9 Lessons Learned from Standing Up an LMS (Twice)

by equusnyder

learningI joined medical device manufacturer, Wright Medical, shortly after the announcement that the OrthoRecon (hips and knees) division would be sold to MicroPort Orthopedics. I was to join team of 500 or so employees who would be going to the new company.

It was quite an opportunity for me – building a Corporate Learning and Development department from the ground up.

But before that chapter could begin, I had three months in which I needed to stand up a new Learning Management System (LMS) for Wright Medical. It was mid-October when we started and the system HAD to be in place upon the sale of the company, January 9. (Shortly after, I would stand up the same system for MicroPort.)

This, I’m told by many in the industry, is a VERY rapid stand up. In fact, a colleague with a major hotel chain was standing up the same system, except she started three months earlier and would finish shortly AFTER we implemented.

So the LMS adventure began. The decision for which vendor we would use was already narrowed as I settled into my new role with Wright. Aside from reviewing and interpreting the RFP, my contribution to the selection was limited to choosing between the final two vendors. Both vendors offered equal products, but we had past experience with one (in another piece of talent management), which had shown their customer service to be less than adequate. That was the primary deciding point.

The vendor we choose has a very robust system with many talent and performance clouds that allow it to run as a completely integrated system. We purchased only two pieces of their offering – the learning cloud and the enterprise cloud. The former is your standard LMS – housing and launching courses, tracking, etc. The latter enables us to provide course offerings to our outside sales force, and to charge for taking our training, should we ever go down that path.

It is unfortunate that we will not have a fully integrated system, but perhaps as we better understand the offerings of the two companies and can compare notes on the positives and negatives, we could add pieces to one side or the other to capture all of our employee data in one place.

Both LMS stand ups were a challenge, each in their own way. First, just understanding how the system worked was overwhelming at times. The user interface is fantastic, but the learning curve for the administrator is steep.

The second challenge was retrieving the legacy data in a format that could efficiently be carried over into the new system. Didn’t happen. Well, the data carried over, but it was far from efficient, in part because the legacy system was customized with a Moodle backbone. The data we needed just didn’t come out in the format required. We had it, but had to really manipulate it to create a semblance of order in the new system.

Third, content. We had many courses on the legacy system, but they had been built in third-party software and for the most part were not available in SCORM packages. As a result we spent a significant amount just having them converted to SCORM packages. I would have preferred to do a thorough analysis of the courses first to see if any could be improved upon (or swapped for off-the-shelf content), but I just didn’t have enough runway left. We would have to maintain the status quo.

Fourth, the 20/20 rule. My husband was a homebuilder and I’ve learned one truth from him that can apply to nearly every facet of life – it will take at least 20% longer and cost at least 20% more than you anticipate. This is true in regard to an LMS too. There were pieces we needed that we didn’t anticipate. There were more people added than we anticipated. Finally, the data conversion from the legacy system was FAR more complex than anyone anticipated and resulted in a significant delay in getting the final historical user data loaded.

Based on these challenges, here are 9 lessons I learned from the implementations:

#1 Do not scrimp on administrative training.

Regardless of the system, managing all the moving pieces can be a nightmare if you don’t know how they all fit together. Spend the extra dime to send the administrator to training. It will pay off in spades.

#2 Hire a third-party expert.

Use an expert to help with the implementation AND keep them on to assist until your admin is up and rolling (particularly if you’re hoping to save money by ignoring #1 [You can do the math.]).

#3 Decide what’s important ahead of time.

How will you differentiate between groups – by job role, cost center, location, pay grade? What information do you need to track, keep, report, etc.? How do you want that information formatted? Analyze your current versus best practices ahead of time. This might be the opportunity to make a change. Which brings me to…

#4 Clean it up!

Before you bring data in from the legacy system, be sure it has all the pertinent information you need. One challenge we faced was the course titles in the legacy system did not exactly match the titles of the SCORM packages, which did not exactly match the course name as it appeared in the IMS manifest, which meant we had three different titles for one course in many cases. This may not be a big deal, but for us there were multiple versions of courses and trying to determine which SCORM package tied to which course and to which data point was an exercise in futility. I am just NOT that adept at Excel. To overcome this, we used a third-party administrator, Amber O’Sullivan, and a technical consultant, BharathiRaja Rajendran, both who were masters at manipulating data to sort it all out. And they did. And they were fantastic.

#5 Have an internal IT expert on the team.

Your expert shouldn’t be someone in HR who’s just “pretty technical.” It needs to be a no-kidding, blow-your-mind, technical genius – someone who can understand the intricacies of the new system, data feeds, and data input. Again, we did. For Wright, it was Raj (see #4); for MicroPort it was Bill Hazelton. And they were both amazing at their craft.

#6 Use a strong project manager.

If possible, have a strong project manager to steer the project. I was not the project manager, yet my time was completely spent on getting this system up (even with a project manager). I could perform only the minimum of my “real” job in order to get each system in place on time.

#7 Make sure stakeholders completely understand what they’re getting.

As a learning professional, or expert in any field, it’s easy to take the terminology for granted. Don’t assume someone who’s been in the industry for years necessarily knows a lot of the ins and outs of online learning. After all, in the swiftness of today’s world, if you’re not putting your hands into the muddied water of learning technology on occasion, the current has already changed. And stakeholders don’t necessarily need to understand it all as long as someone who does know is looking out for the best interest of the company. And make sure you identify ALL your stakeholders. Once the system is in, many will come forward, once they see the benefit. They’ll voice their needs, but will be surprised when many of those things are an additional expense. Identify as many stakeholders as you can and prepare them for the costs. That way, they can share the love.

#8 Prepare your IT department and your users for the change.

I will admit we did not do this well. If there was only one thing I could do over again, this would be it. Though IT was involved in the selection from the very beginning, we did not do adequate training with Help Desk personnel to prepare them to answer common questions from the users. In addition, we prepared a user guide and sent it out to the users as a “first assignment” – they only received enough information to log in and navigate to the guide. While this was actually an effective learn-by-doing exercise, many did not participate. Instead those who did not take time to learn how to log in called in a panic the day before their compliance training was due because they couldn’t figure out how to access the system. I think both prepping the learners further in advance and perhaps launching a “new LMS” marketing campaign could have had a better effect and could have reduced many of the “How-do-I-log-in” phone calls.

#9 Seek support.

Again, in our haste, we were fairly short-sighted regarding who would be administering the system. Now, several months in, we are turning over many admin tasks to specific departments who are eager to use the system to benefit their team members. Of course, this ties back to #7.

All-in-all, this was a great experience – two great experiences, albeit nerve-wracking at times. But we have a dynamite system AND every challenge is nothing more than an opportunity for growth, and at 5’2” I need all the growth I can get.