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How To Expertly Create a Learning Management System RFP

by Pursuit Technology 2 months ago in advice

Structuring your LMS RFP

This article first appeared on Acorn Labs late 2020.

You've researched the market, shortlisted candidates, and… now what? Picking the right learning management system supplier requires a great request for proposal.

A request for proposal (RFP) is the key evaluation criteria you'll use to evaluate and compare learning management system (LMS) suppliers, meaning you need to take the time to clarify your expectations and requirements.

Why do I need an RFP?

An LMS RFP is a guide of essential features, functionalities and requirements you are asking potential suppliers to demonstrate they have and can meet, respectively. It'll also act as a central repository for them to view information about your company, the project or projects the LMS is applicable to, and your expectations.

It's a crucial step to weed out the good from the bad, because not every supplier can do what you ask of them. There are a few bad seeds who can and will unscrupulously say they're capable of more than they actually are. To avoid a bad crop, here are our best tips for RFP success:

1. Define your needs

Defining clear goals will save you from procuring an ill-fitting LMS, or one you are ill-equipped to maintain. Do you need support or can you diagnose programming issues in-house? Are you using the system for onboarding, professional development, or both? The answers will determine your expected outcomes, which in turn determine the features and functionalities you'll need.

Why this is important

The difference between a random system and a carefully considered solution could be worth thousands, a steep price to pay when an LMS is already an expensive investment - especially if you're working with a limited budget. Plus, if as a decision-maker you're unsure of the gaps in your organisational structure an LMS would be addressing, you'll communicate to stakeholders you have even less understanding of your organisation than an unsuitable supplier.

2. Prioritise features

…because they may cost you. When looking for an LMS, you need to have a sound understanding of what is necessary and what's simply nice to have. Prioritising features can be hard even if you're familiar with eLearning products, which is why we've created a comprehensive LMS Features Comparison Checklist to help when comparing suppliers.

Why this is important

In the tech world, there's a fine line between what you're prepared to pay for and what's going to break the bank. Additional features can add up quickly, draining the piggy bank and your resources if they require time to learn and maintain.

3. Dictate deadlines

It's best to be upfront about critical moments in business timelines before a supplier demos to you, lest you waste time on a supplier who takes months to deploy a system when you need it in six weeks. Similarly, you'll have limits on budget, number of users and certain technologies that your organisation may use or want to use. These are the non-negotiables you really don't want lost in the fine print when it comes time to sign on the dotted line, which is why it's important to sound them out in your RFP.

Why this is important

An LMS should be at the heart of your organisation, not an extraneous limb. Procuring a system that you have to work around will delay project timings, which in turn affects your ROI, user buy-in and scalability.

4. Sift through suppliers

Many LMS suppliers can seem right for you, but their industry experience and applications will be more niche than they appear at face value. At the RFP stage you're comparing apples to apples, so differentiating the finer features, prices and security of suppliers in your industry is important to find the exact solution right for you.

Why this is important

Treat this as a long-term relationship. You're investing years and potentially thousands of dollars into a supplier and their system, which means you cannot afford to choose blindly. Some of our current clients transitioned to us from suppliers whose contracts they found restrictive. We've heard many stories about the expensive and time-consuming process of leaving a contract early and the bad taste left in stakeholders' mouths as a result.

5. Cover all bases

It's possible to have it all with an LMS, provided you fill any gaps so nothing can slip through. This is done by aligning your views and values with your supplier; any gaps in understanding expectations, goals or functionalities is ascertained in an LMS RFP - making a big difference to implementation time, costs and the exact solution you choose.

Why this is important

We've found all too often, organisations settle for an LMS that takes more than it gives. This misplaces the burden of maintenance on their shoulders, creates a disjointed and disengaging user experience, and racks up bills when admin need to tailor the system to work for their goals.

Writing an LMS RFP

Company needs, goals and objectives make for different content in an LMS RFP, but much like an English essay, the general structure is usually built around a few key sections. Providing the same structure to all potential suppliers means you can easily compare and contrast their responses.

Typically, an RFP is broken up into two parts. The first part is about you, the depth of which determines the value of the supplier's response in the second. 

Project summary

This is where you encapsulate the main requirements for your ideal LMS solution. You'll want to cover your inputs, current resources, expected timeline, and your business and learning goals, plus include the details of your organisation's point of contact. Think of this summary as the gatekeeper to your organisation. Only the most worthy will make it through the first challenge - even if it's only on paper.

Real world impact

Off paper, you might have a strict deadline for deployment that affects other training or graduate programs, workplace restructures or budgetary concerns. We've found this detail to be a big deterrent for the majority of suppliers. If you don't specify key dates and the date when you expect to access the platform - and not just when deployment begins - you'll find yourself with a schedule full of demos that fall short of the mark. Make sure not to harp on about your company history and accomplishments. As proud as we all are of our organisation's successes, your industry gongs might end up attracting those who are more interested in having your authoritative name on their website than properly servicing your needs.

About the project

Here's where you start to get into the nitty gritty. The largest section of your RFP, it's best to divide information about your eLearning project into smaller blocks for clarity.

Input

Indicate what you know for the beginning of the project, such as the number of users you will be training, how many of those will be active per day and/or month (this will affect costs), how many users you expect to use the system simultaneously, how many courses you currently possess and wish to upload, and any other materials you want to import to the system.

User roles

It's standard practice to assign users different roles to limit access to files, editing tools and reporting functions, allowing them to solely focus on learning. In smaller organisations, admin and user roles are often enough. Additional roles might be needed for larger organisations to manage external consultants, different cohorts, payment portals and course supervision.

Functionalities

We've found the RFP's that result in successful tenders are those that make clear what you need a feature to do. Your focus when enquiring about features and integrations should be on the what, not the how (that's for suppliers to worry about). Make sure to ask suppliers to specify if a functionality is standard, configurable or customised.

Integrations

From eCommerce to webinar platforms and event registration systems, most LMS have the ability to integrate with third party applications - but some may be included as standards while others are seen as extras, meaning they may come with a price tag.

Real world impact

If you don't factor in fluctuations of the number of users throughout the year (say, for graduate programs at the end of summer or an influx of casual employees at the beginning), you may find yourself paying more money for a system your learners aren't even using or one that's not capable of importing or hosting your content, whether that's for compliance or storage reasons.

Without differing levels of access, you give rise to unregulated and potentially detrimental changes to coursework, deadlines or important information. We've also seen learners be overwhelmed by excessive features that hamper an otherwise simple learning environment, making their user experience disorienting and disengaging. And if we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times: not all features function the same across different LMS. How a reporting tool functions for corporate training is different from what a motivational consultant is trying to glean about their workshops. It's important to outline your expectations now, because additional features and integrations may be an unwelcome expense tacked onto your bills later.

About the supplier

This section allows suppliers to demonstrate their suitability.

Solution summary

Just as you summarised your project, suppliers must first provide a summary of their proposed solution. If they can't concisely outline how they can help you, then it's likely they didn't understand your key pressure points.

About the company

Ask how old they are. What differentiates them from the competition? How many team members would be supporting you and/or maintaining your system? It helps to enquire about customer references they can provide, as this speaks to their credentials, regardless of legacy.

About the system

The supplier should also provide a list of system requirements specific to you, including:

  • Technical obligations;
  • Standard features and functionalities;
  • Additional system tools and customisations;
  • Scalability; and
  • Data security policy and management.

All these speak to how a supplier can achieve your goals. Transferring all of this information to a spreadsheet, like an LMS Features Comparison Checklist, will help you determine the must-haves and nice-to-haves. If you can't clearly align their product information with your list of requirements, they're probably not going to meet them.

Implementation plan

We've known the importance of requesting details of a supplier's plan for implementation, including timing and their proposed costs. There'll be varying price tags attached to different stages of implementation, including set up, training, technical support, maintenance and the cost of the LMS itself. Ensure they explain how long each stage will take and what they will do vs any work required on your part so you can weigh price against effort.

Real world impact

If you've made it to the RFP stage, you're only communicating with a select few suppliers. You should use RFPs to work out what finer details differentiate suppliers working in your industry from one another. This is the nitty gritty, and skipping over details now will only cost you time, resources, and money later - and not just if you make the wrong choice, but if you need to repeat the process to find a replacement.

The main takeaways

You can never be too prepared when choosing an LMS. Taking the time to build a clear RFP structure will save you the effort and hassle of listening to irrelevant sales pitches and demos. It helps you to define your general to specific requirements and cut out the fat when comparing LMS suppliers. Outlining your expectations, limitations and how you intend to use the LMS in an RFP means you'll be more likely to find the system to match.

advice

Pursuit Technology

Pursuit Technology is a software company that streamlines systems through functional software solutions. Our pride is Acorn, Australia's fastest growing learning management system.

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