LMS Implementation Project Plan: Checklist of 7 Critical Steps

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You’ve probably heard a horror story or two of a failed LMS implementation. Although LMS software can deliver a powerful range of benefits to your organization, it can’t help if your efforts fall flat. You want to avoid the same fate at your company, but what steps and processes should you follow? We’ve put together a checklist to help guide you.

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LMS Implementation Project Plan Checklist

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Despite the substantial growth of the LMS industry, learning management systems haven’t always brought immediate success to companies. Data from the Sierra-Cedar 2019–2020 HR Systems Survey White Paper, 22nd Annual Edition reveals that 33% of companies are exploring options or actively planning to replace their learning platform.

Putting an LMS implementation project plan into place at the front end can be the difference between an efficient, smooth implementation and a negative experience that ends in wasted time and resources.

Let’s look at the steps your company needs to take to properly implement a learning management system.

LMS Implementation Checklist

1. Put Together Your Implementation Team

LMS implementation is a complex process. It’s essential to put together a team that can make sure you don’t miss any important steps. Four to six people is usually adequate. That number can vary, however, depending on the scope of the LMS deployment and the size of your company, and in some cases one person will cover several of the areas listed below.

  • Team leader: This is the person responsible for overseeing the entire project and who acts as the main point of contact.
  • Project manager: A project manager can ensure timelines, budgets and scope all stay under control. He or she can also manage the daily details of executing the project.
  • E-learning specialist: This person should have a solid understanding of industry standards, as well as learning models, tools and other aspects of learning management systems.
  • System admin: This person will be tasked with providing direction on features and configurations. He or she will also be responsible for the ongoing tasks associated with running the system.

Your unique environment will play a central role in determining the makeup of your implementation team. For example, if you’re only looking to manage a few compliance courses internally, you may not need as big of a team. And if you’re deploying the system to franchise owners, you’ll need to bring in multiple system admins.

If you’re installing an on-premise solution, having an IT architect will also be critical. They can help facilitate the technical aspects such as data migration and cleansing, system setup, security, and other requirements.

You also need to consider who to have on your extended team. This can include a Customer Success Specialist or similar person from your vendor, who’s there to help manage the implementation process. Finally, you should appoint a group of end-users to test drive the system and provide feedback on what needs improvement.

A poorly chosen team is often a culprit when a learning management system implementation fails. Your team needs to work together and collaborate well to drive the project forward. Establishing a communication plan can help mitigate issues during the process and keep everyone on the same page.

Continuous communication with the vendor is also key — which is where a Customer Success Specialist comes in. This ensures continuity and a smooth implementation process.

2. Spell Out Your Goals

Perhaps the most important part of your LMS implementation plan is setting clear and specific expectations for what you need the software to deliver.

Knowing your goals is a critical step in determining which solution will be best suited to your needs. For example:

  • Are you implementing the system to provide mobile access to employees? A cloud LMS will be the way to go.
  • Is your goal to provide standardized learning that you can measure across a global workforce? In that case, you’ll want an LMS that comes with global capabilities such as localization to support multiple languages.
  • Do you want to sell the courses? If so, e-commerce features will be critical, such as custom branding, a user portal for external use and payment processing.

At this stage, you should also take some time to define what success looks like.

Is it getting a critical group of users up and running as quickly as possible so they’re certified when a new industry regulation goes into effect? Is it gaining a higher engagement rate across learners? Is scaling from hundreds of users to thousands in the next few years?

Being specific about what success means will give you a clear indication of whether or not you hit your goals.

3. Compile LMS Requirements

Listing your must-have features is another vital piece of your learning management system implementation. Some systems are more bare bones, while others come with a robust feature set — including all the bells and whistles.

But remember that more isn’t always better. In fact, it’s often not. When it comes to LMS software, your requirements list should reflect what you actually need from the platform, not what you can squeeze into a package in your price range.

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However, there are some standard requirements you’ll want to consider:

  • A content editor that gives you the ability to create and update your own course material
  • Blended learning, which supports both instructor-led training (ILT) and e-learning
  • Tests, quizzes and other ways to assess learner progress
  • Compliance with e-learning standards such as SCORM, xAPI (also called Tin Can API) and cmi5
  • Multimedia support so you can include audio and video content
  • A content library for storing your courses
  • Reporting tools so you can track KPIs

Customization should be another key requirement you look at. Cloud solutions tend to be more plug-and-play, with a varying range of configuration options. On-premise systems, on the other hand, will offer much more flexibility in what you can customize. The amount of control you need may help determine which type of solution is better for your company.

Overlooking this aspect can lead to time and budget constraints that throw a wrench into the implementation process.

4. Create a Strategy

Putting a strategy together beforehand will ensure you have a game plan for tackling the implementation. Let’s go over five of the most crucial pieces:

LMS Implementation Strategy

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Scope

Part of your LMS implementation project plan needs to be the scope. Without a defined boundary of what the project includes and doesn’t, scope creep can too easily take over, ruining both your budget and timeline.

Example: You’ve determined you need to have a new system live in two months so you can offer a course that teaches a specific group of employees about an upcoming regulation change in your industry. Without a scope putting limits on the project, it swells to include multiple courses and other departments, making it impossible to hit the deadline.

The scope should clearly define what the project includes — as well as what it excludes. Otherwise, a small change can quickly have a snowball effect, saddling you with a project that’s well beyond its intended scope.

Migration

Are you transitioning from a previous LMS? If so, you’ll have to migrate your current data onto the new platform. This is something the vendor will typically help with, sometimes for an extra fee. Having their collaboration and expertise can be well worth any additional cost, however.

A lot of factors are at play here, and it can quickly turn into a nightmare if you aren’t prepared. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Back up the key data on the old system so you can recover it if anything goes wrong
  • Be aware of different data formats, which may require you to map the data before migrating to the new system
  • Migrate essential information like user profiles, course content and certifications
  • Ensure the content standards between the two platforms are compatible (SCORM, xAPI, etc.)

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Integration

Each business has unique needs when it comes to learning management systems, so it’s natural that your integration needs will be unique as well. Ask these questions to help your integration go smoothly:

  • Do you need the LMS to integrate with other key business platforms — HR and otherwise?
  • Are you going to only have an LMS, or are you planning on building a learning ecosystem with multiple applications? For example, an LMS, a micro-learning tool and a virtual reality platform?
  • Is the LMS part of a suite of tools from one vendor that tightly integrate, or are you stitching your software environment together from several point solutions?

Your LMS should be able to integrate with the software tools your organization is already using. Working closely with the vendor can make this part of the LMS implementation more manageable.

From there, the type of environment you’re building will go a long way in determining what you integrate and how you accomplish it. That’s why you need to know ahead of time, so you can plan accordingly. If done correctly, this process ensures that the LMS solution complements the technology landscape of your organization instead of becoming a disruption.

Seamlessly integrating the LMS with your HR management software and talent management system makes it much easier for managers to better judge how to develop courses and training programs that align with organizational goals. In turn, this helps deliver the most benefit from your learning management system.

Timeline

Clear timeframes and milestones are pivotal in ensuring an LMS implementation doesn’t get derailed. And when it comes to setting expectations, you’re better off allowing for extra time.

It can be tempting to rush a rollout, especially if there’s pressure from executives or outside forces that make the implementation more pressing. But the reality is, a fast-lane approach won’t cut it.

You need to be realistic about what you can get done given the time and resources you can dedicate to the project. You’ll want to incorporate a buffer to account for obstacles that crop up (they always do) and include time to test the system before your official go-live date. That way, you can find and fix problems before the system is fully operational.

Rollout Approach

Finally, you need to decide whether you’re going to implement a complete rollout or take a phased approach.

The latter has the advantage of letting you break the implementation into manageable chunks. You can complete the first stage more quickly, so it’s smart to start with the project that will have the most impact so you see a quicker return on investment. A phased rollout also lets you identify problems and fix them before the next launch.

Implementing the entire system at once is more doable for smaller projects. Splitting the rollout into stages may only delay your company from getting up and running on the system, so weigh whether it’s realistic and worthwhile to follow a non-phased approach.

In any case, you need to make your teams and users aware of the coming changes. Clearly communicate timelines and expectations so they don’t come to work one day to find the old system was replaced by a new platform they suddenly need to learn.

And if possible, make sure the implementation won’t interfere with any critical training schedules. If your sales team is meeting for a week of training, for example, you don’t want to disrupt their schedule by throwing a new LMS at them the weekend before.

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5. Get Your Content in Order

A learning management system isn’t useful without any content. If you don’t already have courses in place that you’re migrating over from your previous LMS, prepare courses for your planned training categories.

At the beginning, even a couple of courses for each category will be enough, but it’s important to make sure that the content isn’t generic PDF files or videos. The content needs to fit with your organization’s goals and be easy to understand and follow.

iSpring Content List

Example of a content list in an LMS.

Many companies opt for content created outside of the company, such as courses from LinkedIn Learning or Udemy. That’s a viable option, but you may still need custom content that caters to the specific needs of your company.

Ideally, you should aim for a healthy mix of the two. Some subjects are too difficult to prepare in-house or generic enough that you can use external material. Not to mention, these external courses are available as soon as the system goes live. If you’re pressed for time and resources to build courses from the ground up, having third-party content can be a good starting point.

As you build courses, keep these additional considerations in mind:

  • Learning paths: You can string together a number of related courses to create customized training for specific groups of employees. This lets you target your content and eliminate unnecessary courses from your employees’ training.
  • Course format: Will you offer e-learning, ILT or a combo? Some material may accommodate one format more easily. Furthermore, ILT requires a teacher and a classroom setting (either in-person or online), which are additional resources you need to be aware of.
  • Structure: Think about the flow of each course. This includes the number of modules, placement of quizzes, whether you’ll use e-learning or ILT (or both), and how you’ll incorporate video and audio.
  • Gamification: Adding competitive, game-like elements such as awards and leaderboards with points helps encourage engagement and motivates learners. Many LMS platforms offer these features, so consider if you’ll incorporate them into your courses.

6. Test Before You Launch

No one wants unwelcome surprises, and the best way to avoid those black holes of frustration with your LMS implementation is to test the system before you fully launch.

The group of learners from your extended implementation team should have time to use the system before the official rollout. They can catch any problems so you can fix them before all users are live.

Some of the things to look for, from a student, admin and instructor perspective:

  • Is the UI easy to navigate and understand?
  • Did all the data from your old system transfer correctly?
  • Does single sign-on (SSO) work?
  • Are the automated tasks such as email alerts running as they should?
  • Is registering for and attending a classroom session intuitive and easy?
  • Do the videos and audio work properly? What about your third-party content (particularly SCORM courses)?
  • Can you issue accurate certificates for course completion?
  • Is the test group making the expected progress? Does the system generate accurate reports based on that progress?

7. Ask for Feedback

Even with comprehensive testing, it’s impossible to catch every little error that pops up during the launch. Put a process in place to gather feedback from all the system’s users after the launch to get the software working as smoothly as soon as possible.

Feedback can also help vendors discover areas of improvement they can build in to future updates, which can make the LMS much more efficient.

One of the main goals of LMS implementation is to give users a positive experience, which in turn leads to higher adoption rates. Using feedback (and testing beforehand) goes a long way in supporting that goal.

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The Wrap on LMS Implementation

The journey to rolling out a new learning management system can be arduous. But if you follow the LMS implementation steps laid out above, it’ll pave the way to a successful outcome.

One pivotal step is putting together a list of must-have requirements. The list will act as your compass during your search, guiding you toward the best product for your company. Our free requirements template can help you take control of the process and accomplish it in much less time.

What challenges are you facing with your LMS implementation? Let us know in the comments!

Zachary TotahLMS Implementation Project Plan: Checklist of 7 Critical Steps

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