Plan Smarter, Not Harder: What makes ServiceNow SPM’s Planning Workspace such a Big Deal?
Updated: 31st Oct, 2023
ServiceNow’s Strategic Portfolio Management (SPM) has chugged along steadily. The product has seen a few ripples, like the introduction of TeamSpaces, yet the real tectonic shift happened with the San Diego platform upgrade when the “Planning Workspace” was released. It used to go by the name ‘Alignment Planner Workspace’, but has undergone a bit of a rebranding. For this article, we’ll stick with the term ‘Planning Workspace’.
The moment everything changed: ServiceNow’s Planning Workspace
So, what’s the buzz all about? As a ServiceNow SPM specialist, I’ve watched ServiceNow’s ITSM transformation that left us all in awe a few years back. Imagine the envy in my eyes as the ITSM Agent Workspace revolutionised an incident analyst’s day, liberating them from juggling incident forms and chasing related records across different tables via links and searches. All that chaos was replaced with a single page offering a panoramic view of all the related information.
Then, like a breath of fresh air, the Planning Workspace made its debut for SPM, and it felt like our moment had arrived. Just as ServiceNow’s ITSM transformed the experience of an incident analyst, the Planning Workspace did the same for us. Planners can now step back and admire the big picture, with high-level visualisations of everything in a portfolio or a programme, creating a single, interactive roadmap where key events in the delivery journey are laid out like stepping stones, and a single click will open up full details. It’s all there, no more digging or searching, just smooth sailing ahead.
All my work side-by-side
ServiceNow pulled off something truly remarkable with the Planning Workspace. They managed tonavigate an extra layer of complexity. Unlike ITSM where many key tables stemmed from a common parent table, in the realm of SPM, Projects and Demands do not share the same parent. ServiceNow’s Planning Workspace lets you visualise planning data of various types shoulder to shoulder, as if Demands, Programs, Projects and Epics were all children of the same parent table, by using a new type of record called Planning Items.
To break it down in simple terms, think of Planning Items as photocopies of the original records. ServiceNow uses an engine, which they call an ‘integration’ in their lingo to keep these planning items up-to-date with any changes that occur in the original record. Not just that, any changes you make to these Planning Items will seamlessly mirror their ‘execution item’, which is ServiceNow’s way of referring to the real deal.
Because the records you see in the Planning Workspace are Planning Items, and because the planning items for Projects, Programmes, Demands and Epics all come from the same parent table, the Workspace offers an integrated view that shows you all these different types of items at the same time. You can strategise with a single roadmap that’s a melting pot of different record types. Imagine rolling up the costs of all your investments in one particular department or for one particular product in a dynamic “portfolio plan”. It’s now possible, regardless of the type of investment. Flexibility and clarity at its finest.
But wait, there’s more to the ground-breaking leap forwards. The Planning Workspace introduced another fundamental change in the way people interacted with ServiceNow’s SPM records. It used to feel like the best functionality for consolidating costs or planning information from both Projects and Demands was only accessible when these records resided in the same Program or Portfolio, which was a bit of a siloed approach.
However, with Planning Workspace’s arrival, the script was flipped. You could now group your work in ways that make sense in your environment. In the Planning Workspace, work could be grouped by department, by business area, by owner or by the specific goal that the work was aligned with. The roadmap generated from this data will not be limited to being just a portfolio or programme plan, it will evolve into something much more versatile, such as a department’s change timeline, a business area’s enhancements roadmap or a strategic leader’s blueprint for achieving the strategic goal they championed. The possibilities expanded, offering you the freedom to tailor your planning approach to your unique needs.
Diverging into Two Products
In the year following its initial release, the already powerful tool underwent even more significant changes, and many of the Planner Workspace’s initial limitations, e.g. the need to define once and for all the structure that your planning items will fit into, were swept away.
ServiceNow moved from offering a single workspace available to both SPM Standard and SPM Professional customers to providing two separate workspaces – Strategic Planning Workspace for SPM Professional customers, and Alignment Planner Workspace for SPM Standard customers.
The difference between them might seem subtle at first glance. Primarily, the variations revolve around the depth to which ServiceNow’s Goal service, the ‘Goal Framework’, is integrated into the experience. Beneath the surface, there’s a shift in fundamental architecture as well.
Both workspaces maintain the invaluable feature of viewing projects and demands side-by-side and rolling them up as part of Programs or Portfolios. You can also group these records based on other criteria, giving you flexibility in your planning approach. But here’s the catch, the extent to which you can extend this functionality is now somewhat limited unless you have the Professional product.
For customers using SPM Standard, the experience of working with Agile elements such as Epics in the Portfolio Planning Workspace has its nuances. You can create Planning Items to represent them, and they’ll appear in an ad-hoc roadmap while displaying them in a Portfolio Plan is a no-go. That’s still quite an accomplishment! The Roadmap planning tool delivers excellent functionality, and once you’ve got your planning items on a page, clicking through to view and manage the full details of the record is still readily available. The thing is - the homepage of the Planning Workspace, which shows your Portfolio Plans, will never really feel like home.
On the other side of the coin, the SPM Professional version – the Strategic Planning Workspace - has none of these restrictions. Any Planning Item type you create can find its way into Portfolio Plans once you select a lens that includes them – and if you can’t locate the lens you need, you can craft your very own.
The excellent synchronisation engine offers a range of choices for deciding when data should pass between the planning items and the execution items. But again, extending this to custom tables, such as bespoke related records associated with Project or Demand, or even ITSM tables if you wish, is a functionality reserved for the Strategic Planning Workspace.
While the core functionality has been with us for a couple of releases now, it’s no surprise that ServiceNow keeps raising the bar in terms of product improvement and refinement over time. The latest enhancements Vancouver update, include better dashboards and reporting for the Strategic Goals and their accompanying Targets, new lenses that expand the range of ways to view your items, making it easier to monitor and analyse your strategic objectives, albeit primarily for the Pro customer.
Most interestingly, a new SPM Pro Service called Feedback has been introduced, but it’s nearly inaccessible without the Planning Workspace. This development hints at the beginning of a new trend, as ServiceNow encourages more and more PMOs and Planning Departments to embrace the power of the Planning Workspace.
I’m eagerly awaiting the innovations that the Washington release will bring in the New Year, but here’s something I can say with certainty: any ServiceNow SPM customer not making the most of the Planning Workspace, in whichever version they can, is missing out on an opportunity to modernise their planning experience, and will inevitably miss out on yet more exciting functionalities in the pipeline.
If you find yourself in that category, reach out to Unifii and we’ll be thrilled to assist you in taking that crucial step forward. And if you haven’t yet read my blog post on other fantastic Vancouver SPM enhancements, such as the excellent Data Separation engine, you can find it here. If your organisation is looking for support to leverage ServiceNow’s Strategic Portfolio Management services, get in touch with us. We’re here to help you make the most of your SPM journey.