The request for proposal you send to learning management system (LMS) providers is only as good as the process you use to develop your LMS requirements. If you don’t accurately and completely identify and prioritize your real needs during that process, your new LMS will fall short of expectations.
Before you even think about creating a request for proposal (RFP), you must spend time on the LMS requirements gathering and analysis process. This process—the discussions and decisions—is the most important part of any technology selection. If you don’t get it right, you won’t create a useful RFP or select the best LMS for your association.
Who’s involved in the LMS requirements process
Requirements gathering is not a one-person or even one-department task. You need to involve key stakeholders: staff who use the LMS, use data from the LMS, or use technology that interacts with the LMS now or in the future. You don’t have to invite everyone to the table, but you should have representation from each stakeholder department.
Definitely have someone from IT on your core project team. They can help you develop requirements related to integration, security, and other technical issues. Since they’ve been involved in many IT projects, they can also prepare you for what lies ahead.
In addition to your colleagues in the education department, you may also want to consult with staff responsible for accounting, marketing, membership, and meetings. Think about involving HR too if you think they might want to use the LMS for employee onboarding and training.
Many organizations hire an association LMS consultant to help them with the LMS requirements and selection process. These consultants know the association LMS market, are familiar with how associations use learning platforms, and understand the association learning business model. A consultant will narrow down the field or help you develop a request for information (RFI), create the RFP, communicate with vendors, coordinate demonstrations, and negotiate the contract.
Extra benefits of the LMS requirements process
We’re not going to sugarcoat it—the requirements process is a lot of work, but it’s necessary work that has a few unexpected positive benefits for your association. During the LMS requirements process, you have the opportunity to enlighten your colleagues about your department’s goals, how those goals impact members, and how they impact other work going on in the association.
You get to discuss complicated but critical issues with colleagues, for example, the membership experience, legacy business processes, marketing and communication practices, and even cultural challenges.
The requirements process is a time for people from different departments to get together and work toward an organizational goal. It provides a model for future collaborative discussions about other topics and helps break down departmental silos.
Plus, it’s beneficial to have people outside your team make observations and contribute their ideas on member education. They bring both their staff and consumer perspectives to the table and might see things differently than your team.
And, you never know, all this talk about professional development might spark in others a desire to learn. The requirements process could be transformative in ways you never imagined.
How the LMS requirements process works
The requirements process is a research project. You need to pinpoint what you need on the instructional, administrative and technical side of the LMS and what learners need on their side. Requirements are gathered and developed in several ways:
- Individual interviews with stakeholders and system users (staff and learners)
- Group interviews and/or focus groups
- Requirements analysis meetings
- User stories and/or workflow illustrations
LMS requirements discussion topics
Goals: Before getting down to the nitty-gritty of functional and technical requirements, be clear on your goals. How do you see the new LMS helping your association achieve its strategic, educational, and business goals?
Market: Understand and discuss your current and prospective learners, including market segments, needs, preferences, and what you’ve learned about them from program evaluations, surveys, market research and informal feedback. Discuss the competition and your association’s position as well as your differentiator in the online learning market.
Budget: You might need to do some preliminary research to understand what your money can buy. You’re going to need at least a budget range for the RFP.
Timeline: Of course you hope to implement a new LMS as soon as possible but build some flexibility into your timeline so you have a buffer for the inevitable delays due to staff schedule conflicts. If you will be working with staff from other departments, make sure they (and their supervisors) understand the time commitment involved.
Existing pain points: What problems do you want this new LMS to solve? What do staff and customers complain about? For example, you may have issues now with missing or under-performing functionality, data you can’t store, reports you can’t run, integration challenges, update issues, problems with your current vendor’s support, and user experience (admin and learner) frustrations.
Existing business processes: The best time to analyze existing business processes is during the requirements process. There’s no need to hold onto legacy processes if a new system offers the opportunity to improve them.
Review any business processes involving your LMS and learner data and plan to improve:
- Processes involving manual or redundant data entry, and workarounds
- Processes you want to improve, streamline, and automate
- Processes that just seem wrong in some way
Workflow is a tough issue to talk about because it’s personal, but you need to review it. If the potential of your new LMS is limited because someone isn’t willing to change how they do their job, you need to call that out now. Otherwise, your old problems will move with you to a new LMS.
Future needs: Don’t limit discussions to the present. Think about the types of programs and content you may want to offer in the future. Your new LMS should be flexible enough to adapt to those evolving needs.
Required functionality: Know what you need your LMS to do now and what you may want it to do in the future. What kind of educational content or learning experience do you want to deliver?
What kind of data do you want to track and report? What do you need to measure the success of your programs? What do you need to learn about learner behavior and progress?
Think about missed opportunities. What would you like to offer but can’t with your current system? How would you like to change the learning experience?
Prioritizing LMS requirements
Most associations categorize requirements into two levels: needs (must-haves) and wish list (nice-to-haves). Some use three levels: mandatory, preferred, and optional.
If your list is bigger than your budget, you can “park” some of your wish list into phase 2 of your LMS project. But make sure you choose a provider who can meet those phase 2 requirements.
User stories are a useful tool in developing requirements. They illustrate requirements—what the LMS must do. You can also use them as the script for demonstrations, and during system acceptance testing.
Documenting LMS requirements
Requirements must be clear. You want vendors to understand exactly what you require so they will ultimately deliver what you expect.
Requirements must be complete. During requirements meetings, go over every aspect of the education process—from planning and instructional design to content upload and marketing, and from catalog search and registration to program participation and evaluation. Make sure everyone who should be is involved in the process.
Share the requirements documentation with stakeholder representatives to get their feedback and agreement. You don’t want anyone coming to you later with additional requests. Incomplete requirements will cause scope creep and have a detrimental impact on your budget and timeline.
Your requirements documentation becomes the basis for your RFP. In next week’s post, we’ll provide advice for creating a really good RFP for a new LMS.
We've done this a few times before... If you want any advice on what LMS requirements a vendor needs to understand what will work for your association - contact us. We would be happy to talk you through what TopClass LMS can do. We have worked with so many organizations large and small, we are happy to share our expertise.