The best learning management system (LMS) selections always start with understanding the needs of the business and how an LMS will support goals, objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs). Any system can seem impressive and wow with its capabilities, but if it doesn’t support the business effectively, it could not only create frustration for learners, but also could potentially lead to spending tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars on a system that goes unused. Therefore, it’s vital to start with the business’ needs.

Generally, one of three reasons leads an organization to consider implementing a new LMS:

  1. Increased employee count beyond what classroom training and an internal learning and development (L&D) professional or team can accommodate.
  2. Company expansion to more than one location, state or country.
  3. Required tracking of regulatory training in a way that ensures compliance with the law.

Understanding which of these situations you’re in will identify the first business need. For example, if a company is expanding beyond one location into multiple locations, states or countries, the LMS will need to be available no matter location or time zone. Providing content in more than one language may be important; therefore, the system will have to support multiple languages. Voila! The second business need has been identified.

Most importantly, the needs should not just come from the L&D perspective, but relevant leaders, stakeholders or subject matter experts (SMEs) must be included, as well. Some of the most important to consider including are: executives, leaders, information technology (IT) professionals (they’ll know about system requirements, possible integration needs, etc.), human resources (is an HRIS integration needed?), legal, compliance and safety professionals, to name a few. What’s important to each of them? How do they see an LMS supporting their line of business or the company? Executives may say something like, “I need to have regular reports on legal/regulatory training in my inbox every Monday morning.” In this case, you’ll want to look for an LMS with automatic, scheduled reporting capabilities. Whereas, leaders may say, “I need to be able to see training completion for my entire team or all my teams in one place.” In this case, you’ll want an LMS with leader dashboards.

As business needs are compiled, it’s important to rank them in terms of importance. Consider categories like, “Must Haves/Deal Breakers,” “Nice to Haves” and “Pie-in-the-Sky Stuff.” Or something as simple as levels one, two and three, with ones being the most important features/functions of the system and number threes being the least. These designations will keep the focus on what it most important to the business and keep the fancy bells and whistles that salespeople like to share from causing distraction.

Using an Excel spreadsheet or Word table, list the requirements from most to least important across the top and the systems to be evaluated down the side. It could look something like this:

Now, begin the actual evaluations. No need to get a salesperson involved, yet! There are great resources online such as software review sites, learning professional networks and the system websites themselves. Use the spreadsheet or table to indicate what is found. Excel can even be set up to have the cells change color showing how the system stacks up with the requirements put in place. For example, typing YES in the cell turns it green, UNKNOWN turns the cell yellow, and NO turns the cell red if that feature is missing. This immediately makes it visually apparent which systems are a best match.

Once your choices have been narrowed to a top three to five (at the most), leverage any free trials available and look for aspects like ease of use, additional features they have that weren’t thought of, or to try and get clarification on those “unknowns.” Next, schedule a system demo with a salesperson and provide the remaining outstanding questions that need answered. Have them focus the demo on those key points, clear up the final “unknowns” and provide an initial quote.

These final pieces along with the documentation created throughout this process will provide everything needed for the final step — a presentation to the key stakeholders and decision makers for budget approval. All this hard work will ensure most decision maker questions can be answered and concerns relieved without any additional work or research. And, as we all know, budget dollars are more likely to be allocated when it’s shown how the entire company will benefit.

Once the approval is received, the hard part begins … implementation and administration.