Once you launch the first phase of your project, things will start to move quickly and you'll have little time for planning or research, so be ready. Have your processes and procedures in place so that you can show impressive results while the company is still excited about what you've promised .
Before you reach this stage, before you get the budget and are free to implement, you should have already completed several front-end tasks :
Know who your vendors will be. Once you have the support of management, it's too late to begin shopping around. A well-done vendor-selection process can take months to complete and should be finished by the time you present your business case. It's not something you want to rush, and it's critical that you research your options and evaluate your needs before you buy. If you intend to use e-learning as part of your strategy, make sure you do your homework up front.
At Rockwell Collins, our team spent weeks reviewing vendors and tools before we completed our strategy because we knew how important it would be to have those relationships in place when we were ready to go live. Before securing buy-in, we conducted the vendor group meeting, letting the potential vendors know that if they wanted to work for us they had to be ready to share proprietary knowledge and work together as a team. We established the rules for teamwork and accountability among vendors, and then Cliff Purington made the bold choice of purchasing the technology before he secured management support. The risk was obvious but the reward was impressive. By choosing vendors, securing those relationships, and installing the technology before we implemented, our team met its first-year goals the moment we launched. The executive team was thrilled with our ability to deliver on our promises so quickly and completely, and we then had two years to meet our next set of goals.
You may not have the bravado or budget to make such a bold move, but you need to be ready. Before you make your final presentations to management, meet with and make decisions about which vendors you intend to use. Even if you can't buy the tools and technology for six months because of fiscal issues, establish a verbal contract with these companies. Tell them what you will want and set some timelines so that they will be ready to support you the moment you have the money to close those deals.
Define your " make-or-buy " decision process. This fundamental decision-making process will determine the direction of your entire strategic implementation. You need to know, going into the launch, where your content is coming from, how it will be developed, who's in charge of creating it, what process that person will follow, and how you will evaluate the results. The make-or-buy process takes into consideration several issues, including time to develop, in-house expertise, budget, performance goals, and availability of content.
The decision to develop courses in house should be made only because doing so adds the most value to the project. If you do it because you feel guilty or incapable of reassigning instructional designers, you will do a disservice to your strategic plan and to your people, and ultimately this decision will cause your project to show insufficient results.
In companies that have existing instructional-design staffs, the right decision may be to build everything in house. For others, such as Rockwell Collins, the best choice is to outsource the bulk of the content development. Most companies will fall somewhere in between. The point is that you need to know how you will decide which courses are developed internally and which ones are outsourced.
This is not a decision that can be made simply to keep a staff of designers busy. It's a strategic process that should be defined based on the needs of the company ”not the needs of people in the training department. What to do with your existing team is a separate decision from whether you make or buy content.
When you approach this decision, consider your team's level of expertise compared with your strategic needs, the financial implications of your choice, and the political repercussions of keeping your staff versus reassigning them. If you decide that the best decision for your plan is to outsource content development at the expense of losing staff, you may want to hire an outside firm to "verify" your decision, and let them take the heat for it.
At Rockwell Collins we were adamant about outsourcing content development because doing so made sound business sense, but we were fortunate enough not to have a team of instructional designers on staff who would be affected by that decision. Our people were used to working with outside experts to provide training, so the decision to buy content from vendors was a natural transition that required no immediate layoffs.
It's important to recognize that in today's economy, having a "standing army" of designers waiting to design and develop curriculum is a luxury most companies cannot afford. Numerous vendors have the expertise to provide quality development utilizing both internal and external subject-matter experts.
If you do have a training department with a number of instructional designers already on staff and you decide to retain them to build programs in house, you probably can't continue with "business as usual." The single biggest complaint The Performance Engineering Group (PEG) hears from client firms is how disconnected the developers are from the business itself. If your instructional designers are accustomed to going off and designing a program with little or no input from the intended audience, you will need to create new rules for these employees . Don't let a "We've always done it this way" culture kill your e-learning initiative.
Define high-level roles and responsibilities. People cannot operate in a new environment if they don't know what they are supposed to do. Left on their own in a changing environment, they will revert to what they know, which will frustrate your efforts to cause the required change. In large organizations it's especially important that everyone know their new roles and the specific tasks for which they will be accountable. Give them jobs, define their responsibilities to the best of your abilities , communicate with them early on about what is expected of them, and reinforce that information through frequent contact and discussions about their progress. Making this information clear helps to eliminate uncertainty and floundering. Realize, however, that even with taking these actions, the change is significant enough that there will still be some confusion and ambiguity.
At Rockwell Collins, we began retooling our people into learning consultants before the rollout. They knew that their jobs were changing and they knew at a high level what was expected of them. Everyone was given the new title and trained as to what it meant to be a learning consultant. They were assigned learning councils to chair , given constant feedback and coaching about their direction, and given task assignments to ease them through this transition.
Define your timelines. Your work-breakdown structure has to be complete at this point. Before you go live, you should have a detailed schedule of events that map out your goals and how you intend to achieve them, from the first day of the launch through at least the succeeding twelve months. Ours laid out every task and event we intended to accomplish over thirty-six months. You may change your timeline or add to it during the implementation process, but you need an initial structure in place with which to go forward. Without a timeline you will falter, losing track of events, forgetting critical details, and causing unnecessary delays that will increase your chance of failure. With this project, the devil is in the details and you cannot afford negative publicity at this juncture.
Map all of your work processes. We can't overemphasize the importance of early successes. Everything you do has to work well in order for you to hit those high-profile home runs. Mapping your work processes is an integral part of the front-end approach that will structure your curriculum offerings and guarantee that the learning opportunities you do offer are targeted and tied to the bottom line. The work processes are at the heart of a learning organization because they define what learning will be offered , what it will look like, what impact it will have, and how you will make the connection between training and the business. They will be your road map to success. It is impossible to create a learning organization without defining your tools. If you built a comprehensive strategic plan that ties learning to the business goals of the company, then your work processes should already be mapped.
At Rockwell Collins, we mapped everything, from the mandatory needs analysis to the make-or-buy decision process, before investing in any technology. When Project Oasis went live, all of the processes were clearly defined and available to our learning consultants and the rest of the company so that there was complete clarity about when, where, and how training would happen. Every training choice our team made was grounded in these processes, and this grounding guaranteed that every decision was justified, logical, and linked to the business.