No matter how great the features of a learning management system (LMS) are, it can’t and won’t deliver you value in a vacuum. When selecting the right LMS for your organization, it’s important to be guided by the goals of the organization and, more specifically, by the role learning is expected to play in supporting business outcomes.

One of the reasons that finding the right LMS is so tricky is that different leaders across an organization have different visions for the role of learning. For example, the human resources (HR) team may be most interested in developing skills to meet the future needs of the organization, whereas the sales department may be focused on onboarding new salespeople to meet a revenue target. If you make your decision based on just one of those points of view, there’s a good chance the other functions will be frustrated with the product you choose and how you implement it. This article provides some guidance and tips on how to engage with stakeholders.

Why Engage?

As a learning and development (L&D) team or learning design function, your success is your business leaders’ success, so engaging with them early in the LMS selection process is critical. Their involvement is crucial for three basic reasons:

1. Support

You need to build a connection with your stakeholders and get them (and make them feel) involved. Every stakeholder is part of the project, and you will need his or her help sooner or later, whether to mobilize others for a workshop, to provide you with data or to be a champion of the project within the organization. You can never have too many people on board with the ongoing effort.

2. Empathy

These stakeholders are the people whose business you hope to change for the better. To be successful, you need to empathize — to see, feel and experience things as they do. By listening to business leaders’ frustrations, needs and hopes, your team will gain the focus and motivation it needs to move forward, because you will better understand the problems your business is trying to solve. These leaders are your customers, and their feelings about both the implementation process and ongoing operations will be the No. 1 determinant of perceived success or failure of your solution.

3. Success Criteria

As noted earlier, business leaders’ success is your success, so it’s important to be able to make clear connections among the business goals of these stakeholders, the role of learning in achieving them and — most importantly — how the LMS will support the delivery of that learning.

Gathering Stakeholder Input: The Interview Approach

There are a number of approaches for gathering stakeholder input and requirements as you start a project. For something as big as an LMS, you’ll want to elicit deep, rich information from a small selection of key stakeholders. While taking a survey approach might seem fast and easy, it might not gather the depth of responses that will provide you with the rich data you need.

The best approach to gathering information and requirements is personal interviews, either on a one-on-one basis or in small focus groups. Interviews are useful tools for gathering in-depth information and are particularly valuable because they enable you to ask follow-up questions of interviewees when you need clarification about a particular response. However, it is easy to ask leading questions in an interview format. Here’s how to gain the most valuable information from your interviews:

Preparing for Your Interviews

The first step is to create a list of potential interviewees. Ideally, you should cover every department that will significantly use the LMS. Stakeholder interviews can have a bit of a make-or-break effect on your project, so make sure to prepare.

Before going into a stakeholder interview, know as much as you can about their function and goals. Ask if they’ll share their department goals ahead of time, review any provided documents and talk to peers in your department who regularly interact with the function.

Then, send a project brief and copy of the questions you intend to ask well before the scheduled interview. Let them know how you envision their role in the project, and share the likely next steps going forward — for example, providing access to other people in their department, reviewing demos or feeding into test scenarios.

Establishing the Business Outcome

This process is about pushing project sponsors and stakeholders to articulate the current state and desired outcomes in concrete, measurable terms. It’s also about broadening your perspective beyond just delivering training and asking “why” — a lot. If your sponsors and stakeholders can’t articulate their need in these terms, see it for the red flag it is, and push back.

A well-stated business outcome has four parts:

    1. Problem statement: What is the impetus for the initiative, and what are the associated symptoms?
    2. Business goal(s): What will change if the initiative is successful?
    3. Definition of success: What is your definition of success?
    4. Measures of outcomes: How will you measure your outcomes?

Think of the business outcome of these interviews as the North Star of the initiative. Return to it when you need to make decisions about configuration or data: Are you meeting the need? Publish the results, and make sure everyone on the team knows them. Having these “North Stars” will help guide you to the right technology.

For more guidance on LMS selection and preparation, download this free e-book: The Kineo LMS Selection Toolkit.