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Thursday, January 08, 2009

How long does it take to select an LMS?

I saw a post by Bryan Chapman discussing how long it takes to select an LMS. I've known Bryan for quite a few years - more than 10. And he and I do a lot of LMS selection and implementation work. And I think we are both pretty good at it. I may even be the person he's talking about in his post as the other consultant, but I'm not quite sure.

So, the real answer to how long it takes is, of course, it depends. But to give you some better answers than that the eLearningGuild has some great survey data on it. I put out some of that data in my post - LMS Team Size and Time - Wow 23 Months!

Clearly, there is some disconnect between Bryan's timeline of
entire process from beginning to end in about 2 1/2 months
and the 23 months cited by guild members. Now he's talking only about the selection process rather than the implementation process. So the actual numbers reported by Guild members is roughly 11 months to select. So, we have a difference of 11 months vs. 2.5 months.

Where does this come from? Well if I compare the steps in his process vs. the steps in the LMS Selection Process that I describe, there's a lot of overlap. However, a few differences jump out to me.

Learning Strategy Defined?

The first steps in my process are:

  1. Form a core selection team and define stakeholders
  2. Define business and learning strategy
  3. Agree to process with key stakeholders
Bryan jumps by these. I'm sure that in reality Bryan includes these but is not counting them in his 2.5 months. In other words, you would need to have business and learning strategy and a core team identified before you start. What often happens when you go to select an LMS is that you realize that you don't really have the strategy defined. This is a common LMS Selection Gotcha.

Tail of Process - Demos, Hands-on Testing, Negotiation

The tail of Bryan's process is:

Week 9 - Read and Grade Proposals
Week 10 - Final meeting to pick system

(Bryan has demos in Week 5)

The tail of my process has:

  1. Demos
  2. Pilot or hands-on tests
  3. Negotiate
  4. Final selection
Bryan talks about having demos earlier in the process:
In my model, I have learned the value of moving the demo upfront, rather than waiting until after the RFP. It makes all the difference in the world.
I personally like to have demos after you've defined your differentiating use cases and know where the system is likely going to be more challenging. We don't want a standard demo, we want to see how they handle the challenges.

Similarly, if you can afford the time and effort, there is almost nothing better than using the LMS with a hands-on test or a pilot. When you look at LMS Satisfaction the people who report the lowest satisfaction are the administrators who have to work with it day-to-day. How about giving them a chance before final selection? This is likely the best way to really know what it will be like to have the LMS.

Given the generally low marks that LMS systems get (LMS Dissatisfaction on the Rise), it's best to take a bit of time and make sure that you are doing what you can to get what you need.

I also would suggest that you don't plan to rush through negotiation. Bryan and I probably both save our clients lots of money during negotiation - more than our fees for large deals. But if you are up against a spending deadline or try to finish negotiation in a week, then you put yourself in a weaker negotiating position.

I do believe that Bryan and I can greatly shorten the time and improve the resulting satisfaction. And there have been cases where selections have taken less than 2 months. For me that's been the exception - and often I'm involved when things are more complex. But I thought it would be good to have the rest of the picture.

Some other posts around LMS:


Anonymous said...

Hey Tony, I like the post and definitely agree with not only a strategy for learning, but a strategy for selection. The selection strategy should definitely have some controls in place to eliminate bias or prejudice. There are definitely vendor "fanboys" even in corporations based on bad experiences with other applications or flashy presentations.

Anonymous said...

One thing many organizations don't consider is a two step approach to selection. Years ago, I was asked to help select an LMS for my large organization. We selected a small, inexpensive launch and track system to start deploying and tracking courseware.

That temporary system (estimated to be in place for a year) is still going strong after nearly 5 years. I am a STRONG advocate of simple systems.

I pray that the organization holds off on selection of one of the big 3 for an enterprise integrated LMS. In my opinion these systems are large and essentially legacy. Regardless of new features, the core of these tools is still based on the same functional design. Which in most cases is (1) more than people need or will ever use (2) and less than people 'actually' need and beg for.

Wait for the next wave. The current systems are pretty aweful for the needs of most organizations. They perform well in demonstrations, but when the rubber hits the road the ownership of these systems sucks hard...

Tony Karrer said...

@Ryan - I agree about issues with bias, but often that's a really important aspect of the selection process. It's good to know the bias so you can work with it.

@Sflowers - Great Point!!! This is something I call a "starter LMS." And it's a fantastic strategy for organizations who don't really know how they plan to use the LMS. It's really important that everyone understands the starter LMS strategy and that you don't try to do too much with it. But it's often a good approach for people who are new to having an LMS.

Anonymous said...

I still don't quite understand the bad rap LMSs get. And I question whether the organizations are putting in the time to get the most out of whatever LMS they select. It might be easier to blame the LMS than it is to blame the organization's learning team. Not to be an apologist, but it remains an open question for me.

That notwithstanding, your post and Bryan Chapman's post--whether intentionally or not--actually made a strong case for hiring consultants...and I want to strongly advocate that more use be made of consultants, even if the actual consultants won't do it. :)

However, in a field as young still as e-Learning, there is a still a great risk of people "not knowing what they don't know." One could legitimately be a "fanboy" of a particular vendor based on experience and knowledge of the many potential solutions out there and that fact affects my enthusiasm for advocating for the use of a consultant. So, I want to advocate for the use of consultants, but I don't know if I can wholeheartedly.

I've followed your blog for a while now, but I may have missed this topic, but how could an organization go about selecting a consultant if it wanted to pursue that option before the LMS selection process? I fear the same organizations that would fall for "bells and whistles" that an LMS vendor might use in a demo would fall for "bells and whistles" that potential consultants might give them. The consultant question leads to this question for me: how could an organization increase the chances that they are getting the best solution rather than simply a satisfactory solution even with the help of a consultant? I could easily imagine some consultants making excellent careers for themselves repeatedly selling satisfactory solutions, instead of the best solutions. Perhaps there is no easy answer to the second question, but the first question is important, I think.

Tony Karrer said...

Peter - the dissatisfaction that is often reported really results from a disconnect between expectations for how the LMS will do certain things and the reality. Sometimes, it seems so obvious that the LMS should do something a particular way, but the model in the LMS is different - and then pain is felt. Of course, this is greatly reduced if you know ahead of time what's required, i.e., you set expectations.

In terms of consultants, I try to be really careful about pushing it because obviously I'm biased. I believe that Bryan and I can really help an organization have better expectations and get a better result. But again, there's bias.

In terms of finding and selecting a consultant - that's a great question. I know how I go through the process with clients where we discuss process, costs, timeline, team, etc. They almost always find me via word-of-mouth. I don't really know other consultants who do this, but I'm sure there are. And I have no idea if there's a list somewhere.

My guess is that Brandon Hall and Bersin and the eLearningGuild get inquiries because of their research. But no idea where those inquiries go.