Monday, October 05, 2009

Getting Requirements and My Mind Blown

I had a chance to talk to one of our high-level training gurus yesterday.

She is new to the organization (less than 1 year) and is one of the primary stakeholders in our phase 2 LMS project.

She also has a PhD in Distance Learning.

Yup - I was more than a little nervous.

During our conversation, she laid out a series of requirements / issues. I hadn't heard them put quite this way, but her concerns are universal to our university.

I'm still trying to process this, so bear with me....


When she is designing training for any distance learning session (synchronous AND asynchronous), she asks herself some of the following questions:
+ Is my training having the appropriate emotional impact?
+ Is my training having the appropriate behavioral impact?
+ How does the training impact the bottom line? In this case - the money coming into the university.
+ How do I design this so that a community is built rather than just a one time training event?
+ How do I make the material as accessible as possible while still tracking progress and completions?

Ideally, the LMS would then allow the following:
- Integration with the ERP so that she wouldn't have to try to crib reports out of both the LMS and the ERP and hand-manipulate the resulting data.
- Easy input of all instructional materials - including smile sheets, surveys, online tutorials, web materials.
- Easy input for the students of all assignments - any format.

The questions and the requirements are utterly sensible and common throughout our university.

My thinly-veiled freak-out occurred when I realized that:

a) The "LMS" (which is a content manager right now rather than any useful LMS) may not be able to do half ANY of the requirements without some serious jury-rigging.

b) There may not be an easy way to integrate the business results in the ERP (which I am assuming exist....a possible mistake on my part) with the educational results in the LMS.

We need this individual's support.

We may be f***ed.


Unknown said...

you had me at "thinly-veiled freakout."

Michael Hanley said...

Hi Wendy,

On the one hand, the requirements are not quite fair.

#1 is unmeasurable using quantitative methods (unless you're talking about Kirkpatrick Level 1 Reactions surveys ("Happy sheets") which in my view are pretty valueless without a deeper inquiry into your learners' needs

#2 is measurable (via Kirkpatrick L3

#3 is quantifiable via Phillips' ROI approach

#4 Is organizational policy - needs board-level support to work (and will take a LOOOONG time to build)

#5 Not sure about this - accessible as in 501, or accessible as in lots of people can access it?

#6 Not trying to turn up the dial on your panic / freak out, but I would have thought that the level of interoperablility your stakeholder requires is standard enterprise-level stuff, no?

Of course, the reality is that this is the outcome of learning professionals letting LMS vendors away with their clunky, siloed solutions for the past decade or so. If they can't even implement specifications like SCORM correctly - and if I hear one more LMS sales droid assuring me that that their product is "SCORM Compliant" I'll probably do them a grievous injury - never mind having data connectors for HRMSs and ERP solutions.

I'd suggest going back to your LMS vendors to help you out (get them to do a gap analysis re: their system >> your needs).

Finally, if I may suggest, it sounds like your guru is trying to make their problem your problem, as as they're the one with the PHD, they should be suggesting approaches to solving your common challenges, and not dropping them in your lap.

Finally(!) - People have been trying to effectively measure #1 and #2 for since at least the 1950's. No-one has managed to do it yet, and it doesn't look like anyone is going to be able to effectively measure behavioural and emotional impact in an organizational context anytime soon.

Michael Hanley

Stephen Downes said...

I love how they're throwing these requirements at you (whiuch are, as Michael Hanley stated, quite unreasonable) at this stage of the project.

I know this person is new, but where was she a year ago, when this was all being developed.

(I've been following this whole process - it's akin for me to reading Orwell's Dairies ( ) - and though I've read some jaw-dropping posts, this one is right up there).

Wendy said...

Stephen: You will LOVE this then.

There WERE no requirements when this puppy was purchased. Or the system that this replaced. :' )

It was just bought.

I have been operating under the (most likely correct) assumption that this is the system that we are stuck with and we will need to make this work.

The enclosed content library is too valuable.

We'll see if replacement winds up being an option once the requirements are in.

I'm not holding my breath...

Rodolpho Arruda said...

Just bridging to Michael's point, if you decide to call your LMS vendor for a meeting, don't forget to call in the ERP vendor and someone from IT as an acting liaison.

Everyone agrees that the ERP represents the business information "backbone", so whatever you decide to plug-in to it, must be well discussed, evaluated (risks wise) and approved.

And don't forget to find a good sponsor for this systems integration, otherwise IT may not give enough attention to it, since the priority/relevance peek for the LMS is now gone with the system in production phase.

Wendy said...

Rodolpho - good news, I'm in the IT department.

Bad news, my management has been after the other groups within the IT department for resources (just for the simple integration to get our groups together) for over a year.

I suspect a large part of the problem is that we have a functional system. People can get to the content within it. Nothing is glaringly broken. Therefore, this is NOT a priority among the tech folks.

To them - the requirements I mentioned are "nice-to-have" and they will help us when they have time.

Knowing their project schedule, if left to their own devices, I probably shouldn't hold my breath.

Don't blame them, really.

We are thinking/hoping/praying that this thing finds a high level champion (possibly above the CIO) that truly makes this project a priority - overriding some of the other things IT (including myself) has to do.

Multiple high-level champions across departments would be better.