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Building a Clear Business Case for a Learning Management System in 21 Steps

Posted on the 03 February 2011 by Combi31 @combi31

Building a Clear Business Case for a Learning Management System in 21 Steps

People who are involved in the implementation of learning and development (L & D) solutions in organisations need no convincing on the added value that a coherent Learning management System (LMS) can bring to the organisation.

I am speaking specifically about an LMS to enhance and value training integrated as a Blended Learning solution.

However, implementing such a solution can be a long, painful and frustrating experience, that, without a clear plan can be condemned to fail from the outset.

The reality that many of us face on a daily basis is the undervaluing of L & D in some organisations – where the L & D budget often falls victim to short-term strategic, operational and financial planning, or lack of.

L & D budgets are often targeted when costs need to be cut – costs, surely we should be speaking about investments here!

This form of short term contingency can waste money, time and well-laid career plans, when L & D plans are abandoned due to short-term visibility, only to be taken up again at a later date when blips in the market are ironed-out, but requiring a substantial investment to regain the lost ground.

One of the biggest barriers to implementing an LMS alongside an organisation’s L & D plans are resistance to change – you will have to convince all stake-holders that what you are proposing will bring added value and work in harmony with all that exists in the organisation to date.

This is where the pedagogical hat needs to be supplemented with the marketer’s hat – but the focus, although needing to take into mind the accountability aspect of ROI, also needs to include a strong notion of implication of all stakeholders.

If the focus is solely aimed at deliverables and ROI reporting, then it will almost definitely fail, there needs to be a federation of risks, whereby the success or failure is a team effort, spread equally across the organisation and the implementor of the LMS.

When implementing an LMS in an organisation it needs to be a shared accountability in order that the L & D consultant moves away from the “supplier” mindset, to that of a “partner” with the organisation.

Here are some tips on how to get there by addressing issues that can help the reflection process when making a business case for an LMS in an organisation:

1. Do a SWOT of your current practices and processes – Look at the Strengths of your processes and systems, think about the Opportunities that it gives and gaps that need to be filled. Consider the risks and how these can be overcome, whilst addressing any of the weaker aspects that may need to be given attention. The system must address a “must have” and not a “nice-to-have” niche – it must be aligned to real needs and issues. Think of ways that the LMS can help facilitate learning in a way that existing solutions cannot.

2. Examine the Corporate Culture in the organisation, including attitudes to learning and change – think about how this can impact your solution. Where are the points that are in-line and off-skew with what you are proposing. How can you value / get over these? Does the organisation have the potential to become a “Learning Organisation”

3. How is L & D managed in the organisation? – Does the LMS come under the L & D department’s budgetting and planning or is it lumped under the IT or other budgets. It is sometimes surprising to learn that the L & D department have a relatively small budget compared to the IT department, who can be recruited to champion the cause in union with the L & D department. Some companies also have separate “Seminar” budgets that are quite consequent and sometimes little used. Learn how the organisation manages its strategic planning. Is the organisation set up as a business unit, with central budgets for bigger projects? What is in place at the moment? Do they have prior experience of an LMS? How did that go? Find out as much as you can.

4. How are L & D needs analyses carried out at present? What is the “culture of learning” in the organisation today? Are needs centralised or regionalised on a case-by-case method? Are there career planning tools in place? How do they work?

5. Where is learning needed the most? Which departments in the organisation have the most pressing needs? Where are L & D actions carried out that are possibly not needed? People will rarely turn down an opportunity to participate in training – finding out if it is a real business necessity may be difficult and painful to expose. There needs to be a balance between encouraging self-starters and lifelong Learning and “Learning consumers” – those who go an as many courses as possible in order to take time off work or to enhance their CV – this is not a straightforward task.What is in place that can be classed as “mandatory” training? Which processes can be enhanced by the LMS? Examples of this can be employee induction training, language learning, project management and soft-skills training.

6. What are the skills that need to be built-up to manage LMS -based training? It is often assumed that everyone can browse the Internet, send mails, use MSOffice etc., but this is not always the case. Discover what learning needs to be carried out beforehand in order that the LMS can be used by everyone across the organisation.

7. Audit the stakeholders. Find out what happens at the moment in terms of L & D in the following areas:

  • Goal planning – How is carried out in the organisation
  • Interdepartmental / inter-regional / International dependencies within the organisation.
  • Existing business reality and issues facing the organisation / individuals
  • How is your solution going to be measured for success?
  • What are the main operational / systemic barriers that need to be overcome?
  • Relationships between L & D department and other departments

8. Get to the top and in between. If the project is to be a success it needs the support and examples given by both top, and middle-management. If one of the strata of management is neglected, it will be doomed to eventual failure. Once the management have understood the processes, it then needs to be championed by “business champions” who are so closely implicated into the project that they become part and parcel of the success. Large projects do not function on kinetic energy – they need to be driven along. Solutions need to be presented in terms of business value to management, working with their most valuable resource – their people. Communication needs to be regular, both in times of success or when things are difficult – neglecting this will not help. If you access only top management, the solution could be viewed as being imposed, if you only access the middle-management, it could be sabotaged from above – you will need the buy-in of both.

9. The Blend must work. A blended-Learning solution needs to have a clear and solid link between that what is learned at distance and how it is meshed with the face-to-face learning events. If the links are tenuous or worse, non-existant, then the solution will have a very limited lifetime. A discrete relationship needs to be created between the two that includes interdependency, between participants and learning – in both modes – off and on-line.

10. Ensure that the business plan that you write is not a cut-and-paste from another organisation. Each business case needs to be 100% devoted to the organisation in question – cut exactly to measure. Make your case both compelling and conceptual, with real-world data but leaving enough room to sow the seeds of imagination, get management dreaming about the solution – tell your story in a way that gets people excited, interested and implicated.

11. Start small and modular. It is better and more effective to create desire than flood with a broadcast solution. Aim to start a pilot project that can be rolled-out in a modular fashion. Feedback and fine-tune where necessary, get people in the organisation talking about the solution, whet appetites before rolling-out across the organisation whilst maintaining the key stakeholders interests.

12. Animate and moderate the solution - be available for any changes that may need to be brought to the solution. Help assure the seamless handover from your ownership to the business champion’s ownership – it will happen if you incite it, but rarely will it happen naturally. Support the users – leave this aspect out and the solution will fizzle out.

13. Ensure that ROI is not built around usage metrics, but more towards clear and palpable learning goals, aims and objectives. It isn’t how long people use the system in terms of duration of time, but the learning that emanates from the solution. Many LMS solutions are built around the time learners use the system – this is an upside-down way of measuring metrics which provides little or no clear objective data.

14. The system must be accessible from the workplace and away from the workplace – if ut cannot be used in the workplace because of firewalls or security systems, it will be likely to fail.

15. The LMS needs to blend in with the corporate culture of the organisation. This may seem both obvious and unnecessary, but research shows that systems that are ostensibly different from corporate websites and logos are taken much less seriously than a fully integrated system. People like what they know.

16. Plan a clear change-management process that takes into account all of the barriers or potential sticking points, as mentioned above. This may require a lot of thought and effort, but is worth it in the long-run. Change is often a feared phenomena, greeted with suspicion and fear to some extent – if new processes are not clearly managed to take this into account the results could be catastrophic.

17. Be clear about benefits for all stakeholders and especially for the users of the LMS. Generalising benefits will not work – you need to push emotional buttons to obtain any level of genuine buy-in. Answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”  by putting yourself in the place of all sections of the stakeholders, from top-management right down to users. If you can answer this question clearly, you have already sold the project.

18. Run the integration of an LMS as you would a project – it is just this – It is not a “build-it-dump-it-and-run”

19. Don’t step on toes. Although the project is more L & D orientated, it is always a good idea to get the I.T. department involved from the word go. Failure to do this can make the task very difficult and may be seen as a threat to the IT experts in the organisation. Leave the IT team out of the project and you could run the risk of sabotage by inaction – get them involved and you will not only gain a useful and valuable ally, but you will also learn a lot from them that you can carry to future projects.

20. Monitor / feedback and build Case studies. This is immensely important for the current project with the client but also as a way of learning and building your own knowledge base that can help with convincing future clients. continue to build innovations into the system that keep it fresh and up-to-date in order to maintain interest and motivation for the users.

21. Content is King. Well apparently it is, however, you can have a bad solution with great content and a great solution with bad content.

Content is of capital importance but there is no point unless it is vehiculed by a good LMS – equal focus needs to be put on the two – you need to get them both right.

Building and setting up an LMS for an organisation is not that difficult, so why do so many organisations get it wrong?

There is, however, a clear link between the failures that occur in this relatively simple undertaking and failure to follow a clear and coherent set of procedures much like the 21 points above.

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