Some months back I wrote a couple of posts about elearning outsourcing focusing on why to outsource elearning and how to select a vendor. This post focuses on how to make outsourcing work for you. I list the elements that I feel require key focus to ensure outsourcing is delivering the goods for you now and in future.
1. Define Clear Objectives
If you don’t know where you want to go any road could take you there. This applies to eLearning Outsourcing equally well. If you are not clear about what you want from a particular eLearning project you can be sure no one else is either. The vendor will often create a sketchy picture of your goals and try and achieve that. That’s NOT what you want.
- Use well defined Statements of Work when outsourcing eLearning projects. Detail the vendors’ and your responsibility as accurately as possible.
- Define the ‘level’ of output by using reference of previous projects (your or vendor’s). If you can add more details good. Just agreeing to something like ‘Level 2 output’ is fuzzy and will create confusion later.
- Study and understand the Project Scope Documents and Design Documents well before you sign them off. If you don’t understand them your vendor will be happy to walk you through the documents.
- Include any specific goals your senior management has from the program and articulate that for the vendor development team and yourself. If these come in late in the development cycle costs will escalate and timelines are sure to be affected.
2. Follow Process
You’ve checked the vendor’s process documents & maturity models and how they’ll work for your projects when you selected them. Now it’s time to allow the vendor to conform to that process and those models, and for you to emulate them yourself. There are times when deadlines are advanced, and you may be tempted to skip that prototype stage. Skipping an earlier stage comes at cost – the quality or delivery dates suffer due to endless modifications and rework. Apart from the additional cost, it would also mean frustration for the development team. You need to stand by and conform to the process in the best interest of your project.
It’s very important to understand your role in the project process. Reviews & feedback on the many deliveries you receive along the way need time commitment from you. A Common mistake clients make is to assume it is a simple task and can be done quickly. Have someone capable & experienced to do that work. I suggest you check with your vendor during the kick-off stage about the time based project needs and at which stages. A day’s delay from your end could sometimes lead to more than a day’s delay from vendor’s end especially if you are not working with a dedicated team at the vendor.
3. Get the Communication Right
On outsourced projects sometime communication can become more important than the actual deliveries themselves. We’ve heard clients complaining that the lack of information bothers them more than the missed deliveries. At most times they feel confident of handling the situation if timely information is available about the status of the project rather than find out at the 11th hour about deliveries being missed or delayed. But that’s something any responsible vendor should do.
It is important to setup proper communication channels and keep them open to create an environment of confidence & trust between your own team and the vendor’s development team. Signed off specifications documents and approved prototypes should not necessarily hold you from having discussions on new ideas that may emerge. Also provide constructive feedback whenever there’s an opportunity. This tends to prompt the vendor to commit even more to your project.
If you are working with a vendor on multiple projects have periodic review discussions to evaluate how the relationship is going. Iron out any persistent issues in the processes or otherwise. Be forthcoming in resolving your side of issues too.
4. Define and Measure Quality
Like beauty quality is subjective too.
While a sense of ‘quality’ should emerge from your defined objectives you still need to clearly spell out what you mean by quality. Understand your team’s and management’s collective expectation about quality and make sure your vendor knows and understands them clearly. Ensure to list individual details about features, elements and any other specifics of the program that you consider a part of good or acceptable quality. For instance some clients consider the amount of animation and interactivition to be an indicator of high quality while others don’t.
Quality is what TRULY affects the outcomes of the program in a real sense. A good quality product will have the intended learning impact on the audience. I suggest you focus on what the learners are supposed to ‘do’ or ‘perform’ after the program and whether that’s being achieved by the program. While you may add several bells and whistles to an eLearning course, the core has to be solidly focused around achieving that single most important objective. The cost of bad eLearning is much higher than you think.
It’s a good idea to define the quality assessment criteria for a program and approve checklists the vendor will use for testing. This will the development team give output that’s closer to your expectations and will eventually require less number of iterations.
5. Think Long Term
As your organization grows, you will probably outsource eLearning projects more. Every time you work with a new vendor it’s a learning experience for both the teams as they come to understand each other and their unique working culture and style. After working together on a few projects the communication and understanding between the teams reaches a level where projects start to flow smoothly. It just does not make sense to switch vendors every now and then. Think of your vendor as a possible long term partner from the very beginning. Invest in building their understanding of your organization, how it functions, and what’s the short term and long term goals; the returns will be well worth the effort.
If you work with an innovative vendor, it helps your team to develop new thoughts and skills too. This in turn could help you sell your services better internally or to external clients. Encourage discussions with your vendor to explore advances in the field and how you could take advantage of them.
One way to greater involvement is to revamp the engagement model with your vendor from being just a ‘cost-reduction’ or ‘staff-augmentation’ option towards becoming a ‘strategic-partner’. Getting formal engagement model agreement in place helps vendor commit resources and energy to think about advancements for your organization holistically rather than just work on a per project basis. Think business performance improvement & strategic capability building beyond cost savings.
Lastly I feel you should remember that your partner needs to be profitable to remain in business for the long term and be a suitable strategic partner. Don’t splurge but be ready to pay for experience and expertise.
I believe these five keys can you help you reap the benefits of eLearning outsourcing to the fullest.