Sustainable development - are you setting up for failure with your LMS?
Senior Client Services Manager at Kineo
Implementing a new system can be a daunting, stressful, exciting, scary, and a busy experience—often all at the same time! So it’s unlikely you'll be considering further development work to new systems just after you've gone live. But having a sustainable approach to ongoing systems development can enable you to have more long term success, and better user engagement than if you don't have a clear idea of what comes next.
5 ways to ensure your LMS is sustainable
In my role as Senior Client Services Manager, I'm responsible for ensuring Kineo's clients have a great LMS and experience using the system to meet their learning and development needs. Some of that is down to services provided to them, but a large part is internal process and approach to managing the system. Below are 5 recommendations based on what I've seen my clients do in the past--both positive and negative - to ensure that you get the most out of your system and maximise usability, positive feedback, and return on investment.
The focus of these recommendations is how you approach system development post-implementation. I've written about how you can make the implementation itself a success, and you can read that blog post here.
Align your strategiesMost large organisations will have a defined L&D strategy somewhere in their business. This is often the driving force behind an LMS implementation- to help the business achieve their goals. Yet it's rarer to find a development strategy for the LMS itself which maps back to those business goals in the L&D strategy. Technology is an enabler, not the be-all and end-all, so having a plan for your LMS which reflects the plan for your business is an essential starting point. Otherwise, you risk the system moving in a different direction, and not delivering the results the business needs. This in turn can lead to dissatisfaction among stakeholders and even a reduction in future investment into the system.
Make a planA development plan is an underrated tool, and will make the management of your system much easier long term because:
- You'll have a clearer idea of what you're trying to achieve and how you will achieve it.
- You'll have more to talk to your users about which will support internal marketing and drive engagement.
- You'll make sure that your LMS remains relevant and useful.
Work in phasesIf you've got a plan, you know what the general needs of the system will be as time goes on. Naturally there may be slight adjustments to this but overall the direction shouldn’t drastically change. This means that you can then break down those requirements into themed chunks of work and look at spacing them out at an appropriate timescale.
This helps prevent perception that the system is constantly undergoing maintenance, which might cause negative feelings among users. It also addresses the potential concern that the system doesn't keep up with the changing nature of business. From the perspective of a systems manager, breaking work into phases means it can be managed as a series of projects, with defined teams. If launched alongside internal marketing and communications, this can help ensure that users know what's new and incentivise them to revisit the system.
Phases also help to manage internal stakeholders, as pressure from different areas to introduce certain functionality can be eased with transparency over when new features will be delivered. You could even allow key stakeholders to input into the phases using an "Agile" approach to move priority items up and down as required.
Don’t overcomplicate thingsWith any system implementation there will always be a certain level of expectation as to the value it will deliver straight away, as well as longer term. Remember that an LMS cannot be all things to all users, for example you wouldn't expect to pay your staff using the software you store your customer data on. In the same way, you should aim to keep the LMS to its core purpose.
Totara LMS itself provides an extensive core functionality out of the box, so make sure you've got a good understanding of it. Ensure you're making the most of what you already have available rather than rushing into development of customisations you may not need.
Working with your Totara partner to ensure you have a clear understanding of the configuration of your system will help you to avoid developing the system unnecessarily as there may be ways of doing things which you hadn't thought of, and could even be more efficient than the process you were looking to replicate in the system.
Speaking to your Totara partner about the use of plugins rather than bespoke customisations is also a good idea. Taking this approach means that although you may be adding custom code to your system, it's code which has been thoroughly tested in multiple settings, and designed in a manageable way, enabling future changes.
Review and evaluateSoftware evolves and changes over time, as do business processes, and user sentiment towards a system. Ensuring that you take stock at regular intervals will save you time and effort in the longer term as you'll be able to simplify the way you do things. As the software itself evolves you may find a new feature introduced which could deliver something you've been using customisation for. Could this replace your customisation and therefore simplify the system?
If the business has changed direction or new priorities have come through, a review of the system may highlight areas of functionality or process which are no longer needed and can be removed. Anything which reduces the amount of non-standard code within a system will contribute to extending its lifespan, and making it easier for you to manage.
Looking at user engagement, there is a lot of value to be gained from things such as Google Analytics, and the information you can find out about user behaviour from that. I'll be looking more at that topic in the new year.
Ultimately, the reason we are talking about "developing sustainably" is to avoid commonly occurring problems with LMSs. They either become so extensively customised over time that when the time comes to upgrade the system, the system needs to be rebuilt, or the LMS causes such an admin overhead within a business that it becomes increasingly difficult to justify its existence. This is when an LMS manager will often start to come under pressure to demonstrate more value from within the LMS.
Progression is good, new features and changes to a system are good, putting those things together in a way which make the system more appealing and easier for everyone to use is even better. We at Kineo are used to talking to our clients about how they can make sure they avoid the pitfalls mentioned above, so get in touch if you'd like to speak to someone further.