small, medium, and large.

Follow these steps to create a standard set of reusable workflows.

Step 1: Map out and identify redundancies in the fulfillment process for all existing catalog items

Your team’s catalog manager must run a workshop with the service owners and solution architects (or workflow designers) to:

  1. Map out the fulfillment process for all existing catalog items
  2. Use these questions to identify the redundancies and complications in your existing fulfillment processes (This won’t be a comprehensive list, but is a good starting point):
    • Which approval requests have an almost 100% approval rate?
    • What’s the impact of eliminating individual approval stages?
    • How many times does a team hand off each request?
    • What role does each team play in fulfilling the request? Are any roles unnecessary?

Eliminate all redundant activities in the fulfillment process identified through this exercise. Note: Eliminating steps will require buy‑in from the service owners and fulfillers.

Step 2: Build a simple, high‑level, standard view of the fulfillment processes

Not all catalog items have a unique fulfillment process, and they shouldn’t. The team’s solution architect must work with the service owners to build a standard high‑level view of the catalog items’ fulfillment processes. The ServiceNow best practice is to create three levels—small, medium, and large—of the fulfillment processes based on the number of approvals and fulfillment steps required. Figure 4 shows an example.

Figure 4: High‑level view of standard fulfillment processes

In Figure 4, the small fulfillment process example is for catalog items that don’t need any approvals to execute. As we go a level up, the number of approvals and number of fulfillment tasks keeps increasing. The large fulfillment process requires a matrix of approvals from the user side (manager and above) and the control group (the one that makes sure the request doesn’t pose any security risks or break any organizational policy) before initiating the fulfillment tasks, which may involve coordinating with multiple different teams.

Note: Design these standard, high‑level fulfillment processes based on your business processes. Figure 4 is just an example to illustrate increasing size and complexity.

Step 3: Map out the exact fulfillment process flow and roles involved for each level

For each of these fulfillment processes, map out the teams or roles involved, along with the overarching process flow. See Figure 5 for an example with a medium‑level (or level 2) fulfillment process.

Figure 5: Example fulfillment process flow and roles involved

Step 4: Create standard workflows associated with each fulfillment process level

Once you have a simple, lean process flow defined for all fulfillment process levels, design standard workflows—small, medium, and large—in the Service Catalog application. Ensure the specific details on “who the approver is” and “which team needs to do what” are all built in at the request level in the form of request tasks and request approvals.

Figure 6: Example workflow for a subscription request

Expert Tip


Automate low‑risk, low‑ROI approvals and manual steps. Many low‑risk, low‑ROI activities, like approving a minor expense, don’t require human intervention. Identify all such low‑risk activities and configure the Service Catalog application to automatically approve or take the required steps (like reset a password) to eliminate the need for a human intervention. Explore ServiceNow Flow Designer to automate your business processes.

Deploy standard workflows incrementally and incentivize service providers to adopt them

As you read in Stage 1, using a big bang approach for your adoption strategy is ambitious and can lead to many complications. Don’t reengineer the fulfillment process for all catalog items at the same time to remove redundancies—this is difficult and requires buy‑in from all stakeholders (see Figure 5 for examples of the roles involved). Instead, take an incremental approach. Start with low‑complexity, high‑value catalog items and demonstrate their value—to secure executive buy‑in—before you incorporate high‑complexity, high‑value catalog items into the new design.

Catalog managers may receive exception requests to create a new workflow that’s based on a legacy fulfillment process. Not all these requests are unreasonable. Instead of taking an ad hoc approach to these requests, create a rigorous process to validate and design nonstandard workflows:

  1. Ask service owners to outline their business needs and clearly articulate why their process can’t comply with a standard fulfillment workflow.
  2. Validate the nonstandard fulfillment process request with the catalog design team.
  3. If it’s approved, work with the solution architect to remove the redundancies in the business process the service owners requested.
  4. Design the new, nonstandard workflow for the requested business process with the objective of making it available as standard option for future requests.

Following this process should encourage your team’s service owners to use standard workflows for a faster time to market.

For the catalog items that don’t have standard, automated workflows linked in the catalog, use the execution plan option in the Service Catalog application to notify the fulfillment team about the request. The fulfillment team can then follow their legacy method to complete the request. This ensures your end users don’t have to wait for the new catalog workflow design to scale to all catalog items to find and request what they need. See this video for details on how to create Service Catalog execution plans and workflows.

Tools and resources

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