Ever wish your training vendor could read your mind? Believe it or not, the vendor often thinks the same thing about you. Here are five things vendors wish you knew and tips on creating successful relationships with them.
We can manage a process, but not your team. Vendors sometimes work with large, disparate client teams that are pulled together just for one engagement. Sometimes that team isn't completely clear on the goals of the project, team member roles, how individual contributions will inform the whole, or how much work is required from them. Situations like these can result in muddled direction. The client "team" can look more like a reluctant confederation into which the vendor must wade to move the engagement along.
This is fine to a certain extent. Vendors are providing services, after all, so they should be flexible and plan to your requirements. But clients need to step up, too. After all, if someone doesn't own project execution on the client side, who does?
If you're the project manager, make sure your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) know what will be required of them. Your SMEs will need to transfer a lot of information unless you've hired a vendor with expertise in your training subject.
Additionally, establish who will review the project and each reviewer's authority. A project that involves multiple sign-offs from different parts of the client organization will require a different schedule than a project led by one client project manager with complete control. Up-front clarity regarding the sign-off process and authority is one of the single most important factors to ensuring a smooth implementation. If your vendor doesn't ask how reviews are going to be handled at your end, then volunteer the information.
TIP: If you're a project manager or key stakeholder, make sure your team members are on the same page. After all, it's your project. If you're a client team member, be a squeaky wheel until you know how you fit into the project and how you can contribute to its success.
Face time is key. When vendors engage with you on a project, they're entering into a professional relationship—usually a long-distance one. This is one reason vendors love face-to-face kickoffs. Good lines of communication with your vendor can set expectations and save heartache later on in the project. In this economic climate, good communication with your vendor can save your project if your organization starts to change under you. Are key project stakeholders disappearing? Are new reviewers entering the project? Will their vision fundamentally change what you're producing? Did your budget just get whacked?
I once managed a project where the entire client team turned over; every client team member or contractor was laid off over the course of the project. Furthermore, the project manager and stakeholder at the end of the project had a radically different vision than his counterpart at the beginning of the project. Enter 12 new reviewers who dissected the entire final deliverable from 12 different points of view. If I had forced myself to be more reflective, I would have asked for a timeout to reassess the project and make sure the direction we were heading actually would solve our client's business need. The end product ultimately did solve his business need, but the journey to create it was arduous.
TIP: If possible, have a face-to-face kickoff. Encourage contacts at the project and stakeholder/executive level. Get to know your vendor's executive producer. If your organization has a Learning Management System (LMS) and the training will be deployed on it, then insist your LMS person talk to the vendor LMS person.
There's no such thing as a free lunch. Your learning project can be big, completed quickly, and cheap, but it's not going to be all three simultaneously. If you know how to break the triple constraint of scope, cost, and schedule, then you probably have a good shot at debunking general relativity.
Remember that your vendors want to make you look good, or at least they should. If your vendors aren't bubbling with excitement about solving your business problem in a creative way, then it's time to find new vendors. What gets us out of bed in the morning— aside from our awe-inspiring co-workers—is the chance that we'll create great training, whether it's computer-based, instructor-led, blended, or the next great simulation. We want to create great media and immersive training experiences, but we want to create them in a way that makes sense for the project's goals, time line, and budget.
TIP: Be realistic. If your vendor quotes prices that seem wildly out of line with your experience, then make sure you're speaking the same language.
We can train your people to do what we do, but we can't train them to be good. Federico Fellini probably could have taught you how to operate a Panaflex 35mm camera with one hand tied behind your back, but the talent required to produce the movie 8 1/2 is less transferable. Realize also that learning vendors have capabilities you may not possess in-house, such as a professional audio setup or a green screen stage. Even if a vendor hands over all the source code for its custom Flash engine, be careful: Many vendors shrink at the thought of having to dig through another vendor's code. Unless it's a page turner, it's going to cost you.
TIP: Unless you've been authorized to move wholesale into learning services, recognize the value outside vendors provide.
We can't save a bad business idea. As a group of passionately creative people, we appreciate how much work it takes to develop an idea from concept to product. But if your cool idea is actually half-baked, no amount of instructional or media wizardry will retrieve it, and at some point early on, we'll have to tell you.
TIP: A good learning vendor should be someone you can consult on learning matters, not just a job shop. Appreciate honesty so long as the message is politely and professionally delivered.
Ed Garner is vice president of Custom Studios at Enspire Learning.