In the learning space, lots of companies develop custom elearning with a vendor to get the job done. There's a reason why so many companies outsource custom elearning development work to third parties or freelancers rather than hiring a whole internal department to handle one-off projects or areas outside the core team’s specialty. And, in general, working with a vendor can be a great experience. However, there are times when there can be a bit of a learning curve or a challenge can present itself - such as when your organization is switching vendors or using a vendor for the first time. Why so many challenges? Well, because every company and project is different. When an organization is used to doing things a certain way, or their vendor is used to the way their other clients operate, relationship and trust building can take some time and flexibility.
That said, developing custom elearning with a vendor doesn’t have to be - and shouldn’t be - stressful. Of course, we do have a point of view on this topic given that Kineo is a vendor in the elearning space... we work hard with our clients to build relationships that go beyond vendor status to trusted partner. So what can you do to nurture that relationship and build a smooth working relationship with your vendor?
Below are some tips for kicking your new vendor relationship off on the right foot and making sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible from the get-go. When the relationship goes right, you’ll end up with a partnership that really works.
Know the lingo
Every organization has a variety of unique words and acronyms that they use to identify seemingly mundane things. Something that your company (or your old vendor) refers to as simply a “timeline” might be known as a “project map” to your new vendor.
And oh, the acronyms. So many acronyms. Some companies live and die by theirs. To ensure that things go smoothly as you begin working with a vendor, get a handle on your vendor’s terminology - and make they get to know yours as well!
Maybe this example will sound familiar. In our business, we toss around the term SME all the time and may just assume that everyone else understands it to mean Subject Matter Expert. Well, imagine my surprise after a few conversations to realize my client used that same acronym to mean something completely different. It was kind of like we were speaking different languages.
Luckily, this misunderstanding wasn’t a project-threatening one! It would be awful to be elbow deep in a project and realize that you've been talking about two completely different things. Clarify and define your buzzwords and acronyms! Some organizations we’ve worked with even have “vendor onboarding guides” or glossaries that lay out the corporate vernacular.
Become familiar with their timelines
When you're developing custom elearning with a vendor you’ll probably realize fairly quickly that your idea of how a project flows may be different from their standard operating procedure. This may be good, bad, or irrelevant - but it's important to make certain that everyone is on the same page from the beginning.
Let’s say you're used to developing custom elearning with a vendor - or your own internal team - by kicking off an elearning project, writing and approving all the content, and then designing the course aesthetic around that content. Your vendor, on the other hand, prefers to create the interface first and then design and write the content. Pretty different approaches, don’t you think? And if neither of you understands how your processes and expectations are different from each other’s, then your mutual expectations for deliverables and process will be all over the place, with potentially disastrous results.
If your vendor does things on a different timetable than you’re used to, ask them to explain why. You may find that their answer makes perfect sense or that perhaps it has no real bearing on the rest of the project. Or, you may find that “their way” and “your way” don’t quite mesh, in which case you can ask to make some adjustments. Flexibility on both ends is key, and with good communication and cooperation everything will be ironed out and moving along in no time.
Have you heard the old saying “there's more than one way to skin a cat?” While a bit grotesque, the sentiment is 100% true. Don't be afraid to make requests or push back on your vendor, such as suggesting that they adapt their process to something that fits your company's style a bit more seamlessly. That said, don't micromanage your vendor. After all, you hired them because they're the experts. If you’re throwing up roadblocks at every turn or requesting that every single aspect of their standard process be changed, you aren’t letting them do their job or allowing them to leverage their expertise. Remember, they have done this a few times! If you ask them to change their process too much, you may be adding more time and expense to the project. Bottom line: your vendor/partner’s job is to deliver a kick-butt elearning experience for your organization and they want to do good work for you. As the customer, you can decide on the terms, but don’t break something that’s not broken!
Great - so you’re off to a fabulous start with your new vendor, you’re aligned on terminology and process, and you’re willing to pushback when needed. Sounds like you’re on the way to building a long lasting and strategic relationship. Now what? Time to go design some fantastic solutions, of course! There are tons of options to consider when designing digital learning experiences. Take a look at this guide discussing Blended Learning for Onboarding for some great insight into creating engaging, insightful programs.