Successful LMS projects are all about people

Enterprise LMS (learning management system) vendors jump through a lot of hoops to win a deal. In many cases the sales process is focused on the technology and its features and functions. It is the LMS implementation that will determine whether the decision criteria were focused correctly. It was a phone call from a past prospect that prompted me to write this blog.
My company competed to win the opportunity to supply this company and enterprise LMS. The project included some reasonably complex business requirements and extensive integrations with the company’s existing information architecture. The whole process began with an invitation only RFP and of course ended with a face to face scenario based demonstration. We were confident of our chances throughout the process but failed to win the business based on our price and lack of international offices. One decision maker considered the latter a deal killer raising concerns over ‘support’. Oh well.
The phone call was from the Australian office of this company who was the provider of learning services across the international group. This person was one of the key decision makers in the LMS steering committee.  The call started rather awkwardly but quickly we came to the point and it shocked me. The LMS had been ‘fully implemented’ and was not meeting business requirements. The administrator training had been poorly executed and the LMS administrators were wasting blocks of time trying to learn parts of the LMS on their own.
LMS
The LMS vendor has responded to concerns by saying the business requirements were met according to the information provided by the client. The training delivered to the LMS administrators was their ‘standard curriculum’ and if the client needed more training they can purchase more days of online training.
This is not as unusual as one would hope. We often get calls from companies who have been using an LMS for two to three years and suffer vendor abandonment or exorbitant costs to re-configure the LMS to meet changed requirements. This was a call for help after only three months post the implementation project.
Why did this project go wrong? It is all about people. Too often we get swept away with software that seems to be so good during the demonstration ‘catwalk’. Learning management software is often designed to be highly attractive and this in itself is not a bad thing. However, it takes a great deal of sophisticated design thinking and agile development to create a learning management system that combines user intuitiveness with back end configuration capabilities to meet modern workforce requirements.
In this case, we have determined that the chosen LMS does indeed meet virtually all of the business requirements. The issues arose with how the system was designed to meet these requirements. The LMS lacks configuration scope to deviate from the prescribed processes in the software design. The steering committee did not take the the due diligence deep enough to see these issues and nor should they have had to.
And this is where people come in. As a vendor, you are better to identify gaps in your system compared to business requirements and offer work arounds or commit to developing solutions. There must be a level of trust between a customer and software company that the latter has the best interests of the customer at heart.
I recommend that a project team is assembled with some reference made to behavioural profiling. I like to focus on communication preferences as well as how different people respond to information in various forms. Behavioural profiling a project team and including individual and team debriefs is a game changer. When I show a project team a ‘splatter map’ of their profiles it is always met with keen interest. This map will predict how effective the team will execute the implementation project almost perfectly.
In the case of this failed implementation, there was little or no interpersonal communication before or during the implementation project. The sales person handed the client over to the implementation specialist and from that point forward the communication was performed purely by email and online meetings.  I admit to being amazed that the vendor offered no online document sharing or collaboration environment.
The good news from this story is the project will be salvaged. A new short term project plan is now underway and the configuration is being tested as changes are made. The LMS is being rolled out more slowly than originally planned.  The project includes some screen casting to create both administrator and user level guides to use the LMS.
I have developed an implementation plan template for learning management systems. If you would like a copy, please get in touch.

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