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The Ultimate Step-by-Step ITSM Implementation Project Plan

Updated: Feb 11

A guide and downloadable templates for managing an ITSM Implementation


ITSM Implementation Plan Example

Are you seeking to transform your IT service management (ITSM) capabilities?


It’s more than just deploying a new tool or process; it’s about crafting a comprehensive approach encompassing strategy, communication, and continuous improvement.


This article will guide you through the essential steps to craft a successful ITSM implementation project plan and provide you with some templates that will get you off to the best possible start.


Document Templates

Here are several supporting document templates that can kick-start an ITSM Implementation Project Plan.


Implementation Project Plan Template
.docx
Download DOCX • 73KB

ITSM Requirements Document
.docx
Download DOCX • 59KB

There are many others over in the Templates section of the site that may also help, including;





How Do You Implement an ITSM System?


  1. Define Requirements: Document your needs in terms of must-have / could-have requirements.

  2. Identify & Evaluate: Explore the marketplace, draft a top 5, and arrange demos. Then, seek a hands-on trial with the top 2.

  3. Select a Vendor: Make a final selection based on requirements, budget and due diligence.

  4. Plan Implementation: Define a delivery plan, potentially with the vendor's support.

  5. Data Migration: Move any data into the system (users, legacy data, assets, etc.)

  6. Configure & Customise: Configure workflows, teams, categories, SLAs, etc

  7. Training: Train your team on how to use the system. Ensure any administrators are confident in making changes.

  8. User Acceptance Testing: Have the team test the system to ensure it works as expected.

  9. Go-Live: Launch with communications to the organisation. Review & adapt.


Key Recommendations - Before You Start


Keep it simple and avoid protracted procurement processes.


Wrapping yourself up in a protracted procurement process is best avoided if possible.


It is understandable if you have a strongly defined procurement process that requires evaluating and scoring options and business case approvals. However, the most difficult decisions are often when we are overwhelmed with choices, or there are no wrong choices.


I've seen teams get procurement fatigue just because they feel they need to get hands-on with everything or the vendors start to control the procurement process.


Short-list. Get Demos. Go hands-on with two. Make a choice.


Seek management support for the investment first.


You don't go to buy a car for yourself before you have decided a) you need one, b) you have the budget. So, the same applies here.


A lot of wasted time can be avoided if you know you have strong managerial support for change before evaluating solutions. If you do have that support right up front, it'll make every step much easier.


The vendors will sit up and notice you better if they think you have budget approval. The team will engage better, too, as will other stakeholders.


Step 1: Gather Your ITSM Requirements


So, the first step in any procurement process is to define what you need. Even if it's relatively simple, collect your requirements.


Typically the requirements will come from multiple stakeholders, so engage them well, and don't fall into the trap of telling people what their requirements are. If they have needs, they should express them, but may require a little coaching to do so.


ITSM Requirements


I can't define your requirements for you, as everyone's needs are unique, but as a basic starter to get you going, here are some general areas of consideration that most would be exploring from any software evaluation.


Functional Requirements

  • Core Features: The essential functionalities that the application must provide to meet your business needs.

  • User Experience: How intuitive and user-friendly the application is, including its learning curve and interface design.

  • Integration: The ability of the application to integrate with other systems and platforms within your IT ecosystem.

  • Customisation: How easily the application can be tailored to fit specific business processes and requirements.


Technical Requirements

  • Architecture: The technical foundation of the application, including considerations for scalability, performance, and compatibility.

  • Security: Security features and compliance with relevant standards and regulations to protect data and users.

  • Data Management: How the application handles data input, storage, retrieval, and export, including backup and recovery processes.

  • Portability: The ability of the application to run on various platforms or environments if necessary.

Financial Requirements

  • Cost: The total cost of ownership, including initial purchase, implementation, training, support, and maintenance costs.

  • Licensing: The licensing model of the application and how well it fits with your usage expectations and budget constraints.

  • ROI Expectations: Expected return on investment, including efficiency gains, cost savings, and other financial benefits.

Support and Maintenance

  • Vendor Support: The level and quality of support provided by the vendor, including availability, response times, and support channels.

  • Updates and Upgrades: How the application is kept current with updates and upgrades, and the associated costs and processes.

  • Training: Availability and quality of training resources or services to ensure effective use of the application by staff.


Compliance and Standards

  • Regulatory Compliance: Compliance with relevant industry regulations and standards.

  • Data Protection: Adherence to data protection laws and guidelines, ensuring the privacy and security of user data.

Vendor Viability

  • Vendor Reputation: The reputation and stability of the vendor in the market.

  • Customer Reviews: Feedback from current and past customers regarding their experience with the application and vendor.

  • Future Roadmap: The vendor’s commitment to the future development of the application, ensuring it will continue to meet your needs.


The template below will walk you through a more detailed exploration of requirements if needed.

A screenshot of ITSM requirements template

Capabilities for Consideration


Here are some initial suggestions of requirements to consider;


Service Reporting & Resource Management


Visualisation and analysis of the ITSM platform and integrated data for service costing, improvement, and resource utilisation, including

  • Dashboards

  • Historical reporting and trend analysis

  • Predictive analytics


Case Management


The platform can easily be adapted to manage tasks and processes related to IT and other business operations without using a separate tool for automating business processes or a platform specifically designed for creating applications with minimal coding.


Service Level Management


The tool should be able to manage service-level agreements, including tracking SLA performance and generating SLA-related reports.


Workflow Automation & Integration


ITSM applications can make IT operations more efficient by automating repetitive tasks and connecting different actions across the ITSM platform. This is made possible with the help of a tool that lets you design and manage complex processes, coordinating various tasks and systems.


So look for something that can allow you to configure processes without too much training and development.


Multichannel Engagement


Look to see if the ITSM system can directly provide, or integrate with other solutions, for the delivery of IT service experiences across various channels and devices, including;


  • Mobile apps

  • Live chat

  • Virtual agents (AI tools),

  • User portals for logging issues with a request catalogue

  • Forums

  • Knowledge base


IT Support Enablement


Processes, recommendations, and automation to enable IT support functions, including incident management, problem management, integrated observability, and knowledge management.


Service Configuration Management


Federated system of record for relationships and performance of IT service components, enabling efficient and accurate decisions regarding IT service delivery.


At the very least, you'll likely want the solution to integrate with your asset and user management systems, so that you can assign the incidents and requests to the correct people and equipment.


Adaptive Change & Release


Control governance and risk in production environment changes through automation, standard change models, integration with DevOps tools, and release and deployment oversight.


Integrated AI


Application of AI and analytics within ITSM platforms to improve staff efficiency, effectiveness, and error reduction by augmenting ITSM processes, field recommendations, proactive support, and data-driven automation.


Integrations


With CRMs like SalesForce / User Account Management from Active Directory or other / Office tools (Slack, OneDrive, etc.).


Some Suggestions


Always write down your requirements.


Have a version you can share with suppliers so they can respond directly in their presentations or responses to each need, and you can compare apples with apples. Most vendors will ask for this if not presented with it anyway; they'll want evidence of how much their solution fits your requirements.


Know your must-have / should-have / could-have requirements and categorise them as such.

This helps define your red lines and whittle down vendors quickly.

A woman working on her laptop


If possible, draft a 3-year plan


Where do you want this product to go? How will the business change in that period? What external or internal factors might change? Would you require future integrations with other services? Would you expand into other service areas, such as Change or Inventory management?


Know your budget, and don't allow yourself to be pulled in by vendors


Early discussion about budget ranges and what you can afford may significantly influence which solutions you evaluate.


There's no point walking into a Rolls-Royce showroom if you only have a few thousand dollars to spend.


Vendors will often be reluctant to share pricing with you at the start of the journey, so if pricing is going to be a significant issue, ask for rough budgetary order of magnitude figures from them right up front or look for organisations which are transparent and publish their pricing on their websites.


Step 2: Evaluating ITSM Vendors


Broadly ITSM solutions will fit into the following categories;


  • free/open source

  • mid-range

  • premium

The table below is a summary of the options and significant differences. However, overlap will always exist as these categories have no hard lines.

Free / Open Source

Mid-Range

Premium

Features & Functionality

Limited features covering basic ticket management and incident tracking.

More comprehensive features, including reporting, automation, and knowledge management.

Extensive features include AI-assisted automation, advanced analytics, and tight integrations with various tools.

Customisation & Flexibility

It may require manual configuration and programming to tailor the system to your organisation's needs.

Moderate customisation options and configurable workflows may have limitations compared to premium options.

Highly customisable and adaptable to unique requirements, providing greater flexibility for various use cases.

Scalability

They may struggle to support a growing organisation or handle many users, tickets, or assets.

Better scalability but might face limitations with huge enterprises or complex use cases.

 They are designed for large-scale operations, providing robust performance even in large or complex environments.

Support & Maintenance

Community-driven support, potentially leading to slower resolution of issues or less reliable updates.

Dedicated support, with response times and support quality, varies based on the vendor's offering.

Premium support options often include 24/7 assistance, faster response times, and dedicated account management.

Cost

Generally free or low cost, but may require additional resources for customisation and maintenance.

Moderate cost, balancing features, support, and customisation options.

Higher upfront and ongoing costs, but provides a comprehensive solution, advanced features, and reliable support.

Marketplace Options


Stepping into the ITSM marketplace can be overwhelming. There are so many options, and they all claim to be best for you.


The following are not recommendations or endorsements but simply some starting points of the most well-known solutions on the market. They are not affiliated / advertising links.


Free / Open Source Options

Investigating and understanding what you are and are not getting with these solutions is crucial.


For example, some have advertising within them, some have limited functionality, and others are without backup solutions.



spiceworks ITSM logo


FHD help desk software logo

request tracker logo

OSTicket logo

Mid-Range Options

These are widely used and solid choices, with years of product evolution, supporting materials and configuration options available.

solarwinds logo


jira service management logo

freshdesk logo

Premium Options

These market-leading options have the broadest range of features and customisation choices.

servicenow logo

bmc helix logo

Guidance To Help Evaluate ITSM Vendors


Use resources such as 'Gartner's Magic Quadrant for ITSM' 

Many vendors offer the report for free if it reflects well on them

gartner magic quadrant for ITSM tools

Be careful of any websites that claim to compare solutions for you.


They may position themselves as independent, but on closer examination can be found to be application vendors themselves.


That said, here are some commonly used sites that collect software reviews that may be helpful.



Capterra logo

Gartner logo


Consider the configuration and onboarding carefully


Some organisations have thought through the entire customer journey and have onboarding resources dedicated to making implementation successful. Others will throw the software at you.


Evaluate your needs and options here carefully. Success often lies not in the functionality but in the implementation.


Give any existing solution a fair evaluation


It may be that you 100% know the limitations of any current solution if you already have one and are keen to move away from it.


However, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater; ensure you have thoroughly exhausted your existing solution by exploring the requirements you have drafted with the incumbent vendor.


You'll avoid a lot of egg on your face and unnecessary costs if you evaluate your existing tools carefully and give them a fair shake of the stick.


Step 3: Select a Final Vendor


In this step, you'll select the most suitable vendor based on the evaluation process conducted in Step 2.


How you select your ITSM solution will be done to a host of parameters unique to your circumstances and requirements that you need to evaluate, but make sure you are doing this consistently and fairly for each option.


For example, if you don't see a feature in one solution that appears in another, ask the vendor if it exists; don't just make assumptions.


Ultimately, it would be best if you had just two or three options that it comes down to. However, if you are privileged to know which solution is right for you without too much deliberation, I recommend just going for it, especially if its in the Gartner magic quadrant.


Always follow internal procurement guidelines and demonstrate your evaluation and recommendation in a business case. Others may need to know how the decision was reached.


Review the vendor evaluations


Revisit the evaluations you conducted in Step 2, 'Identify & Evaluate Vendors', noting each vendor's strengths and weaknesses. Pay special attention to their ability to fulfil your requirements and any additional features or capabilities that may add value to your help desk operations.


The best way to analyse options is to put them into a matrix, such as a spreadsheet, and numerically score each solution against consistent criteria. Maybe some score more highly in certain areas that look good but are weak in the mandatory features.


a hand using a magnifying glass

Compare costs


Evaluate each vendor's pricing models, considering the initial setup costs, ongoing maintenance fees, and any additional costs for customisation or integrations. Factor in your budget and the potential return on investment (ROI) the tool can provide.


I always recommend looking at the total cost of ownership over three years.


Some suppliers will give an artificially low cost in year 1, substantially increasing the costs through years 2 and 3. They know it is tough to move once locked into their software. Vendors may be low in one area, such as licencing, but high in another, such as integrations with other applications and tools. Make sure they are being transparent and upfront with their costings.


Check references and customer testimonials


If you want additional confidence, contact other clients to understand their experience with the tool and the vendor's support services. It'll likely be a part of any procurement process in a larger organisation.


In addition, online reviews and testimonials can provide valuable insights into the tool's performance and user satisfaction (see Gartner & Capterra in the previous section).


Consider vendor stability and reputation.


Research the vendor's stability, financial health, and standing in the industry.


Choosing a well-established vendor with a proven track record reduces the risk of disruptions due to financial issues or lack of support.


Sometimes the Finance or Procurement teams in an organisation can help here. This is especially important if you don't have much information on an organisation or they don't appear on many evaluation platforms (i.e. Gartner). You could be an early adopter of new technology, offering significant benefits and drawbacks.


Assess vendor support and responsiveness.


Evaluate the quality of the vendor's support services, including their response times, availability (24/7 or business hours only), and communication channels (phone, email, chat).


Selecting a vendor with reliable support services can help ensure a smooth implementation process and minimise potential issues during operation. Dig around on their website, read their help materials and get a sense of their offering. Great support can make or break a relationship.


It can be very telling by evaluating how much the vendor engages with you during the early days and how much support they are willing to offer you in onboarding and migration. Someone once referred to this as the 'get out of bed index', which means if you call a vendor early one morning because you have a problem, will they jump out of bed and get to it because they value your custom, or will they treat your organisation as one among many, and roll over and go back to sleep?


Ensure scalability and future-proofing


Consider whether the ITSM tool can scale and adapt to your organisation's future needs, such as growing user bases, additional features, or integration with other systems.


Choose a vendor capable of supporting your long-term goals and growth plans. This refers to the earlier discussion on our three-year plan for the ITSM solution and any modular add-ons.


Weigh the pros and cons


picture showing a woman weighing some items

Review all the information gathered during the evaluation process, and weigh the pros and cons of each vendor. Then, create a shortlist of the top contenders, and discuss the options with your team and stakeholders to reach a consensus.


That said, while consensus is great, don't attempt to make decisions by committee. It should be no more than 2 or 3 people making a decision and a final recommendation.


Decision-making owner(s) and accountability should be clearly defined from the outset.


Negotiate terms and conditions


Once you've chosen the preferred vendor, negotiate to secure favourable terms and conditions. This may include pricing, service level agreements (SLAs), support services, and customisation options.


Generally, if the supplier publishes its licencing prices on its website transparently, it won't negotiate. However, if they keep their price book closed and are coy about pricing, you have more room for manoeuvrability. Always act keen but cool. You want the vendor to believe you are interested in their product but have options and don't have to choose them.


If pricing is at the discretion of the salesperson, then they'll pressure you at month, quarter or year-end for the revenue so they can make their sales targets. This can be annoying as they pester you every five minutes, but valuable if you deliberately wait to engage them at one of these points.


Terms and conditions are likely non-negotiable for larger organisations, so I wouldn't even try. However, with smaller vendors, there is always an opportunity to be more explicit about expectations around support and maintenance.


Critical contract considerations to allow you to select a vendor

Important things to always review in any contract, whether you can negotiate them or not, are;


  • Payment terms. Be clear on how invoicing will work. There can be a significant difference for a CFO in paying everything up-front rather than quarterly or monthly. Most small or medium organisations like to smooth their cash flow to regular payments rather than sudden annual spikes.

  • Termination terms. Understand clearly how and when you can terminate your licence agreement. For example, if you are committed to the vendor for a period, you need to know for how long and under what circumstances (i.e. poor performance) you can terminate early and what that process looks like. Also, check the terms about exporting your data. Some organisations may charge extra to help you migrate or may not even let you take your data. It's worth knowing the boundaries.

  • Warranties/service credits. If the performance is poor, how does the vendor experience that pain? Do they have service credits or a money-back scheme? What motivation do they have for providing excellent service?


Step 4: Planning The ITSM Implementation


This implementation project plan will help guide your team through the process and ensure a smooth transition.


Project planning is a skill that requires a whole training course just for the subject, but these guidelines provide a generic implementation plan, which you can adopt and adapt to help you plan out your implementation.

ITSM implementation plan screenshot

Establish objectives and success criteria.


Begin by defining success criteria and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the project's progress and outcomes. These should come directly from your objectives as outlined in your requirements document from Step 1, "Document Your Requirements".


a project timeline

Create a project timeline.


Develop a realistic project timeline outlining the key milestones, tasks, and deadlines for each phase of the implementation process. This should include planning, data migration, configuration, customisation, training, user acceptance testing (UAT), and go-live.


A template is provided at the end of the chapter for a suggested approach, but it is only a starting point, and many other things need consideration.


Assemble the project team.


Form a cross-functional project team with representatives from IT, the help desk, and other relevant departments. Assign roles and responsibilities, such as project manager, implementation lead, training coordinator, and system administrator.


 

a lightbulb

Engage with your stakeholders!


Any significant groups impacted by the change should be brought into the project to help shape it and make it a success. Even if your team is small, and the decision-making sits with you, engage the wider team(s) and ensure they buy into the vision and new direction. If you don't, they will likely feel excluded, and that change is being made to them rather than them playing a part in it. I firmly believe in finding your most prominent critics or most likely resisters and bringing them close.

 

Develop a communication plan

a kanban

Create a plan to keep stakeholders informed and engaged throughout the implementation process.


This may include regular status updates, progress reports, and project meetings.


A template is provided for creating such a plan in the templates section.


Define system architecture and infrastructure


Work with the vendor and your internal IT team to determine the appropriate system architecture and infrastructure for the new ITSM solution, considering scalability, performance, and security factors.


Of course, this will entirely depend upon your hosting options and other parameters, but make sure you are engaging with any technical teams as early on in the process as possible.


I've seen simple implementations prohibited from progressing because infrastructure and security teams are involved too late, and fundamental considerations were not addressed.


Plan for data migration


Develop a data migration plan to transfer relevant data from your current helpdesk system (if it exists) or other tools into the new ITSM solution. This may include user accounts, historical tickets, knowledge base articles, and configuration items.


Again, this is difficult to specify in detail, but you will want to identify your data stores, transfer method and the cutover point when the previous solution is no longer needed.


More information about data migration is in the lesson Step 5 - Data Migration.


Plan for configuration and customisation


Identify any necessary system configurations and customisations to align the new ITSM solution with your organisation's processes, policies, and branding. This may involve configuring workflows, fields, forms, and notifications and integrating them with existing systems.


More information is in Step 5 - Configuration & Customisation.

 
a lightbulb

It's a suggestion, but accept out-of-the-box configuration options wherever possible.


While it might sound counter-intuitive, most systems will have tried and tested processes based on best practices ready to run with much less configuration needed than adapting to tool to meet your complex existing processes.


Modifying your rules to meet the tool's default configuration is often a better approach. Again, I recognise that it's counter-intuitive but worth strong consideration.


 

Develop a training plan

someone learning

Create a training plan to ensure all helpdesk staff and relevant stakeholders are familiar with the new ITSM solution's features and functionality. This may include vendor-provided training, in-house sessions, and self-guided resources.


Training is discussed more fully in Step 7 - Training.


Plan for user acceptance testing (UAT)


Develop a UAT plan to validate that the new ITSM solution meets your organisation's requirements and success criteria. This should involve representative users who will test the system, provide feedback, and sign off on the final implementation. Dropping in an untested solution over the top of existing business processes could cause disruption and demotivate the team.


Step 8: User Acceptance Testing, explores UAT.


Prepare for go-live

a rocket

Plan the go-live process, including the steps to transition from the old helpdesk system to the new ITSM solution, such as data cutover, system activation, and user onboarding.


Develop a contingency plan to address any potential issues during the go-live process.

By following these guidelines and creating a thorough implementation plan, you'll be better prepared to manage the complexities of implementing your new helpdesk ITSM solution and achieving your project objectives.


See Step 9 "Go Live" for more information.


Step 5: Considering Data Migration Planning


Successful data migration ensures the new system is accurate, functional and delivers the expected business benefits. This section will explore considerations to remember if you want to bring data over from a legacy system.


Identify the data to be migrated


When you reach your ITSM data migration planning, carefully evaluate which data should be migrated to the new system and why. Prioritise business-critical data and consider removing or archiving obsolete, redundant, or low-quality data to minimise complexity and ensure a clean start in the new system.


It can be beneficial to draw a line under the old system and only bring across a few bits of critical data, or even none at all. Perhaps the old system can be maintained as a legacy system for reference if necessary, or everything could be exported to PDF documents and filed.


There may be ways in which data migration can be minimised or even avoided. If you can avoid it, it will make your life easier. Robustly challenge why you must migrate data and who needs it for what purposes. It could save you a big headache.


a woman trying to outrun data

Select the data migration approach


Choose a data migration approach that best aligns with your organisation's goals, resources, and the data's complexity.


Common approaches include:


  • Big bang: migrating all data at once, typically during a scheduled downtime

  • Phased: migrating data in smaller chunks over time

  • Parallel: running both old and new systems concurrently for a period while gradually transitioning data


Develop a contingency plan


Plan for the possibility of unexpected issues or setbacks during the migration process.

Develop a contingency plan that outlines steps to mitigate risks, address potential data loss or corruption, and ensure business continuity.


Always be in a position where if the migration steps don't work as expected, you can always go back and try again later.


Test, validate, and monitor the migration process


Test the data migration process before going live.


I'm just going to repeat that. Test the data migration process before going live.


I watched a project I was not directly involved in crash and burn spectacularly because the data migration exercise was an afterthought.


Validate the migrated data to confirm the accuracy and monitor the process closely to identify and address any issues promptly.


Post-migration support and optimisation


After the migration, monitor the new ITSM solution and address any issues or gaps. Use this opportunity to optimise processes and workflows, refine the system configuration, and implement continuous improvement initiatives.


Suggested Steps For A Data Migration Plan


Data assessment & inventory

Identify data sources and types, assess data quality, and create a data inventory.


Data mapping & transformation rules

Define the mapping between source and target systems, and specify any required data transformation rules.


ETL testing & data validation

Test the process in a non-production environment, validate data integrity, and fix any issues.


Data cleansing & migration

Clean and migrate helpdesk tickets, user data, historical incident records, documents, and IT asset data.


Data reconciliation & cleanup

Reconcile migrated data, identify discrepancies, and clean up residual data or differences.


Post-migration monitoring & support

Monitor the system after migration, and provide support to address any migration-related issues.


Step 6: Configuring & Customising the Tool


Configuring and customising an ITSM tool to the organisation's unique requirements and aligning it with its processes and workflows is crucial.



Understand the out-of-the-box capabilities.

Before starting the customisation process, gain a thorough understanding of the out-of-the-box features and capabilities of the ITSM solution.


As previously mentioned, there is great value in leveraging these features as much as possible to reduce the need for extensive customisation, which can increase complexity and hinder system updates and upgrades.


Adhere to best practices and vendor guidelines for configuring and customising the ITSM solution. This minimises the risk of issues, ensures optimal performance, and simplifies future upgrades.


Determine required customisations