Tighter budgets and the pressure to “become more agile” are making L&D teams nimbler and pushing them to achieve great efficiency gains. But the process may also lead the team to inadvertently lose sight of the horizon, and that loss can easily cancel any cost benefits gained in this or the next quarter. How to bring balance? Here are five tips to long-term planning in an agile world.
1. Build a SME strategy
Sourcing external subject matter experts is expensive. Although external sourcing gets the job done and sourcing is as easy as cutting a new purchase order, you are probably feeling the pressure to cut costs. Define a strategy for transitioning from external to internal SMEs. You will never be able to source everything internally, and detailing what is likely to remain outside should be part of the plan. The business value of this transition plan may not always hinge on cost efficiency: the time “borrowed” from internal employees may be as costly, or more, than sourcing an external SME. The true value proposition is related to knowledge transfer. By having a reliable internal SME sourcing plan, you are demonstrating:
- Effective knowledge transfer
- That your learning department is actively managing that knowledge transfer
- The organization’s knowledge maturity, evidenced by reduced reliance on external sources
2. Choose tools and technologies for the long run
You just watched a demo of a new system that could host/author all your elearning. It brings innovative features, and although your department will have to make a few adjustments to make full use of those, it all looks great on paper. We should experiment with new technologies and bring the best out of them, but I have seen some of these solutions cause serious overhead to the learning department, and… yes, long-term cost commitments. Consider the following when evaluating new tools and technologies:
- Can it be hosted on your existing infrastructure? If not, what are the running costs?
- Upgrades: Who controls upgrades? What’s the upgrade cadence? What’s the cost? What happens to your existing content in an upgrade?
- Support: How quickly can you get help if things are not working as expected? Will support be an extra cost next year? What happens to support if you decide not to go ahead with that new upgrade?
- Exit strategy: When you decide to move to another solution (yes, it will happen) can you export your existing content and keep using it in another platform? What’s portable, what’s the cost of that portability, and what will be lost?
3. There is no “Delete” button, create one now
Your team has adapted to the demand for faster, leaner production of learning solutions and job aids. You have embraced social corporate learning, and great material just keeps coming; your team has never been so prolific. Employees find what they want, satisfaction scores for L&D are up, reports look great. There is only one problem, and it may not be that obvious right now: there is no “Delete” button. Sooner or later, you are going to face the task of managing obsolete content and a web of cross-references.
Make sure you plan for maintenance before maintenance becomes a problem. For each new learning solution, document expected shelf life, action needed by the end of its shelf life (update, discard, merge, etc.) and dependencies such as prerequisites, learning solutions known to point to this item, and learning solutions referenced within this item. Put that in database format so you can quickly search for an item and understand the implications of retiring or modifying it, and also pull reports about maintenance required one or two years from now. Handy during budget planning time.
4. Plan designs for the worst possible delivery scenario
You have a group of employees based locally, where face to face delivery is not only practical but also the easiest option. But your learning solutions must also reach out to mobile and geographically dispersed employees. Avoid the easy route of creating face to face designs and then hope that they will be somehow adapted to other scenarios. Start with the worst possible one – it is usually easier to repurpose solutions for the classroom than the other way around. You will also start with the one solution that works everywhere, even if you are out of budget or time to repurpose for classroom in the future.
5. Look outside and save
It is sad to see the “not invented here” syndrome in action. But have a quick look around: we are surrounded by high quality content. Yes, it is external; no, it wasn’t created here, but it is still great content. Of course there are learning solutions that for legal, compliance or competitive reasons will always be created in-house. But seriously, how many “Presentation Skills” courses can be put together, and how much of a competitive advantage can such a course be to any organization? Save budget, resources and accelerate solution delivery by leveraging great content that exists outside. Pay attention to the licensing and use accordingly; there is a vast amount of quality content released under Creative Commons with attribution as the only and very reasonable requirement. Where publication of derivative works is required, consider that possibility as a way to build your team’s reputation outside.