You finally got the budget to purchase a learning management system (LMS). What’s your next step? Ask around for request for proposal (RFP) samples and send one of them to a dozen LMS vendors? You know the answer already if you read last week’s post: an LMS RFP is not the first step of the selection process, it’s the result of the first step.
The first step is gathering and prioritizing your requirements for a new LMS. Only after a thorough requirements analysis process will you have the information you need to create a really good LMS RFP.
Narrow down the field before sending out an RFP
An RFP is not the start of your research, it’s the result of preliminary research. Never send an RFP to 12 vendors or even 8 vendors. Narrow down the field first by:
- Working with an LMS consultant who narrows it down for you based on your requirements and their market knowledge.
- Doing your own research using a variety of methods: website review, calls, conversations with peers and technology vendors, and peer review sites like ReviewMyLMS.
- Or, sending out a request for information (RFI).
The goal of an RFI is to help you determine which three or four vendors should get your RFP. An RFI is a stripped-down version of an RFP. It gives technology providers an opportunity to understand your association and its resources, goals, challenges, and core requirements. Associations find out which vendors and products could be a good fit based on functionality, experience, costs, and project approach.
Borrowing another association’s LMS RFP
Is it okay to ask other associations for a copy of their LMS RFP? Of course, but don’t expect it to suffice for your needs without major revision. Every organization has different needs and priorities. But you can use their RFP to prompt discussion topics during the requirements process.
You could also use their RFP as a formatting template. Just make sure the format is flexible enough so vendors can go beyond a yes/no answer. For example, if a function you require isn’t available in the current release but is nearing the end of beta testing, you want to give the vendor an opportunity to explain that.
What’s in an LMS RFP?
The RFP lays out the key evaluation criteria you’ll use to select a new LMS. Only ask for criteria you will use to make a decision, otherwise you’ll add bulk to an already complicated process, making it more time consuming for everyone involved.
If you’re an ASAE member, you can get a sense of LMS elements from the LMS RFPs in ASAE’s Models & Samples library. Otherwise, an online search will turn up samples too.
Background information: Vendors will immediately go to your website to learn what they can about your organization, members, and online education programs. Provide an overview with additional context.
- How are you positioned in your market? What’s your differentiator? What are your market challenges?
- Who are your customers? Why do they come to you? What do LMS providers need to know about them?
- What do you offer now and what are you planning (or thinking about) for the future?
- What are the challenges with your existing LMS?
Business objectives: What are the goals for your online education programs? How do you see an LMS helping you to achieve those goals?
Timeline: When would you like to be up and running? Build in a buffer so you can work around staff schedule conflicts. If you have other projects you need to work around, for example, an annual conference, let vendors know. Vendors will tell you if your timeline looks reasonable. Since they have lots of experience with implementation projects, heed their advice.
Staff resources: Technology vendors work with all kinds of associations. Some have large IT departments and some outsource IT. Some have a project manager (PM) on staff or a consultant who acts as PM, and some have a harried employee who will attempt to juggle implementation along with all their other work. Describe your staffing situation in the RFP—that will affect your timeline and the amount of support you’ll need during the project.
Budget: Some associations hesitate to discuss money. If you did an RFI, you know which vendors are in the ballpark. Now, tell them what you have to spend so they propose a system within your budget.
Required functionality: Be specific. Clearly explain what you need the system to do—the outcome, not the process. What do users—system administrators, program managers, instructors, data users, students—need to accomplish? Ask vendors to specify whether each functionality is standard, configurable, or customized.
User stories: User stories illustrate requirements and the business reasons behind them. These stories can also serve as the script for demonstrations and acceptance testing.
Technical requirements: Consult with your IT team before finalizing these requirements which may include security, uptime, bandwidth, performance, and more.
Integration: Describe required integrations, for example, association management system, e-commerce, webinar platform, or event registration system. Ask about the vendor’s experience integrating with your specific applications.
Data migration: Describe the amount and condition of data you will move into the new LMS. Is it only coming from one source? Who will be mapping the data? Do they have experience doing that? Will you need assistance?
Pricing: Ask about fixed costs, such as licensing, hosting/hardware, and support, and implementation costs, such as design and planning, implementation, and services.
- Business structure and history, financial viability
- Business and product differentiation
- Number of staff breakdown by function, names/positions of staff who would work on this project
- Number of clients, number of association clients, average tenure
- Number of clients on this software
- Documentation practices
- Training options and costs, now and in future years
- Software roadmap, update/release schedule
- Post-implementation client support
Submission information and timetable: Provide instructions for submitting the RFP, including contact information if the vendor needs further clarification.
Give vendors at least four weeks to reply. It takes more time than you might imagine to put together an accurate and complete proposal. The vendor will have people from sales, development, and implementation working on it.
Let vendors know how long it will take for your team to make a decision.
Communication with LMS vendors
Be open to communication with vendors. Thanks to your preliminary research or RFI, you’ll only deal with a few vendors. You want to ensure they understand the requirements, so make yourself available to answer questions. Plus, you each need to learn if the other organization is a good fit—the more communication, the better. Learn as much as you can during this dating period and you’ll make a better match in the end.
Evaluating and scoring proposals
You have to compare apples to apples during the selection process. Many associations use a scoring system to do this. During a recent AMS Fest, Moira Edwards from Ellipsis Partners, Gretchen Steenstra from DelCor, and Wes Trochlil from Effective Database Management described a popular scoring model:
- If a function is baseline, it scores 4 points, configuration 3, and custom 2.
- Double the score for each must-have function, for example, a baseline nice-to-have scores 4, a baseline must-have 8.
- The RFP score is the total of all functional requirement scores divided by the total score possible.
You can establish a weight for each criterion, for example 65 percent for functional requirements, 20 percent for price, and so on. Decide how you will factor in intangibles like responsiveness, attitude, and gut feeling.
Developing a really good RFP takes time. But the process you go through to develop it—the discussions and decisions about requirements—might be some of the most valuable and rewarding work you do all year. It’s worth it because it’s the only way to find just the right LMS for your association’s needs.
Just in case you're all set and ready to send out your really good RFP, we would love to see it! You can use the link below to submit an RFP, or if you need to do some more research, ask us for a demo of TopClass LMS or chat to one of our experts about your LMS requirements.