Archive for the ‘ Processes ’ Category

Take a left at the next decision…

Image: scottchan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Process mapping sounds complicated. It sounds like something you need to spend time learning before you even engage with your LMS provider. But it’s not! In fact, you probably do it all the time without even realising it.

What does your LMS vendor mean when they ask you to “map” your requirements?
What your vendor is looking for is a series of LMS Workflows, i.e. how work will flow through the LMS. For this, you will probably be required to generate a series of flowcharts (check with your vendor for specific requirements and ask for templates if possible).

When you first engaged the vendor and provided the requirements used for tender you probably used general statements such as “students must be able to register for courses” or “training team must administer attendance”. At this point the vendor will want to translate these general requirements into specific actions and flows of actions. You should look at every requirement and ask the question “what does this really involve?”

Using our example “students must be able to register for courses”, some process considerations might be:

  • Can students register for any course or will available courses be restricted by some attribute, e.g. manager/employee, finance employee/customer service rep?
  • Do students need to have approval to attend a course? From who?
    Are there any pre- or post- class assignments?
  • What happens if there are no places on the course the student selects?
    Should students receive reminder emails? How many? When?

This can seem like a daunting task, however, you probably considered all of this when you were writing your requirements….you just didn’t put it into fancy boxes.

Step 1: Know your users

Who are your users? This seems like a simple question, however it has implications for the entire system. Every user will have more or less permissions, depending on their role. Most companies will have one or more super-users, some training administrators, trainers and employees. Depending on the complexity of your organisation you may or may not have subgroups, e.g. employees may be broken into managers & staff; trainers may be broken into external & internal. The first step is to write down all the distinct user groups you will deal with.

Step 2: User activities

The next step is to define what activities each of your user groups will engaged in. A good way to do this is to take a blank A4 sheet for each group and write in the actions each group should be able to carry out on the system. For example, under trainers you might write “mark attendance”, while under students you might write “view attendance record”.

I would suggest that this is not a once-off task. You should let it “sit” for a while. Keep the sheets beside you and jot down additional activities as they come to your mind. If you have a source of information regarding historical training queries (e.g. a mailbox) it would be worth going through this information to check for common trends.

You can also make notes regarding the things that user groups should not be able to do. For example, you may not want students to be able to cancel courses they have registered for; or maybe only super-users should see exam results, etc.

Step 3: Walk a mile in their shoes….

Once your list of activities is ready, in order to effectively map out each one, you should put yourself in that person’s shoes. Choose an activity, e.g. a trainer completing attendance records, take a blank piece of paper and starting at the point “trainer logs into LMS” write down everything that happens. This might look like:

  1. Trainer logs into LMS
  2. Searches for course name
  3. Enters the system course record
  4. Selects students who attended & marks “complete”
  5. Repeat for no-shows
  6. Repeat for cancellations
  7. Trainer logs out

These are the essential steps from that user’s point of view. Once you have written out these points, you can then add in the system’s point of view. In our example this might be:

  1. Trainer logs into LMS
  2. Searches for course name
  3. Enters the system course record
  4. Selects students who attended & marks “complete”
  5. System sends completion emails/certificate notifications to students
  6. Repeat for no-shows
  7. System sends no-show notifications to students and copies their manager
  8. Repeat for cancellations
  9. System sends cancellation notifications to students, copies their manager and accounts department
  10. Trainer logs out

You don’t need to add in system steps such as “system updates user attendance record” – these basic functionalities can be assumed.

Step 4: Dress it for dinner

Once you have these steps completed for all the activities you identified, it is time to make them look more process-like.  It’s time to build your flowcharts. Mind Tools has a useful article on flowcharts  and RFF also have a good overview.
I use Excel to generate my process flow charts. You can also use PowerPoint or Word. There is no need to buy any specific software – you will only waste time trying to learn how to use that software, instead of dedicating your energies to getting your processes right. Another bonus of using one of the common MS Office programs is that everyone has an idea how to use them, so you can ask colleagues to work on the charts with you.

I have shared a tutorial on how I make flowcharts in Excel. While my method may not be technically correct, it has served me well in implementation projects to date. The most important thing is that you and the vendor understand the icons/method being used. You should also use the space on either side of the chart to make notes for the vendor, e.g. you might want to note that usernames should be in a certain format, or that a field in a survey is mandatory, etc.

Hopefully anybody attempting to get started on this process will find this post useful. I would love to hear your feedback if you do (or don’t!). Thanks.

LMS Selection is like a box of chocolates….

ChocolatesSo, now you know why you want an LMS it’s time to figure out which one you want! One thing that is clear is that there is no such thing as the perfect LMS. Even out of the box solutions that claim to “meet all your learning needs” have shortcomings.

The value of an LMS is relative to you and your company, which is why you won’t find a huge number of articles entitled “this is the best LMS and everyone should buy it”. Unless, of course, you are on a vendor website that is! What you will find is a selection of comparison tables, lists of features and both simple and complex guides on how to write up your “must have” and “nice to have” lists. All of these have been compiled by various contributors all across the online L&D community and I have no desire to replicate them. Instead I will share some of the ones I have found useful. If you found a different resource that you think is good/better please do share it.

Firstly, some of my own thoughts on this process:

Does exactly what it says on the tin

Never believe the vendor’s marketing – request a live demo or, even better, access to an evaluation system. Make sure that the system works with your data, with your user structure, with the types of courses that you run. Essentially, try to break it! Log in as an administrator, a manager and a student to see how the system operates on the various levels. If you see something you don’t like, ask if it can be changed. You might think “oh, I don’t like that they call students ‘users’, we will change that”, but that might not be possible and you don’t want to figure that out after your ink is on the contract.

Processes

Decide early on – will you change your processes to meet the system or will the system have to deliver existing processes. This might seem like a simple one, but there is nothing worse than a project manager telling 10 administrators they now have to address all student correspondence by hand because the new system doesn’t do mail merge! Of course there will be tweaks to existing processes and in some cases you may have to balance the changes required to run the LMS with the benefits gained in another area. Be realistic about what your new system can achieve, but decide at the start what the general rule of thumb is to be.

Customisation

Check the vendor’s responses to your requirements – if they state “customisation required” then find out the cost and time details now, not 3 weeks into the project when you realise half of their system won’t work for you. Also, agree the conditions under which you can reject out of the box solutions & request customisation. It might seem reasonable to you to require customisation because the system default is American style telephone numbers, but the vendor may not be willing/able to customise at this level.

Be wary of “add-ons” or “in development”. If you have an item on your list that requires additional purchases or is scheduled for a future release, be careful: if the vendor has an add-on that does the required task, you won’t get customisation; if it doesn’t transpire in a future release you will be left with no option but potentially costly customisation.

Data, data everywhere & not a byte to click….

Don’t underestimate the impact agreeing to use a “standard data upload template” will have on your ability to upload your existing LMS data/excel spreadsheets/post-its into your new system. Get access to a copy of this template in advance and check that you have someone who can work with transferring a large amount of raw data into the required format. This won’t be a problem if you don’t have/don’t want to upload existing data, or you have very simple existing records, but the more complex your organisation and your L&D offerings are, the more complex the data you are uploading will be.

And now for the promised links:

eLearning Technology has a nice post on the LMS selection process

E-Learning 24/7 has some excellent resources on this topic (as an aside, this is a fantastic site & I encourage you to explore it). Some of the posts relevant to this topic are:

Discovery through eLearning is also an excellent blog and has a very useful post on questioning vendors during a demo

Upside Learning has a post on five things not to do when selecting an LMS and also one on what you might need an LMS for

So – in sum – to select an LMS get to grips with your must-haves and nice-to-haves, write it all down and do your research to find a vendor that meets the best possible combination, at the best price. You should also consider process implications, customisation and data migration. Simples!

Directory: Check out my collection of useful links

First Steps when it’s not your chosen LMS

StepsSometimes the decision to procure an LMS is out of your hands. Maybe your boss has been working on the strategy, but you get to be the implementation monkey. Or you are new into a company and the implementation of a chosen LMS is your first task. Whatever the reason, the decision has already been made.

After all the background work has been done, the scene is set for the implementation manager to take over. Coming into a project like this without the background knowledge can be a difficult task and getting up to speed on both the organisation and the project concurrently can be challenging. Unfortunately, you are probably going to spend your first days reading alot of documentation and asking some really stupid questions. When faced with this situation I like to undertake a number of activities:

  1. Review the RFTs – what were they looking for and why
  2. Review the vendor’s submissions – what are they offering, but more importantly, what are they not!
  3. Review the unsuccessful vendors’ submissions – why were they not chosen
  4. Access the evaluation system and play with it – does it do exactly what it says on the tin? (Hint: No!)
  5. Read the user manuals (or in my case skim them…I’m more of a user manual as a last resort kind of person)
  6. Play at L&D administrator – sit in on meetings and learn the day-to-day tasks of the L&D department to absorb their processes and procedures.  Answer phone queries, help schedule events/pack materials/etc. This will be perhaps the most beneficial part of your “induction”. You need to know first hand the frustrations with and limitations of the existing systems and processes. You need to know where the department is trying to go. And why. While this learning period might not always be possible at the beginning of an implementation, I firmly believe that the knowledge gained in this time will prove to be a huge factor in the (hopefully) successful and smooth implementation of your LMS.