An LMS Implementation Planning Primer

LMS Implementation: How To Plan It Effectively

In 2017, I was charged with adding external content to educate our technicians-in-training about the deeper workings of both networks and machines. I identified a vendor, got approval for a limited license set, cost-projected the LMS integration, set a go-live date of January 1st, and eagerly anticipated the possibilities.

I was naive.

January 1st came and…nothing. We had access for users, but not through our LMS. When I contacted people, I learned the integration was not scheduled, that it would be weeks until we started the integration and weeks after that before we went live.

Communication that I thought was happening—and calendars that I thought would include me—didn’t. I assumed. I ceded responsibility. We got it going, but it never really took off after that delay.

Later the same year, we gained support for a substantial system expansion. We were looking at:

  • changing our system presentation to something more sophisticated
  • adding performance to our learning cloud
  • and adopting a library of external content available to everyone from a new and different vendor

This is what I’ve learned and applied to get the proper result.

Manage The Project

1. Know Your System

This may seem basic, but you need a deep understanding of the software you implement. If it’s a new system to you, you need to dedicate large amounts of time to mastery.

If it’s an expansion of an existing system, you absolutely must be familiar with its basic structure. There will be a lot of back-end work—we had to manage our hierarchy to a degree we never had, for example.

We're a small shop. We do both the Project and System Management. If that's not you, you need a strong system administrator.

2. Be The Pivot Point/Own The Result

If it’s everyone’s job, it’s really no one’s job.

Someone has to own either success or failure. Others don't own the result. That belongs to you. All work must revolve around one central source, the manager of the project.

3. Know When You Have To Commit

We knew we needed to launch our implementation on January 2nd in order to reach our goals. So, our first question, after the costs, was "when do we need to sign to be working with our implementation analyst at the very beginning of the year?". Contracts needed to be signed by September to implement the content provision in December and the Performance module in January for a go-live in March.

4. Communicate

You cannot afford to take anything for granted. What does this person mean by that? Are you really on the same page? Communication is the hardest piece. It doesn’t matter what you think the sales manager meant. It matters what the sales manager actually means.

The only way to know is to get it in writing: in a contract, in an email, in a clarification set in some format that you have a commitment. I’ll write it out in an email and send it to the person, saying "This is what I understand you to have said. Is this right?". I then print all vital emails and keep them in a file folder.

5. Track Every Step

Know and plot every single point where someone is supposed to do something or provide something. Confirm every step on the path to the go-live. This is basic project planning.

6. Be Accountable/Demand Accountability

I work for a software company that is objective—by our customer's own account—number 1 in its market for 15 years running. That’s because we know we have to be responsive and accountable to our customers. We hold vendors to that same standard. I don’t expect something special. I expect competence and responsiveness, service and accountability.

Ownership is what I expect of myself and my team. Why wouldn’t I expect it when I’m responsible for the company’s money and goals?

7. Test And Pilot Everything

In the end, the delivery is yours. This means you need to understand the process in deep detail. It’s on you as the implementation admin to test every process, to document every step, to run every permutation through a test system repeatedly.

After testing, it’s critical to pilot the program with a relatively friendly group. It will be rough, maybe a bit ugly. But if your first implementation of a live product and process is for the entire company, good luck with that. Criticism will be difficult to hear, but you’d rather get it from a small subset of your peers than from your COO.

8. Be Flexible

When we implemented performance, it was not what I would have made or what I envisioned when I sold the idea to management. It was much better.

I had to step back and admit that this was not my project. Management and HR had a clear vision. My job was to implement that vision—not my own ideas—and that meant I had to be flexible like Gumby.

9. Assume Nothing

A verbal conversation is worth the paper it’s written on. I heard this, but they meant that. The only way to be certain that you’re on the same page is to write it down and send it to the other party. You need a virtual paper trail.

If the invoicing doesn’t come directly through you, be sure you’re CC’d on all communications between accounting and your vendor. Accounting isn’t responsible for meeting targets: you are. When the PO didn’t get sent, or the implementation is delayed because you didn’t confirm that the right piece of paperwork was received, you’re stuck. You, not them.

At each step, you’re the one covering your bases. When something gets off-track, you want to have the moral high ground. This is what you said you’d do. I need you to meet your commitments. Professionals respect this.

10. Choose Your Partners

Get partners onboard at the very beginning of planning. Include them continuously. Serve them.

  • Who are your stakeholders?
  • Whose support is critical, and are they willing to publicly endorse your program?
  • Whose approval is required?
  • What do your partners want and expect? What do they provide?
  • Will you be provided the resources and the time needed?

Executive support is utterly crucial. When we went live with the performance at our company, it wasn’t my program. I was the delivery person. Our program is the brainchild of management, and management has to own it, or why would people participate? It had to come from someone other than the system administrators when it went live.

11. Know Your Goals

Forward progress is utterly dependent on a clear objective. If you’re implementing a performance or learning system and the goals aren’t clearly stated, you’ll spend countless hours building a program that no one may ever participate in. If you can’t nail down a clear objective, be ready for mission creep and tremendous aggravation.

Our goals for performance were simple: launch a system that compels productive conversation. If the goals were more elaborate, the resources would have had to adjust accordingly.

12. Get Started Early

Everything is harder and more complicated than it appears on the surface. Everything. Your only real defense is to get ahead of the job and stay there. If you have great partners, and your planning is very good, the project goals will catch up to reality about the same time you go live.

Our Implementation

2017’s implementation of our content provider had a small impact, but it fell short of potential. It came in late, lost its momentum, and never really recovered. The result was a collective "meh".

In 2018, we added a new content provider with 2000 online course options to expand our learning system, implemented a performance system, and adopted a new dynamic User Interface, all in the first quarter. By carefully managing costs and expectations, we now provide triple the footprint with the same resources, and the project delivery was completed both on schedule and within budget.

This part, and not the actual system work, was the best contribution I could make as an admin. I’m not saying it’s because I was smart. It’s not genius: it’s thorough planning and consistent engagement.

Keys To Success

This was a combination of project planning and a lot of team contributions that all had to be managed from one central point. These are the following:

  1. Administrators took on the work we could handle alone.
  2. We gave the heavy lifting for the performance implementation over to a paid consultant. (It was a requirement of our LMS provider, so we did all we could to get our money’s worth.)
  3. We had very clear expectations from our internal stakeholders and conveyed those clearly to the implementation analyst.
  4. We had internal and external partners we could trust.
  5. We had adequate resources and time to do it well.
  6. We had strong support from management.
  7. We managed all communications and locked in our costs and schedule on written contracts.
  8. We managed the project like our reputations depended on it.