“What’s an LMS?” (Part 2)

What’s an LMS GRAPHIC

Lessons learned about LMS implementation, software training, internal marketing, and user adoption.

Not that long ago, I embarked upon an adventure: implementing the first Learning Management System (LMS) in my company. The first article looked at identifying needs, making the business case, choosing a vendor, and obtaining senior leadership buy-in. Here in Part 2, we look at implementation, software training, internal marketing, and user adoption.

Disclaimer: I am not selling any LMS! I have absolutely no attachment to any LMS vendor. In fact, many articles written about LMSs are provided by vendors with an interest in selling to you. Not me! I’m unbiased, and will not be recommending any LMS vendors.

Implementation

In Part 1, we discussed the steps needed to research the LMS market, cast a vision, and negotiate with the chosen LMS vendor. Once that is completed and you have secured your LMS, implementation is the next part of the journey. Keeping the appropriate mindset, and implementing your LMS in phases, will be your keys to success.

A Note about Important Features

Two key features to consider in your negotiation with your chosen LMS vendor are:

  1. Single sign-on
  2. Historical training data integration

The single sign-on feature allows users to access the LMS from a secure employee portal without extra user names and passwords. This is strongly recommended—otherwise, you will need to manage issues related to forgotten passwords and user names, passwords needing to be reset, and so forth. This is a headache to be avoided, especially for small and mid-sized companies without plenty of internal IT support. This single sign-on feature costs extra (doesn’t everything?), but it is well worth the extra cost.

The historical training data integration issue is more complicated. In our case, this service would have cost as much as our entire first-year LMS subscription. In addition, for past training records to be integrated into the LMS, there will be detailed expectations for how that data is provided to the LMS vendor, and this data preparation takes significant time. In our case, even though the inputting of the historical data took considerable time, I envisioned this as an ongoing phase of our implementation, so expectations were realistic. That is, people could not access all of their past training records until those records were entered into our LMS by our full-time training administrator (who administered the LMS as one of her responsibilities), but I communicated this in advance. This worked fine, and the cost savings was substantial.

Begin the Journey

As you begin the implementation phase and move into building and using your LMS, many questions will need to be answered. Having the right mindset will be important for your success. How you navigate the learning curve presented to you and how you champion your vision will be important. It also will be important not to become overwhelmed with the many tasks that will present themselves. Keep your vision clear; create and use key talking points to keep others focused on the vital tasks, and focus on your implementation tasks, one by one.

Navigate the Learning Curve

How big is the learning curve? It depends on how many features you want to implement in your LMS—and how soon. In an enterprise-level LMS, it is recommended that a minimum of two full-time administrators be on board to run it. If not, the tasks may become overwhelming and project failure could be the end result. In my case, we had one administrator who was not full time on the LMS, and I served as the system/content administrator in addition to other duties (I will explain these roles shortly). At the time of implementation, we had fewer than 1000 users on the system. I knew that with our level of staffing I had to be realistic—and help others to be so—about how quickly we could utilize all of the functionality of our LMS.

In addition to building your LMS home page with your branding and other choices, and learning to navigate the various menus, you will need to learn about the tools available for you to use in building out your various pages. You will have pages for ILTs (Instructor-Led Training classes), CBTs (Computer-Based Training courses), enrollments (where users will self-select learning content), a learning history page (where learners can see past completed training), a tools or resources page, and other pages depending upon how you want to configure the site. Your main page will link to all of these other pages.

Navigate your learning curve by looking at your shopping list—the items you intend to utilize in your LMS—and prioritizing. Take advantage of the LMS training tools provided: online help, virtual instructor-led training, phone conferencing, and so forth.

Identify the Roles Needed to Build and Run the New LMS

These roles do not have to be full-time; this will depend on the size of your organization. A SaaS model (software as a service, typically a hosted solution on the vendor’s servers, with most IT services provided) is advantageous to smaller organizations that do not have much IT infrastructure. Here are the main roles to be staffed:

  1. System Administrator: This person interfaces with your internal IT group and the LMS vendor to navigate the implementation process.
  2. Content Administrator: This person builds out the site, including graphics, links, and text.
  3. Training/LMS Administrator: This person builds the site with training records and schedules, historical training records, and the tracking and reporting on the training functions being facilitated by the LMS. In my case, I took the first two roles, and our Training administrator took the third. It was challenging but also a lot of fun. Other roles will come later, in a phased approach.

Don’t Over-Promise

You will be excited about implementing the new LMS, as will others, especially those to whom you sold your initial vision. Senior leadership will be eager to get the product in front of users to justify costs being incurred. Yet, everything cannot be built at once, and priorities must remain clear. Here’s what helped me. In one of my PowerPoint presentations, I included the picture of a gorgeous, red Ferrari. I told everyone: we own that Ferrari now, and it is time to get it out of the garage and start the engine, kick the tires, and get it ready to drive—but that we would only be ready to shift into first gear, then second—and later, we would be able to see what this baby could really do! It was my way of keeping a phased implementation as our focus. In addition, when people asked how soon we could have certain functionality, I often said that our phased approach took into account our available time and resources, and if some stakeholders wanted things to happen more quickly, I would be glad to accept supplementation of those resources. This approach kept us on track, and kept our implementation expectations realistic.

Champion Your Vision through Communication

You are the LMS Champion; you are the vision-caster. So, champion your vision! Communicate. Write out the phases of your implementation—that is, the order in which your LMS functions will roll out to users. Be sure these phases are clear. Communicate them to stakeholders and users; this will help them to be patient and to maintain their enthusiasm for the project. Use promotional e-mails, informational PowerPoints that can be shared widely, and—perhaps most important—a simple user guide posted on the home page of your LMS and e-mailed company-wide.

This is the time to begin working on your user adoption rates. You will be able to track and report on user activity, so encourage regular LMS use. Change your pages enough to keep them fresh, and visit classes and meetings to do short orientations about how to use the LMS. Send out short pieces about the web-based training courses that people may take, when you have developed some. I did all of these things, and also wrote short feature articles, with user pictures and quotes, about employees who were using the site and what they liked about it. I made certain to get across the point that the LMS was user friendly. Some short screen capture videos are helpful, to send to users that can’t seem to navigate the LMS from using text-based job aids, alone.

Helpful Hints

  • Try to design your site so it takes no more than three clicks to access any content. Tell people this is the case, and show them. When people saw they could enroll in a class, or start an eLearning course, in three clicks, the intimidation factor lessened, and user adoption rates were enhanced.
  • Make sure your basic user guide is polished, accurate, and widely distributed.
  • Be sure users know who to contact if they encounter problems, and get any bugs fixed immediately. This will boost user confidence. In my case, we had one glitch having to do with how our nightly Oracle feed to the LMS sent over some international employee numbers that the LMS could not recognize, causing glitches with the Single Sign On feature for those users. I worked on the problem continually until it was solved, and I remained apologetic and communicative with those users who were having the problem.
  • Use site logos and graphics that are appropriate for your company and your users. It is vital to keep an accessible, friendly feel to the site. You will choose colors and templates early in this process. Be sure they are appropriate, and high-quality. A graphic/instructional designer can help.
  • Your IT Department is your friend. Cultivate relationships with those in IT that will support this initiative; be appreciative of their support, because you will need it.
  • Don’t add too much functionality at once, or you will not be able to run it. For example, performance management functions, social networking and other important pieces will likely need to be built, and people won’t understand that this can’t all happen at once. Include these pieces in your phased approach, and communicate about when they likely will be available. In my case, I used a three-year phased approach.

A Final Note

Once people get on your site and see what it can do—when they see that Ferrari out of the garage and moving—they will be excited as you run through the gears and add functionality. Try to maintain that excitement through your vision-casting and clear communication. It’s difficult to keep the car in the garage until it is ready to be unveiled, but it’s exciting when this LMS journey gets under way. In time, you will see the training function in your company supported in ways that you will appreciate and value, and you will wonder how you could have functioned without it. As that happens, more funding and support (both money and staffing) will likely be made available, to implement later phases of the project. This includes the development of an eLearning program for your company! But that is the subject of another post. Above all, enjoy the journey. It’s one worth taking.

Sign up for my newsletter and I will send some helpful hints for developing RFPs to send out to your vendors of choice, some negotiating pointers, and helpful hints on designing and using your LMS of choice.

“What’s an LMS?”

What’s an LMS GRAPHIC

Lessons learned in implementing a Learning Management System

This article, as well as Part 2, describes the lessons learned from implementing the first Learning Management System (LMS) in my company. It was a rewarding venture, providing functionality we needed for some time. The experience yielded many lessons that might be helpful for others. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way.

Disclaimer: I am not selling any LMS! I have absolutely no attachment to any LMS vendor. In fact, many articles written about LMSs are provided by vendors with an interest in selling to you. Not me! I’m unbiased, and will not be recommending any LMS vendors.

Is your company ready to embark on the journey of acquiring your first LMS? The answer to this question might be “Yes,” even if employees don’t yet know what one is.

In our Learning & Development group, manual processes and procedures, and especially tracking and reporting of course offerings, had become difficult. It was no one’s fault; we simply had outgrown our systems. I felt it was time to share a new vision for a better way to support the training function in our company.

When I first mentioned to senior leaders the need for an LMS, I was met with this question: “What’s an LMS?” Admittedly, we were at that time a smaller company of under 1000 employees, and it was ambitious to think that we would procure an enterprise level LMS–but it was needed. We ended up with a great system that did everything we needed, and more. Here are some practical ways to proceed.

Do Your Homework

Begin by learning all you can about the LMS world; there is much to know! A Learning Management System (commonly abbreviated as LMS) is a software application for support of the training function including the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs. This can include support for classroom and online events, as well as e-learning programs. The LMS also can be a learning content site where your learning content can be hosted and accessed by learners (LMCS—Learning Management Content System). A robust LMS should be able to do virtually anything that a company needs in order to support the training function, and there are many possibilities—including some excellent options for social networking. A quick Web search will reveal the possibilities.

Many business or enterprise-level LMSs support talent management add-ons to manage the performance side of human capital, though this functionality can be expensive. Again, you will need to do your homework. We wanted to formalize job roles with core competencies that we could use to map performance reviews and training options, and then move into succession planning and talent management. We also wanted to host CBTs, or Computer-Based Training. I developed a specific shopping list; I knew what I wanted.

You will need to make a decision about what type of system will be best. Will you purchase software and ask your IT group to install, update, and run it? Or will you opt for a Software-as-a-Service (Saas) model, with a monthly subscription based on your number of users—and where, typically, the hosting can be done by the vendor, allowing your IT group to be largely free to work on other projects?

Doing your homework is a process; allow plenty of time for research, discussion, and networking. If you shortcut this process, you won’t have a clear and compelling vision to share with your company.

Focus on Solving Business Problems or Meeting Needs

One of our needs centered on processes that needed better support in our company. For example, we needed a delivery vehicle for our performance review process. I was asked to assist with a redesign of this process, and the need for such a delivery vehicle became apparent. How would we push out the performance review process to supervisors and their direct reports? How would we track and report on it? This was a challenge. I focused our team on the issue: We needed a delivery vehicle, and an LMS could provide it, along with the tracking and reporting desired.

Create a Clear Vision, and Sell It

Often, selling a vision is about timing. If frustrations are mounting over inefficiencies and the inability to see clearly what is happening in the organization, it is prime time for selling the LMS vision. If there is no felt need, create one by sharing about what the future could be, with better systems—yet without being critical of the present reality.

Sell your vision to key stakeholders—those with the influence and ability to make the vision a reality. Remember: Without executive support and sponsorship, you are not ready to move forward. Also remember: A key IT stakeholder can be your best friend. Create talking points to share what an LMS can do for the company and what problems it can solve. Tell the stakeholders how it can benefit the company and why it is worth doing. An old commercial once asked: “Where do you want to go today?” That’s the spirit to capture. Once key stakeholders begin to share your vision, they will want to kick the tires a bit, so have models to share with them and arrange for demos hosted by LMS vendors.

Choose Your Vendors

Research is important in determining what vendors you will want to consider. Much of this research is available on the Internet and at learning conferences. I attended the Training Conference & Expo and found all I needed—classes, networking opportunities, and vendors. I also found excellent information from Gartner’s Magic Quadrant.

LMSs represent an $860 million market of more than 60 different providers. The six largest LMS companies constitute approximately 50 percent of the market. Approximately 40 percent of U.S. training organizations reported that they have an LMS installed, a figure that has not changed significantly over the last two years. Only 36 percent of small businesses are using an LMS (Bersin et al. 2009).

I prepared an RFP spreadsheet (Request for Proposal), which I sent to my selected vendors. On that sheet, I placed all of the specifics of my shopping list, the items I knew we wanted and needed in an LMS. This included information about features, functions, IT specs, hosting options, tracking and reporting, and other items. When I received the RFPs back, I was in a better position to determine what vendors I wanted to talk with further. Be sure to include items related to the training and support offered by the vendor as this is an area of great importance.

Present Your Plan

After I interviewed the vendors, I had knowledge of them, as well as their pricing. I decided on my first-choice vendor. With stakeholder support, clear knowledge, and vision, I was ready to present the plan to senior leadership for approval.

If you have created and shared a compelling vision based upon company needs, and have a clear first choice of vendor, it is the right time to move forward. Don’t mire them in all of the details of what you know; share with senior leadership the reasons for your choice of vendor and secure the green light for the next step.

Negotiate with Your Vendor of Choice

I believe everything is negotiable—whether buying a car or obtaining a service. Once software is built, if no one uses it, it sits on a shelf (or a server). I went into the discussion with my vendor with this mindset. I found there are levels of pricing, and plenty of choices. The end result of my discussion with my vendor of choice: a bid significantly lower than what other comparable vendors had offered, with more of my desired features than any of the others.

If you don’t ask, you will never know. I obtained an extra administrator’s seat, in case we needed it, because I asked for it. I secured some performance functions that saved us significant dollars. My chosen vendor offered a free CBT package for the first year, a major plus for us.

Finalize the bid, secure it, and then move forward.

Create a Presentation for Senior Leadership

I prepared a PowerPoint presentation about my vendor of choice, which shared information about them, what they offer, and why I chose them. I answered two questions in my presentation that had not yet been asked: Why and why now? That is, why do we need this LMS, and why do we need it now? Then I shared the pricing, and since the vision was clear regarding what the LMS would do for us, and who our vendor would be, the price was seen as reasonable. We moved forward, involved our legal counsel in vetting the vendor, and everyone was on board with the decision. We were on our way.

Sign up for my newsletter and I will send some helpful hints for developing RFPs to send out to your vendors of choice, some negotiating pointers, and helpful hints on designing and using your LMS of choice.

Part 2: Beginning the LMS Journey

NOTE: The second, related article will discuss the implementation phase, software training, and phasing in LMS functionality over time. It also will discuss internal marketing and user adoption rates, etc.