Monday, April 19, 2010

Top 10 considerations for choosing an e-Learning vendor

1. The team that is to be committed to you: Any organization has skills, people of varied quality. The group dynamics is of utmost importance in good solutioning exercise. Not all would you want to be star performers in the group. The team will "over heat" quickly with differences. What you then need to ask is profile of people who would be committed on project and visit them to check their internal working dynamics.

2. How much time the vendor and you are willing to ideate together: Believe me, the execution and implementing an e-Learning course is a negligible figure compared to the remaining tasks that are required for a good quality e-Learning program. The ideation phase is always given the short drift. The normal drift talks go something like "You are the experts. Advice us on the course of action to take." Vendors say "We know what works better. Let us adopt the 'yy customer' style."

Another reason why you should Ideate together is because typical e-Learning projects work in Fixed Price model. In this model, the ideation time and solutions that come out of it may vary from the initial commitments. Hence both sides find it convenient to accept ideation as design.

But if you are interested in e-Learning implementation, get to talk and ideate with the people either in presales stage or in initial stages of project.

3. Take quicker decisions: This one is for you, the customer. The vendor role is to insist and ask for them. Many a times, I have seen managers not wishing to ask customers to take a decision. Things like "Don't we know the best for them" is the mindset that leads to quirks later in the day.

This eventually is the #1 cause of change orders, risk escalations, and eventual project delays with resource burn rate at faster pace.

4. How much Risk the vendor can take for you: Remember "going the extra mile". The question normally asked is how much miles ? Rather you should ask "What is the quality of the miles covered." What risks the vendor is confident to take on your behalf. This also gives you the judgment of the treatment and the confidence levels in the team on the project.

For my customers, I typically take the risk of going ahead even without sign offs or directly showing the final output instead of storyboards. Many a times, it has helped and helped my clients better with saving their time and knowing what they get in the first instant.

5. How transparent is the working: You may not need to know, who is working on what tasks daily. But you still need a tab on the project. Many times, customers rely on reports from vendors. Ever cross-checked with vendors or audited the reports ? If not, recommend you do it now. This is not to say that you would be surprised or vendor is making a mistake. I too am a vendor and always feel all vendors would be good to customers. The simple step is to ensure good health for the project from vendors side as well.

6. Can Senior Management give time every fortnight for the project: We call it "Steering committee meetings". You may want to call it anything. But it is important that senior management come in and exchange notes that augurs well for the project.

Do not give a project to a vendor where senior management delegates their meeting time to another standby member.

This is critical of all. In my earlier company, we had a monthly one-one where my boss with my peers boss at client side would discuss project progress at high level. More than project escalations, we learnt so many cultural sensitivities that made both of us (me and client PM) do better in the project.

7. Do they use XML standards: Sounds technical right ? Yes, it is. But it is important that you know. XML is a beautiful language: Not a good answer.

The understanding should be: It is a wonder system. Why? It is the key and answer to save your investments.

XML is semantic language. It is mostly relegated to developers to create their own tags. Ask if the XML structure has been checked by an interaction designer or an information architect. You can open a file and going through the tags; do they make sense? The semantics of tags need to give the right meaning. XML as a rule of thumb must be used for
1. All textual content
2. Defining the structure of e-Learning program
3. Describe and Define Assets used in the program

More than this, it is the creativity of the teams to manage and use XML technology better.

Every one now claims they use one.  The key question to ask is what is XML used for and how it is going to protect your investments? Check the proof yourself, if presented a chance.

8. What numbers do you get: Insist on EVM (Earn Value Management) formulas and numbers/ratios outlined in EVM. These, by far to me is the best project control and forecasting method.

9. How are you tracking efforts: You will get a great manager and a wonderful team. But what is the system to track progress ? You need your vendor to make profit to serve you next time better. So it is in your best interest to track efforts and progress, lest they come to you next time to make up for the costs incurred in first project ;)

10. What freebies can vendor offer: Well, how can we leave this aside? Isn't this the major swing factor in decisions? Evaluate freebies carefully. Many will sound too good, but if you really want it, take it. I am a vendor and I first think, what will it take me to not get into a trap. So it is better to carefully negotiate the freebies. Meaningful freebies are warranty, support, administration, training, user feedback analysis, or may be a demo package at reduced cost, etc.

You check what you want and ask for the same. Freebies should be just that: "Free" as in bird than "Free" as in puppy. The after effects should not be costly for you. Further freebies should not be demanded that they are hidden in cost.

A genuine freebie in my experience, has given me good customer relationships to savour for a long time.

11. Freebie point to this post :) - Is SCORM required? Short answer: Yes. Long Answer: Understand the benefits of SCORM and utilize the tags mandated in your project definition. (If you don't have one, just assume you are creating one.) Creating SCORM just for launching the course in LMS, is not a good utilization of the power of SCORM packages. SCORM exists to describe about the course in as much detail as possible to enable search, re-use and re-hash. Are you getting near these objectives with your SCORM courses ?

Top Agile Blogs