Implementation of your learning management system - whether migrating to another system or supplier or implementing a brand new system, requires an experienced and professional implementation support vendor.
Implementation might be part of a larger project or might be a stand-alone process, however when choosing a vendor to work with, it’s important to understand how they plan to work with you and what you can expect out of the process.
Resourcing and guarantees on milestones
Can your implementation vendor provide any guarantees on when the project will be delivered?
Where a project is time sensitive or has a fixed delivery date, you may ask a vendor to guarantee project completion by a certain date. While software development and implementation projects are prone to delays due to the likelihood of unexpected issues or complications, careful time and resource planning is essential for a successful project delivery.
Rather than a final delivery date, a vendor may offer major milestone dates as part of the project plan. This approach breaks the project into more manageable testing and review phases, and can offer more insight into the progress of development at more regular intervals.
Milestone dates might also align with a payment schedule and could be an opportunity to negotiate penalties or discounts where these milestones are missed by a certain number of days. If you have a particularly tight timeframe, you might want to consider offering bonus payments for an early delivery.
Can your selected vendor offer guarantees or a contractual agreement that a certain number of individuals will be working on your project?
This would most realistically take the form of role-based guarantees such as the number of senior developers or implementation specialists working on the project, versus named individuals. This helps demonstrate the vendor has the capacity and the experience to manage staff absences - both planned and unplanned.
General implementation process
While all implementation projects are different, they will all share a number of steps and requirements. What is the vendor or contractor’s general process for implementation?
What will they deliver as part of the project, what do they need from you in order to be successful? How often will you meet? Will they be working on-site, remotely or a combination of the two?
What is out of scope? What isn’t typically included but could be offered as an optional extra?
What are your mutually agreed measures for success?
Integration and data migration
Integration with your new learning management system and other key systems (such as your HR system) will likely be the hardest piece of the integration puzzle.
Understanding (at a high level at least) the process your provider will go through to integrate any required systems is key to developing confidence in the vendor and project.
What is required from your end? Will the vendor require access to servers, software, databases and technical experts? What will the integration include? When, where and how will data be added, updated and deleted?
What sort of error reporting and notifications will be available? What impact will future upgrades (on either system) have on the integration?
Many implementation projects including data and content migration from a previous learning management system or other connected applications. It’s important that this data is correct and complete, so test runs of data imports is a fairly common practice.
What are the high-level plans for data migration? How will this work be tested? Will there be a parallel run through or a full switchover? What is the roll back plan?
Staff development, turnaround and attrition
Getting to work with skilled and experienced staff is important for any project, and LMS implementations are no exception. Understanding how your prospective vendor manages staff development and whether there are likely to be unexpected staff exits mid-implementation is important for a smooth and on-time delivery. How are handovers planned for and managed?
What is the average employment tenure for a staff member? What is the vendor’s commitment to professional development? If your vendor has a very high attrition rate, it could be a symptom of unhappy, unfulfilled staff.
QA team and processes
Ensuring thorough testing practices and processes are in place is vital to the success of an implementation project.
LMS projects often include custom development work taking place in parallel with other work such as design, configuration and content population. This means the availability of regularly updated staging sites for your testing, review and sign-off is essential.
Regression testing is important when your LMS implementation process is a rapid prototyping or agile development process, where features and functionality are introduced once ready throughout the project.
What is the process for releasing new developments and configuration changes? Is there a process of functional testing, peer review, browser/OS testing? Is any of the testing automated or is it all manually completed by the QA team? What are your requirements and responsibilities as a customer? What time and resources do you need to dedicate to testing and sign off?
Logging and tracking of issues
During testing phases it is essential that your vendor provides a simple, stable and robust mechanism to capture and track issues, bugs and enhancement requests.
This system can be as simple as a spreadsheet or be provided by dedicated tracking software. What’s important is that all the right people have access, it accurately captures all the relevant information for each issue and there is an agreed process for logging, prioritising, processing and resolving issues.
What system is used? How are items tracked? How is work prioritised? What is the workflow for opening, completing and signing off items? How does the system notify subscribed users to changes and updates?
Help and technical documentation
While many learning management systems have their own help documentation and even offer online training academies, your LMS implementation may have some specific workflows or customisations that may require specific documentation - both for internal and external use.
Internally, documentation might be used for helpdesk troubleshooting, staff training and as part of business continuity planning should a key member of staff have an extended unplanned absence.
Externally, if your selected implementation provider is also your chosen support provider, they should keep documentation on any specific developments or technical constraints within your site. This is particularly important to accommodate staffing changes, to help manage future upgrades or should you move your site to another provider.
What documentation will be created as part of the project? What documentation will be kept by the vendor for ongoing support? In what format will this documentation be produced? How often will it be updated? Will it be available for new vendors should the contract be cancelled?
Part of any implementation project should include a range of requirements gathering activities. Depending on the project this might include business, technical, functional, non-functional analysis.
Your implementation provider should have a good understanding of you as an organisation and a clear vision of what you want and need to deliver to your users.
Depending on the complexity of the project, some of these meetings may be face-to-face and there may even be a requirement for a business analyst to spend a few days with you on site, talking with different stakeholders.
Which stakeholders do they need to speak to? What are your requirements in terms of time commitments and session coordination? What is the sign-off process for the analysis work? What can be, or should be, prepared before this work begins?
What is the process for this analysis? How much time has been allocated to this process? Will estimates be revised and quotations provided for any custom development work? What sort of documentation will be provided following the requirements analysis?
Data protection and information security policies
It’s important to know how your selected vendor is treating your information, content and user data.
How is your data stored? How will you protected against your data being lost or stolen? How are confidential or commercially sensitive documents managed? How is access to your staging and live sites being managed? How are passwords to your systems stored and shared?
If custom development or access to your internal systems is being provided, how is access and data transfer being managed?
What is the backup policy on all work? On completion of the project, what is the data removal process?
The keys to successful implementation projects are skilled and experienced vendors and strong project management practices.
What project management methodologies does your vendor offer? Will you be assigned a project manager? Will this be a dedicated project manager? What can you expect from your assigned project manager? How often will you meet to discuss the project? What type of reporting will be provided? Will an issue and risk tracker be maintained? How will your expectations be managed effectively?
It’s important to remember a software project isn’t over the moment it goes live. What happens after your stakeholders and end users first start using the system is still part of the overall implementation.
What sort of guarantees will be provided on any design, configuration, integration and/or custom development work delivered as part of this LMS implementation project? Will your provider be available for questions or revisions after go-live? How will you raise any issues or concerns after release? What will be the turnaround on responses and resolutions?
Exit or migration process
All good things come to an end, and a successful implementation project is no exception.
On completion of the implementation, what will be the handover process to the ongoing support team (whether this be to the same or a different provider)? What information will be exchanged? What documentation or handover information will be provided? How long will this process be expected to take? What are the requirements of any new vendor?
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