• Fishbone Analytics Inc.

The Five Keys to a Successful ServiceNow Upgrade


So, you need to upgrade your ServiceNow instances. Whether you are looking to take advantage of innovative new functionality and features in the latest release, or you are looking to ensure your platform stays current, you’ll want to know the best approach to making the process as seamless as possible.

There are two major releases on the platform each year, along with several patches and hot fixes in between. Finding a streamlined, repeatable process that works for your organization is vital to stay on pace with the platform.

Having led many of our customers through their upgrade projects, here are five important steps I take to make the upgrade process a successful experience.


Having a plan for your upgrade sounds pretty obvious, but it’s your most valuable tool before, during and after any upgrade. Start by having a checklist of all the activities you need to accomplish- you can even download one from ServiceNow’s website. Save this somewhere you and your team have access to so that you can collaborate and check through your progress. Obtain the release notes for your target version and carefully review the new, changed and removed features/applications, highlighting anything that will have an impact in your environment.

Treat your upgrade like a project; set milestone dates, secure testing resources and document your progress. You’ll want to get your upgrade approved with the business, so have your implementation plan, testing results and rollback strategy integrated into your plan.

Tip: Don’t forget you’ll be doing this all over again in 6-12 months, so having well documented information about your previous upgrade is extremely useful. Review the notes you made, testing results and any lessons learned from last time!


Communication about your upgrade is essential. Pull together an upgrade team and let each person know the role they will play in your project. You’ll want to know who your

business users and testers are, what your internal change process is, who can help you with internal publications, and who is going to sign off on your progress.

Talk about timescales, set milestones for each phase and setup calendar appointments in advance for anyone you need as a resource on your upgrade. Depending on the complexity of your environment, you may want to consider setting up a daily SCRUM meeting for your upgrade team. Use the plan you setup in Key #1 to visualize your progress with a simple progress chart or Visual Task Board.

Advertise your upgrade schedule so that development teams are aware of code/change freeze windows and identify any teams you need to support upgrade related tasks.

Setup a Go/No-Go decision meeting with all your upgrade stakeholders to take place before the upgrade date.

Tip: Use the email templates and infographics available from ServiceNow’s website to help you tell people in your organization about the upgrade.


While you’ll want to encourage attention about some of the new, exciting features that will be available in your upgrade, you should typically try to avoid enabling new plugins and features until after the upgrade project is complete. This lets you focus on testing existing functionality and ensuring your important catalog items, portals and workflows all behave as expected (more in Key #5).

Capture any interest in the new features your upgrade will bring and follow up once the upgrade is complete. Use Demand Management or track them as new Features on your instance to see them through from conception to deployment.

Tip: Get visual with your business and show them the value of staying current! Use this free tool from ServiceNow to get a personalized value report.


Cloning is an essential, but sometimes painful part of the upgrade process. You’ll want to ensure your sub-production instances contain all the current data and functionality of Production, so that your pre-production instance upgrades can reflect what happens on go-live day as accurately as possible. You’ll get the chance to uncover any issues early on and prepare fixes in advance of your Production upgrade. This should also mean development work in these instances goes on-hold whilst the upgrade project is underway. It’s good practice to invoke a change/development freeze window for this purpose and remember to communicate about it in advance (see Key #2).

Setup clone exclude tables, data preservers and clean-up scripts ahead of your clone to retain instance specific settings. You also need to export any in-flight development work beforehand. You will also lose any staged data that only exists in pre-prod environments.

Document your process and have a rollback plan in place. Check out this article in HI for some useful FAQs.

Tip: Ask ServiceNow about the Jumpstart program, where you can arrange to clone to a temporary instance. This will give you some valuable insights to your upgradability rating.

#5 TESTING, TESTING, 1, 2, 3

Raise awareness of User Acceptance Testing (UAT) early on and get buy-in with your stakeholders to give you the testing resources you need. You’ll want people that use and interact with the platform regularly to test out critical components and provide feedback to you. Schedule time in their calendar at upgrade milestones to perform UAT for you and record their results in the documentation that you setup in Key #1.

Dig-out any documentation you might have for scoped apps or customization that has been developed for your instance. Use these to build out test scripts that show the expected behavior for a specific module or application. This will help you and your business testers document expected vs actual behavior of forms, widgets and workflows during the upgrade. Switch your viewpoint to the ‘Employee Experience’ and see how the look, feel and behavior of these changes will impact their experience.

Get into the Automated Testing Framework! Baked right into the platform is the ability to create and run tests that mimic user interaction with forms, validate fields and values, and move records through their lifecycle. You’ll identify issues earlier, reduce manual testing and speed up each upgrade project.

Tip: Copy the out-of-box ATF quick start tests and start building test suites for your most important modules. Run them regularly in sub-production instances and review the results. You’ll want to use these again and again for each upgrade or patch!


The flexibility of the ServiceNow platform means that your organization will have configured and customized your instance to optimize it for their business needs. Simply put, an upgrade will affect each customer differently, but by following a few key principles, you can make it an event to celebrate.

Use it as an opportunity to collaborate with people in your business that use and rely on the platform as part of their daily work. The upgrade effort is in teamwork, ask for input from Subject Matter Experts inside each of your business areas that you need to test.

Don’t be afraid of issues that arise during the upgrade, reach out to the community, ask your account executive or favorite trusted ServiceNow partner for advice and help.

Tip: Administrators and Developers can enroll in the ServiceNow Upgrade Essentials path in the new Now Learning portal.

Dan Clayton - Manager, Platform Management Services


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