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Why LMS Implementations Fail

It’s easy to blame the LMS for organizational learning woes. Why is it that some organizations like their LMS and others hate theirs?

A 2013 study of 135 global organizations by analyst firm Brandon Hall showed that more than half of them were looking to replace their learning management system. A similar survey a year earlier showed that more than a quarter ‘hated’ their existing system. This intense level of dissatisfaction demonstrates that many businesses are making a poor initial purchase choice, driven, perhaps by a lack of understanding of what’s needed.

Global statistics indicate that billions are now spent every year on learning management systems. If many of those fail to become effective long-term solutions it’s easy to see how much money is being wasted, particularly if you factor in the benefits foregone from an effective solution driving operational efficiencies and revenue growth for those businesses.

This whitepaper highlights the common traps that decision makers fall into when choosing a learning management system and suggests it largely results from a lack of consultation with the business, limited understanding of what’s required and the sales approach of major vendors.

Poor selection criteria

With so many learning management systems in circulation it’s understandable that the sales process becomes a fashion parade. Buyers will place undue emphasis on

– How easy it ‘appears’ to be to use

– How attractive the user interface is

– What is the initial purchase cost

All of these are important, but a great looking UI can have limited use if it doesn’t do what you need. In many cases, ‘easy to use’ is great at the start as it makes the learning curve for adoption much easier to manage, but in most cases it really equates to ‘simple features’ which ultimately means their LMS falls short of all the requirements needed now or in the future.

There’s a real danger that decision makers are drawn on the functionality offered from a simple UI, translating that into a business need, rather than evaluating comprehensive business needs then finding a solution that fit – obviously, whilst being easy to use. Many LMS buyers do not build into their selection criteria the changing and growing needs of their organization. This very quickly leads to dissatisfaction and a desire to look at what else is available.

Who makes the call?

Like any key management system, failure can come from a lack of consultation with the broader business. Essential needs might be ignored because one division – often HR – heads the gathering of requirements and ultimately makes the purchase decision.

This is a common scenario, yet HR is rarely in-charge of providing training programs. They cannot possibly be subject matter experts on all aspects of the business, so the delivery of relevant content should be the domain of individual business units. HR will often insist that they are responsible for overseeing talent management programs, but this is a reporting function – just one aspect of a broader range of business needs.

Many businesses have a separate Learning and Development (L&D) unit, with the expertise to ensure efficient training models are in place – such as the ADDIE model. They can ensure that any purchase decisions can accommodate the business’s established learning framework but, again, they will not be across the more specific needs of each business unit.

External learning provides a perfect example. Companies that initially imple­ment learning programs for their internal staff often see the benefit of spreading the programs to partners, resellers and customers. Often these offerings are productized and sold for profit. You can quickly see how this falls out of the remit of HR, or even L&D (which is often contained with the HR department anyway). Would a customer be happy to receive training from the HR department? Or even someone within a division whose background is primarily HR?

So, the number one reason LMS implementations fail – it’s because purchase decisions are made by HR with insufficient consultation on the needs of various business units. A safer approach is to use a single business unit to develop a system to match their needs, with a view to extending it busi­ness-wide down the track.

Ongoing ownership

Often the hostility (or apathy) towards an LMS has its origins in a lack of ownership, governance and support by the organization itself. Even if one department attempts to ensure that it is fit for the initial purpose, there’s often no ‘owner’ to ensure it is continually aligned with the needs of the business. Without effective governance the LMS becomes a dumping ground for bad content, quickly fragments and, without meaningful data on learning effectiveness, fails to support the learning needs of the business. Poor results lead to the downward spiral, where a lack of willingness to commit resources makes it impossible for the LMS to prove itself as a ‘mission critical’ system, no matter how good the underlying technology is.

Every business needs a plan as to how the system will operate and address the learning needs of the organization. In the first instance this can form part of the business case, used to demonstrate the benefits that will be derived. After implementation, however, this plan could change as the company understands more of the capabilities and opportunities. This will require an operational structure, such as a governance board, that oversees policies, configuration, content and the like. Without it, there is a danger that the system is used in a haphazard fashion, delivering inconsistent results and poor data and content management.

Lack of vision

It should be the goal of every learning organization to make the LMS a ‘mission critical’ system, tasked with ensuring organizational readiness through effective learning delivery and measurement.

Sadly, this often isn’t the case. Without the appropriate governance the system quickly becomes a discretionary item, with management turning to other solutions, including external suppliers, to fill the most essential learning gaps, at greater expense and isolated from an ongoing learning program.

This is a ‘chicken and egg’ problem – lack of governance will destroy the potential, but without realizing the potential companies can be less inclined to devote the management resource to establishing effective governance processes for their LMS and their learning ecosystem.

Treating your LMS as a vital element of your human capital management, with the potential to drive efficiencies and grow revenue, will ensure appropriate attention is paid to its deployment, ongoing management and periodic appraisal.

Vendors adding value

A successful LMS deployment requires a strong partnership between the vendor and key stakeholders in the customer’s organization. Naturally, this is essential during the establishment phase, when the vendors expertise from previous deployments can assist in ensuring the configuration of the system is aligned with the company’s processes and integrated with other key systems.

The work doesn’t stop there. The relationship should be ongoing – assisting with governance, constantly optimizing the configuration and working on opportunities to extend the role of the system.

Sadly, in many cases, the LMS vendor is after a quick sale, and often discounts the deal to the point that there is no margin in the sale to sustain a meaningful, supporting partnership. From day one the relationship is soured, resulting in a flawed deployment and an adversarial relationship which leads to mutual dissatisfaction. Subscription-style agreements can help alleviate this problem – both parties have a vested interest in working together to maximize the potential from their shared commitment.

Avoid the pitfalls

Getting lasting returns from your LMS investment is not a simple process. There are lots of perspectives to be thought-through, but there are five suggestions to consider before selecting or replacing any LMS:

  1. Know your needs: You can’t select an LMS until you understand the learning needs of your business, both now and over the longer term. Work with your stakeholders to define a learning roadmap for the organization to ensure your LMS is fit for purpose.
  2. Make sure you are ready to take-on an LMS: Define your learning technology governance framework before you select an LMS. You need a structure of learning technology ownership, accountability, policy and process that will work for your organization to make implementation, integration and ongoing management of an LMS successful.
  3. Select the LMS designed to meet those needs: Make sure that you test your LMS shortlist with real world scenarios that clearly show how it will address your specific defined learning requirements. Make sure the LMS is flexible enough to meet your current and future needs (or there is a committed roadmap to provide the functionality you need).
  4. Pick an LMS vendor you can trust: Do your homework on the vendor. What sort of partner will the vendor be over the longer term? Ask questions of existing customers, especially how they add value (guidance, active development, support etc). Don’t just buy from a vendor because of its Gartner Magic Quadrant status.
  5. Commit to excellence: Create stretch goals for your LMS. A well implemented system can have a significant impact on your business, so don’t undersell the benefits. Consider it as indispensable, aligned to your stakeholders needs, with deep contextual reporting on training effectiveness. Only by considering your system as ‘mission critical’ can you eschew the LMS replacement trea­mill and source a robust, viable and flexible system supported by a strong, effective governance framework.

Like to find out more? Don’t hesitate to email: info@seertechsolutions.com or phone +61 2 9368 6700