5-step planning for your next learning portal
Shaping the future of learning
So you need a learning management system. Or you have one, but secretly conspire its demise. After all, who doesn’t want a shiny new LMS to drive around? New features, fancy buttons, new body style… what else do you need? Quite a bit, actually. The era of using an LMS as a learning portal is here, and so even though the prospect of a new LMS is definitely exciting, making sure your new system can meet modern needs is the key to guaranteeing that you’ll enjoy your new purchase long after you’ve taken it off the lot.
Let’s match these needs to an LMS, then. A long checklist of
features should do it, right? And the vendor with the most checks in the boxes wins? Wrong again. A successful LMS Plan requires careful preparation, plenty of analysis, use case scenarios, and more. While putting together an LMS Plan is not terribly difficult (in fact, you can use this free LMS Planning Guide as a template), it does require the right people, the right steps, and the right amount of time. The following five-step approach is designed to help you create a plan that fits the bill.
Step 1: Prepare Your Team
Every project needs a champion, and your LMS project is no different. Choose a champion that:
- Can clearly verbalize the need for a Learning Portal and the benefits of implementing one
- Can serve as the voice of the project to management and stakeholders
- Understands the learning needs of your company and target audience at a high level
- Has the backing of management, who controls the budget
Next, pick a stakeholder team. Find a team of fully engaged stakeholders who will help you define requirements and select a vendor. These stakeholders should represent each line of business that will use the Portal and should also include someone from IT and HR. Don’t make this team too big: five people or less is typically the ideal.
Finally, analyze your team’s capabilities. Conduct an honest evaluation of your team’s ability to implement and administer an LMS. Don’t be afraid to highlight gaps; it will show how you may need a vendor that will be willing to give you more training and hand holding throughout the process.
Step 2: Define Your Customers
It’s a good idea to think of the groups whose needs you’ll be meeting with the LMS as your customers. List the departments, such as T&D, HR, Sales, Legal, etc., that will be deploying training through the LMS. Then, take a closer look at the training they do and how that will influence your LMS selection. Use criteria like the size, impact, and training volume of each audience to determine how critical their requirements are.
Consider the tools, processes, and other software applications these customers use for both their daily operations and for training. Identify any integration your new LMS may need to make with these third party applications, as well as the time and resources required. The effort for a single integration can be significant, so be sure to prioritize the requirements you hear. Start by completing a preliminary list of training initiatives for your customers, in order of their importance, and then seek confirmation on these priorities with your stakeholders.
Step 3: Create Use Case Scenarios
Now that you have your team in place and customers defined, it’s time to gather some details. Think about the “actors” for your most important initiatives. Actors are all of the groups that will be involved with any given training initiative. For example, what will a learner need to do? How about a trainer? Or a supervisor, LMS admin, or manager? Tell a simple story for each, targeting the prioritized needs you have identified.
Your use cases should provide lists of steps that describe the interactions between actors and the LMS to achieve certain goals or outcomes. These steps will be vital, later on, in your evaluation of a system’s capability to meet your organization’s needs.
Step 4: Synthesize Your Requirements
Now that you’ve identified your top priorities and explained them in use cases, convert that to a list of requirements. Many LMS shoppers ask for everything they can think of in an effort to future-proof themselves. Be careful of this kind of scope creep. Only those features that satisfy your requirements contribute to a good user experience; anything more can sometimes detract from it. You’ve identified your priorities, so reflect those priorities in your requirements list. Mark anything that’s not in your list of priorities as “nice to have” or “for future use.”
If an RFP is what you’re looking to do next, then you’re ready to go. Use the RFP process to tell your story: these are my key customers and this is the experience I want them to have. Include your use case scenarios and requirements list, and encourage vendors to reply in the context of your story. Don’t get too tied up in traditional RFP formats; the RFP is yours, and you have the right to ask vendors to respond in the way that’s most useful to you. Make sure your prioritized requirements are front and center, as this will help weed out vendors who cannot take care of your priority needs.
Step 5: Evaluate Vendors
Now you’re on to scheduling demos. You should plan four hours for each demo – that’s a typical length. During the demo, you’ll be scoring how well the LMS fits your requirements, but you should also try to judge how well the personality of the vendor fits with your own company and team. How does the vendor respond to questions and your requests for specifics? How willing are they to think outside the box? How receptive are they to your participation and how excited (or not) do they get when you are proactive?
Feel empowered to ask your vendors to use your use cases as a script for their demo. They may push back, because they have their own scripts that show all of the bells and whistles of their platform. Give vendors time and space to show you bells and whistles, but only after they have shown you how their system will fulfill your use cases. Don’t be afraid to push the vendors to get the answers you need. The vendor and your relationship with them will be the key to a successful outcome.
Now you should be able to narrow down the list to the final 2 or 3 top vendors. Each vendor should give you logins to a sandbox where you and your team can get some hands-on experience in their LMS. Each of your stakeholders should log into the LMS sandbox and walk through their top 1 or 2 use cases. This should lead to a discussion of the feel of the LMS. Which system gives you the functionality you need with a simple, easily understood interface? Which system will best reflect your needs, personality, and goals?
Now your decision should be clear. Documenting your top requirements and use cases, keeping your goals clearly in mind, and assessing how well each vendor fits your needs should lead you to making the right choice for your brand new LMS. Enjoy!