An Ideal LMS Starts with RFPRFP=An Ideal LMS

So, you’re ready to take the initial plunge into eLearning, and you’re thinking of issuing a . Great! Distributing an RFP is a wonderful way to “set the stage” for your ideal learning management system (LMS). If you have itemized your requirements in writing, you are increasing the odds of finding the best LMS for your organization— at an affordable price. An RFP is especially beneficial if you have a lot of requirements, because it gives you a simple way to evaluate and compare numerous LMS systems. Writing an RFP for your organization’s new learning management system can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few helpful tips to guide you through the process.

Tip #1: Resist the Urge to Copy
When the going gets tough, it may be tempting to copy another organization’s RFP requirements. Developing an RFP does take time, and thoughtful consideration. Unfortunately, copying requirements from another association or company will get you only short-term results with no long-term benefit. Like we learned from our last blog post, not all LMSs are created equal. Tacking extra features on that you don’t need can be detrimental and cost your organization a fortune.

As mentioned in the whitepaper, “8 Steps to Selecting Your Association LMS”, we’re reminded that “typically, the more features you add, the greater the likelihood that the vendor will need to customize their product to meet your requirements. A long feature list may result in you inadvertently narrowing potential LMSs to those that are more costly or complicated than you actually need.” This might increase the time it takes to deploy the system, and the cost.

Which leads us to our next tip…

Tip #2: Be Specific
It’s important to be as clear as possible. The more detailed, accurate, and explicit you can be, the better! Chances are, a well written and thought out RFP will result in selecting the best LMS for the buck. After all, the better you are at expressing your requirements, the easier it will be for LMS vendors to understand and meet them. On the other hand, if you provide little to no detail about what you’re looking for, LMS vendors are left to interpret your requirements for you and may totally miss the mark.

It’s a good idea to describe:

• Your organization’s technology infrastructure
• Your proposed budget
• Previous LMS experience
• Challenges with your current LMS system (if you have one)

Don’t worry that you’ll be providing too much information. LMS vendors like clear guidelines, and based on the details, may be able to suggest some interesting solutions you hadn’t thought of.

Tip #3: Organize and Prioritize Features
Construct a spreadsheet with categories of Nice To Have, Need To Have, and Critical features. This way, vendors know exactly what to focus on, what’s “negotiable,” and what’s most important in fulfilling your requirements. The “8 Steps to Selecting Your Association LMS” white paper provides guidelines to help you decide which features should go in each category:

Critical –features or functions the LMS must have to integrate with your existing systems, your existing business model, or to ensure revenue.
Need to have –baseline features that you need for your learners and for your administrators. To determine this, develop a “use case.” For instance, from your learner’s perspective, what is the process they would use to find, purchase, and complete their learning?
Nice to have – features and functions that would enhance the system, but aren’t really necessary; for instance, the ability for learners to customize their profile with photos or write blog posts within the learning management system.

Separating wants from needs will make things easier for the LMS provider and for your organization when it comes time to compare and evaluate the various offerings; however, you want to make sure to balance the amount of detail against the overall length of the RFP.

Tip #4: Think About Length
One thing to keep in mind regarding the length of an RFP is that the more requirements you list, the more information LMS companies will provide and your reviewers will need to review.

When developing your RFP, you don’t need to “fluff up” your requirements or add a lot of narrative. The ideal RFP will convey all the features and functionality your company or organization requires, while maintaining a manageable length

Today, most RFPs are2-8 pages. Gone are the days of 20 page RFPs. Remember that LMS vendors will be trying to offer the best solution for your needs. With a longer RFP, some vendors may not want to bother responding, thinking that it will be too time-consuming or that the system requirements will take too long for them to respond to. Keep the RFP as short as you can while still conveying your expectations, and you’ll likely receive more focused results.

You should also provide length criterion to your vendor. It might seem like a great idea now to allow your potential vendors to go on for as long as they’d like about how their system meets your requirements, but you’re liable to regret that decision when you have a collection of massive proposals to read sitting on your desk, or worse, proposals of varying lengths! Imagine trying to compare a 10 page proposal to one that’s 60 pages and you’ll understand why it’s a good idea to set expectations on length and format of responses.

Tip #5: Set a Response Date and Make a Timeline
Set a response due date, but be realistic. For most RFPs, a reasonable response time is 7-10 business days. Once you set a date, stick to it. There are always exceptions, but a provider that can’t meet a deadline probably is not someone you should trust with your organization’s LMS.

You’ll also want to create a timeline that reflects the entire process, including LMS selection, implementation, and course development. An easy way to do this is to start with the date you’d like to have your system accessible to users, and then work backwards. Knowing when you’d like to be “Live” with your new LMS will make it much simpler to discover when you should begin the process.

Think of all the tasks necessary to hit that end date:

1. Sending out RFPs
2. Reviewing responses
3. Scheduling demos
4. Making your final selection and negotiating the contract
5. Holding your kick-off meeting
6. Developing or migrating your eLearning content
7. Marketing your courses
8. Opening up the system to your learners

If you thought you were getting started early, maybe not! Be sure to include this timeline in your RFP so vendors are aware of and can prepare for important milestones.
Good news, you’re almost ready to send out your LMS RFP! The only thing left to remember is to be selective when choosing who will receive your RFP.

Tip #6: Be Selective
You may be excited to see what each LMS provider has to offer, but if you send your RFP out to too many companies, you’ll never be able to read through all of the proposals while still giving each the attention it deserves in a timely manner. Reviewing dozens of responses, especially from vendors whose systems do not meet your critical needs, is simply not a good use of your time. Instead, plan to send your RFP to no more than 5 LMS companies — and only those on whom you’ve researched to be sure they offer the type of system you’re looking for.

While you’re reviewing the proposals, remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Investigate any claims that seem far-fetched and price points that are vague. What are the hidden costs? Make sure you ask for an outline of ALL the costs for start up, year 1 and the annual recurring costs.

That’s it! You’re ready to develop and distribute your LMS RFP. Still have questions or want more tips on selecting your LMS? Be sure to read our whitepaper or contact our Learning Management System Specialists.