Friday, 30 August 2013

Who is your MVP for your LMS?

In the concept of team sports the MVP (or most valuable player) is pretty straight forward, it may not be your most skilled or highest scorer, but it's the person who makes everything work on the field/court/pitch.  For an LMS (learning management system) it's also a team game when we want things to work the best they can and just like a sports team there's a piece of the puzzle that's vital and makes everything together work.  Just like a sports team it isn't necessarily from a set position, but it will come from one of these three key roles:

Your LMS Administrator; the most important piece of the puzzle for an LMS is often the administrator (or sys admin).  What's perverse about this is that typically they are lower-paid and less-well selected than most other roles in your organisation, but you must not underestimate their importance overall.  A decent sys admin will literally be worth their weight in gold for your L&D department and hence your organisation as a whole.  If you have someone here who is computer literate, enthused about what they do and shares a passion for learning then you are on to a winner.  A word of advice here though, truly value them or they will leave!  Who is your admin person for the LMS?  Typically it's often a training or L&D coordinator, but I've filled this role as a manager in my past and the key is more about the individual than the role it comes under.  If you take one thing away from this blog remember this is the pivotal role in the success of an LMS; value your sys admin if you have the right one!

Your LMS 'Owner'; mistake number two is usually a lack of ownership or giving ownership to the wrong person.  If you are the owner then you are potentially the biggest influence on how it all turns out.  If your owner is motivated, learning focused and has great vision for the LMS then it will rarely fail.  If you are the owner then good on you for reading this, because as the LMS owner you should believe in life long learning and really care about the success of your system.  Your owner is normally the L&D lead, but it often ends up in the camp of HR general or even IT.  If no-one wants it and you are passionate about it, then wrestle it away from them and take ownership yourself.  If you own it but don't care about it then delegate the ownership to someone who has the vision and drive to make it succeed.  Lastly if you are the owner and possess all the good stuff above, just remember that you have to share your vision and some of the responsibility with others (remember loving and letting go of your LMS in an earlier blog?!).

Your CEO/GM/Big Boss; if the first shout-out is for the admin at the bottom of the organisational hierarchy then the last is for the top!  If your CEO actually gives a damn about L&D and is a champion for what you do and it can do then you have found your MVP.  Don't try and take control and feel protective of your 'baby', use their power and influence to drive forward the system and follow the leader.  If you have a really passionate chief then you just need to match that yourself and there is literally nothing you can't do with the learning for your organisation.  If your CEO is like this, stay in your current job 'cos it doesn't get any better than this!

As a sort of afterthought I guess that there's always the X-factor out there (no, not that TV thing...) that you can't rule out.  A key stakeholder, a trainer that makes fantastic content and really support or even someone in IT who's really for what you're trying to do (they do exist honest!) - I guess your MVP can pop up anywhere, but ask yourself 'what role do I fill?' and see how easy it would be to move up a notch and be the MVP for your LMS.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

All Support is not created equal

When I first started consulting in learning technologies my role seemed focussed entirely on implementing Learning Management Systems (LMSs) for organisations.  The aim was always for a smooth change management piece that brought in a new piece of vital learning technology into the organisation and the target was always to get the project 'across the line'.  Over the last couple of years, I've noticed a shift that means that whilst the line is still there, the focus needs to shift well beyond that line.  In short, ongoing support now accounts for the vast majority of what we do in the learning technologies space.

The issue is that if I call it 'support' what does that actually mean?  Support obviously comes in a variety of shapes and sizes (not to mention costs!), from a very low-level forum type support to tier 1 support where any user in your organisation can speak directly to the supporting organisation and even strategic consulting and high-level support. From a customer perspective what can you expect from your supporting organisation and what are these type of support?

At Kineo Pacific we offer 3 standard levels of support Gold, Silver and Bronze - but actually that alone tells you nothing except there are 'levels' and Gold will be the top one!  Instead let me describe quickly what the real things that distinguish levels of support (you can work out which of our levels they fall under for yourself if you want to - just ask me for our documentation!).

Below are some types of support.  These are neither exhaustive or exclusive and most good support packages will have elements of more than one of these.

Community Support.  It would be easy to write off community support as an ineffective and long-winded way of getting help (and sometimes it's exactly that too), but a product that has an established user base can sometimes offer some really great help.  A couple of examples spring to mind here; Moodle is one as it has a very well established user base (Moodle actually accounts for about a quarter of ALL LMS implementations globally) and there are lots of willing people sharing about it.  The problem comes in that it's a bit like searching on Google… it's really easy to search for something if you know what you're looking for.  The other issue is that a large number of enthusiastic amateurs can really send you off down some uncomfortable rabbit holes.  Another good example of community support is the Articulate community; this is a different type of support group with more support from Articulate than just users, but they have clearly invested in it and it does provide useful sources of information for users.  The problem with community support of course is that it relies on the community and often as not leaves you feeling pretty frustrated for anything beyond obvious issues.

Tier 1 Support.  This is the 'help desk' support where your own users don't turn to you as the expert but use third party support from your supplier instead.  We do this with some organisations that want to offer their LMS for external users and simply don't have the administrators or expertise to look after all the potential issues external users may have.  This type of support is great if you don't have any in-house expertise or time and although it's usually quite expensive it's often cost-effective when compared with the costs of employing a full or even part-time administrator to do the job.  We tend to call this administration rather than support, but the reality is it is still a form of support - just more direct.  Typically this type of support is accessed in a ticketed manner either by call, email or web interface.

Tier 2 Support.  The bulk of support plans fall into this category; it's about the supplier being there to help your organisation by supporting your key people rather than the whole organisation.  For an LMS this usually means getting support for your Systems Administrator, L&D personnel or trainers and system owner.  Ideally this will be ticketed or system controlled so you can find out what is going on!  A tip for the top is to limit the number of people able to access the support as most of these type packages are usually measured by 'hours' of contact and you don't want to find that some 'enthusiasts' have used up all your support whilst your key staff are left needing more for the actual vital areas of the business.

Real-time, Rapid, Standard, Slow… Okay, these may not be the actual labels given by the supplier, but there are varying levels of support response you can expect.  Real-time essentially means you can pick up the phone at any time and get help.  Not a recording or a logging but instantly.  Whilst this sounds great the actual reality is that you will pay a lot of additional money for something that usually isn't that necessary.  Don't get me wrong if we're talking technical support and keeping your LMS up and running then that's pretty much what you'd expect (99% plus uptime), but for the support of using an LMS then that's a different matter again.  "Quick it's a learning emergency, is there a teacher in the room!" is not something you'll likely hear to often.  All jokes to one side there shouldn't be too many emergencies in the administration of your LMS or much training on it (again, except those of a technical nature) so the need for real-time support is generally quite low.  You could reasonably expect some level of same-day support though as this can prevent having to continually wait days to get anything done.  Our 'normal' support sits around half-day and rapid around two hours - but generally it's much quicker.  The other good thing to note is that support is always instantaneous then the supporting organisation is not working with other clients or you have a dedicated support just for your organisation; that means that they may not be spending much time working with clients on their problems and therefore upskilling themselves and staying up-to-date on the system.

Local Support.  Is it essential to have support in the same city, country or hemisphere?  Certainly language barriers can prove an issue to support, but whether or not you need your supporting organisation in the same country depends on several factors.  I've worked and trained with clients from Australia, UK, US and here in New Zealand.  The only difference between any for me has been the ability to go 'on-site' and face-to-face.  For a couple of the organisations that really wasn't necessary with the modern tools at our fingertips but if you as an organisation need local support then you should clearly opt with an organisation as close to you as possible - at least with a presence in your market and general area.  You'll find the time zones can make a big difference too of course!

High-level Support/Consultancy.  So getting support for your administrator is one thing, but who is there to support you if you're the higher level manager?  Support doesn't necessary mean 'how do I do this?' and in fact the higher level support goes much further to look strategically at how we handle updates, changes and even internal issues that may affect the learning across the organisation.  If this seems like a consultancy piece it absolutely is, and I believe that consultancy is an important part of consultancy that can make an enormous difference to an organisation and yet is often completely overlooked.

Escalating Support.  I think it's vital in any relationship that there's some clearly defined roles.  Whilst the relationship between the support individual or team and the organisation's team or administrator, there's also higher levels of relationship that need to exist - even if they're not really involved beyond existing.  I think it's vitally important that if you're engaging support that there's someone you can turn to above the individual that you normally engage for support.  Our structure has three basic levels that usually cover our needs; from day-to-day support staff to consultants and a level above - whether you refer to that as the relationship manager or simply the manager of the consultants is probably semantics, but it's great that managers in the organisations we support can find someone to talk to when they're not getting the support or even the answers they need.

Feedback.  Okay, this isn't strictly part of the support, but it is part of the support agreement.  As a customer you could reasonably expect a level of feedback from the supporting organisation; how much support have you used and got remaining as a minimum, who is asking the questions and even a full breakdown of how time is spent.  It's also reasonable that a supporting agency would ask the question 'how are we doing?' - after all you'd expect that from anyone involved in learning right?

All in all a great support relationship is dependent on many things; ultimately a successful support arrangement is one you and your teams feel confident that you can do the tasks you need to and when you can't; well, there's someone there for you to help that you can rely on.  If not, best give me a buzz...

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

LMS for smaller organisations?

It's fine if you're a big corporate or a government agency or part of a global organisation to assume that a Learning Management System (LMS) is something you should have if you don't already have one.  But an LMS has typically been the tool for managing learning for mid-large organisations; what about organisations with less than 500 people, or even less than a 100?  Are there options or even needs for them?

The daft thing is that managing learning is less about the raw numbers of users on the system and more about your complexity, range and use of L&D, education and training in your organisation.  If your job functions require a diverse and involved degree of training or learning then managing via an LMS is a perfect addition to your organisation.  The problem often comes around the costs involved for small scale LMSs because of the initial start-up costs.

Cloud-based LMSs or multi-tenanting sites may just be your solution.  If you can pay and subscribe small numbers they are usually considerably cheaper than their full-blown counterparts.  The trick is finding a cloud based LMS that offers you the functionality that you need as many vendors give you a cut-down version that essentially is used for launching and tracking e-learning rather than a fully functional system.  As many (is there many of you?) of you know I work predominantly with Open Source LMSs Totara and Moodle, believe it or not both of these make good choices for small organisations but for different reasons and circumstances - as this blog is about LMS in general if you want to know more about those drop me a line...

The real key for me is about the management of learning (hey just look at the acronym) so if you want to make the most out of your LMS it needs to allow you to properly manage so choose something with a blended approach to also allow you to manage classroom bookings and off-site activities.  I also want some development planning, ability to bring in old stuff, upload 'things' such as old certs, run reports that I can have some input in to and ideally have it all still look like I paid more for it than I did.  Bonus features include the ability to stretch you such as competency based management, badges and full hierarchical controls, graphical outputs and a customisable menu are also desirable in your LMS.

...but actually if I had to put what makes a good LMS for small orgs in a simple sentence it would be; great looking, easy to use and packed full of functionality and reporting.  If you don't think you can afford that, you may just be looking in the wrong place.
Totara Cloud :)

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Following the Pilot...

Okay this is simple in the case of flying (like I am now) but less straight forward in the world of elearning and particularly your Learning Management System or LMS.  When you fly you go where the pilot takes you and that makes plenty of sense (ever been in a plane without one?).  But when it comes to learning technologies your pilot may go ahead, but that doesn't mean you have to fly the same way.  You may have had a successful launch on a small scale but does that mean you fire straight up the runway into a full launch?

When you are cleared to launch:
  • The first of these is easy, when your pilot was such a rip-roaring success of perfection personified it would be kind of crazy to not follow it as soon as you can with a full launch.
  • When you never make any mistakes of any kind and can be damned sure that you don't need to worry too much about the pilot because you'll get it right when you go live anyway.
  • You have the world's biggest elearning budget so if it's not right you just fix it up along the way flicking open your bottomless cheque book and signing away at will.
  • When you've completed your pilot and it has gone really well without any major issues.  You've conducted a review and it seems your first guess was right and you're ready to move straight on.
  • You were only using the term pilot to push it past the powers that be, you were always launching anyway and this was just a phase along the way of a staggered launch.
When you should carry out plenty of pre-flight checks:
  • The pilot was very small scale with only a few all-too-eager participants that were hand-chosen for the positive attitude - the business as a whole knows very little about this private little study in excellence.
  • The review of the pilot was okay but there was lots of negative feedback.
  • The budget is smaller for the main launch than the pilot.
  • You never really reviewed the effectiveness of the pilot.
Catch a different flight or take your pilot back to training:
  • When the pilot was a disaster of epic proportions, nothing worked, nobody achieved what they were supposed to and you, but you're still determined to make this idea fly.
  • When the key people from the pilot have all changed and the only records you have is that take up was pretty poor and who owns the plane anyway?
  • When you struggled with the vendor or the LMS 'experts'.
Choose a different airline:
  • The vendor was either not present, knew nothing of the system or customer service was completely non-existent.
  • The LMS really fell a looooong way short of expectations and the vendor isn't about to address issues.
  • Your feedback from the pilot is clearly pointing away from your choices that led you to the system you chose!
You were never meant to fly, cancel any further ideas of this notion:
  • You have zero interest in learning or learning technologies and nor does your business.
  • The pilot finished but it didn't matter because no one did anything and no-one is going to ever do anything.
  • IT won't let you do anything ever.  Like, ev-er!
The conclusion is a simple one, if you're sitting in the departure lounge about to get on a plane that's taking you somewhere you don't want to go, or the plane doesn't look like it's capable of getting you there, you should seriously think twice before following the pilot down the runway.  Remember the purpose of a pilot in your LMS is to get you knowing where you want to go and how to get there, whereas once you're on the plane the pilot goes and you follow or else!