LMS implementation without frustration
I recently completed an extensive LMS Feasibility Study for a municipality. This project gave great insights into the implementation of a Learning Management System, way before this project would take concrete form for this client of mine.
For this client, it was very important to understand, what it would take for them to implement an LMS. Not only with regards to the financial resources required but also considering the workload they would need to deal with during the implementation and what it will take to maintain the LMS after the implementation.
Feasibility Study Process
I was tasked with the following activities:
- Review the RFI (Request for Information/Interest) responses they had already obtained prior to hiring my services
- Analyze how each of the responses accommodates the requirements they had identified in the RFI process
- Identify each vendor’s fit to these requirements and the investment for their solution
- Identify which tasks will be required to implement the various solutions and how the projects would differ between the vendor solutions
- Provide insights into the team make-up to complete the implementation
- Estimate the workload for the LMS implementation team by role
- Create an initial project plan for the implementation process
- Outline the maintenance tasks that will be taken over after implementation
- Provide specific recommendations for the RFP process
The intention of this study was to obtain insights into how feasible the implementation of a Learning Management System is for the municipality from a financial and resources perspective. Additionally, I was to outline the benefits the system implementation would bring.
In my work I analyzed the fit of the vendor solutions by calculating a match rate for each vendor and comparing it to a five-year investment. I was able to graphically display this and highlight the lead vendor. As this was an RFI process, this exercise will need to be repeated during the RFP stage.
The Impact of the Vendor Selection on the Implementation
By analyzing the potential vendor RFI responses, it became very clear that LMS does not equal LMS.
Some vendor solutions are “Off-the-Shelf” Systems. They sometimes do not provide the option to customize these solutions to the client needs. In those cases, it is really important to understand in detail if the system meets the requirements sufficiently.
For example, you may need to understand the vendor’s needs regarding your data structure or be willing to change the data structure to meet the upload needs.
System Implementation Consultants
On the other end of the spectrum, you may receive a response to your RFI or RFP (Request for Proposal) from a consultancy, who specializes in the implementation of a system such as SAP. In that case, the consultants are likely going to highlight their expertise and service approach over the capability of the system.
Often, they are able and willing to customize the solution for you. It is important to also review the fit of the solution to your needs and to understand how the consultancy is going to support your needs after the implementation is completed.
Impact on Your Investment
The investment for an Off-the-Shelf system is often lower in the beginning, particularly if there is little customization. Further, you as the client may put more effort into the configuration of the platform and therefore contribute more to the implementation project.
If the vendor is handling much of the implementation, you can expect a higher cost in year 1 and the costs in the following years may go down and only include a limited number of support hours from the vendor.
Which option is right for you?
As client, you will not only need to understand how each of the vendor matches your requirements. You will also need to be careful to understand how the solution can be implemented and if you have the resources to do so.
One way to do so is to identify the make-up of your implementation team and to estimate the hours per team member. I did this estimation after completing a list of implementation tasks and the creation of a top-line project plan.
In this image, I only show the phase. For my client I break this down into tasks to be completed in each phase that correspond with the detailed Implementation Task list. The hours are estimates for each team member, based on such tasks. It provided my client with a good overview of how to structure their team, what workload each team member has to expect and the pros and cons for hiring an external versus assigning an internal Project Manager.
It also makes sense to look even further into the future and gain an understanding how you will need to maintain that system over time and what support you can expect from the vendor at what price.
LMS Implementation Tasks
As this case study showed, each vendor requires different tasks for a successful LMS implementation. For some, these tasks are predominantly completed by the vendor, for others by the client. Be sure to understand which tasks your team will be responsible for. Following are a few examples of such tasks:
In the planning phase the vendor and client teams need to get great clarity of the implementation process and the timelines. They will also assign responsibilities to the team members. Be sure to get a good understanding of this during the RFP phase to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Design and Configuration
Usually led by the vendor in a number of configuration workshops the desired project outcome will become clear. This will result in a number of requirements for the visual design, the configuration for system participants, courses and training data.
This is a very important phase as it will give direction what data will need to be collated by the client team and in which format to make transition into the new platform fail-proof.
It will also define which system integration is required and how to go about that through API (Application Programming Interface) or scheduled data import and export.
You will likely also discuss Single-Sign-On (SSO) and define the needs to accomplish that.
Once designed, these configurations will go into the next phase of your LMS Implementation.
API and SSO Development in the LMS Implementation
Mostly a task for the client’s IT team, the API development ensures that the new LMS will properly integrate with other systems, such as the Human Resources Information System (HRIS). The IT team will also look after any Single-Sign-On development needed, which could impact multiple client systems.
Once developed, these integrations will need to be tested in a test environment and later transitioned into the production environment.
“The Devil is in the Data!”
Early in the project you will have defined, which data will need to be ported into the new system. This may include a list of all your staff members and the roles they will have (learner, editor, instructor, administrator) and which department they are in. It will also include your courses and instructor-led programs (ILT) and the content of such training interventions.
This data is in constant flux. Team members are added or removed or move positions. On your day of going live, the latest update needs to be loaded. And yet, you will need to ensure that your data load works properly. The same may happen with your courses and ILT seminars.
The vendor has specific data structures for you to upload, which may not be the same as what you presently store in your system.
And if you are anything similar to my client, then you store data in many different systems and even off-line.
Get clear on your Data needs
Gaining clarity about your data is of paramount importance. Know what data you will need to transition, where it is located and how it needs to be formatted for a smooth upload.
Identify which data you will only need to upload once at the beginning, versus data that needs to be kept in synch with other programs. Being clear where you do one upload versus scheduled uploads is therefore very important.
Again, you are likely going to do this in a test environment to prepare for the launch of your system. At that stage you will repeat everything in the production environment. Alternatively, you move the data from the test environment to the production environment.
I remember a project I worked on years ago where we had to transition a lot of data into an inventory system. The data structure was constantly changing, which meant we had to continuously wipe data and reload it. At one stage there was data we could not easily wipe and had to manually update. Had we known the need to flexibly amend the data on all levels earlier, we could have ensured that the system had that capability.
Testing as part of the LMS Implementation
Testing of a new system implementation is hugely important. And so often it is underrepresented in project plans.
In order to conduct testing well, you need specific test cases. Having test cases really early on in your project can even help through your RFP process. Imagine you know exactly what tasks you may need to do to keep your employee data accurate. Knowing the activities to maintain data accuracy will make it easier to ensure that all the functionality is going to be supported by the system.
For example, this may include such tasks as
- create a new employee record
- assign employee to a department
- move employee from one department to another
- de-activate an employee record
- update an employee record such as name
- remove an employee record.
Types of Testing
Testing happens throughout the project. For example, when the SSO or API development is completed, it will be tested right away. At that stage, this project task will be closed.
Testing also needs to be completed for data uploads. Can the data files be uploaded? Is the data correctly assigned to the appropriate fields? In this case you also want to be sure to be able to wipe data easily or to update the data in subsequent loads.
Another testing phase is User-Acceptance Testing (UAT). In this case you test very specific use scenarios. For the LMS this needs to cover all areas such as:
- the creation of individual data sets (e.g. employee data)
- the use of the system from the perspective of the different roles (administrator tasks, instructor tasks, learner tasks)
- the maintenance activities that the administrators will need to do after the roll-out of the system.
UAT testing happens usually for specific tasks that are isolated. This is complemented with End-to-End Testing where a full process from beginning to end is tested. For example, a student registering to a course, completing the course and receiving a certificate and the supervisor receiving a notification of the successful course completion of the staff member.
It is important to be clear on what needs to be tested and to prepare a comprehensive list of test cases. Further, to train the UAT team to test and document test results and for the project team to use these results for system updates and improvements.
This is easier said than done. In most cases, there is not ONE person who knows of all the possible scenarios. Hence, it is necessary to interview all relevant parties and to compile the test cases. This is something an external Project Manager can often do better than an internal team member. As an external team member, the Project Manager is more curious and explorative. This likely going to uncover more by asking curious questions.
As a benchmark, testing can take up about one third of the overall project period.
It is important that the vendor provides training at the beginning of the project. This will ensure that the client project team is knowledgeable about the use of the platform and can complete their tasks properly.
Further, the UAT team needs to be trained in how to conduct their tests. They also need to know how to document test results properly as well as how to communicate observed issues back to the development team.
Lastly administrators, editors and other contributing roles will need to be trained so they can properly update and maintain the system after launch.
Be sure to investigate how the vendor supports training needs, what support resources they will make available to help your team throughout the project and after launch.
Everyone involved will anticipate this last phase of the project. At this stage it is important that all configurations and customizations are moved to the production environment. Here they are tested again prior to launch.
Also, during this phase communication of the upcoming launch will become a priority. Ensuring the organization is ready for the new system can be as contributing to the success as all the hard work that the project team has done throughout the implementation task.
To sum it up…
The LMS implementation is a considerable project that will occupy a number of resources within your organization. As with every system implementation project, preparation is everything.
Your implementation project actually starts already during the Feasibility Study for your LMS. The more detailed your Needs Assessment and following Feasibility Study are, the more prepared you start your LMS implementation.
Your vendor is your partner in this process. Work together to come up with the best solution.
An external project consultant and project manager can help make the implementation project less stressful. The independent consultant can provide the focus to the project without sacrificing other obligations. They can take over tasks from other project team members. They will benefit as they need to balance this project in addition to their regular day-to-day responsibilities.
As a budgeting benefit you can add the investment for an external Project Manager to the capital budget instead of your operating budget.
Contact me for a no-obligation consultation to learn more how I can help you with your Learning Management Project.