Thursday, June 14, 2007

Defining an e-Learning Strategy: Planning the Kickoff

In the spirit of building a Community of Practice -- sharing ideas and processes -- I thought I'd try and share what I can of a current project.

This is a big consulting project -- a first for me -- in which we have this amazing opportunity to work with a large organization to help them define their e-Learning strategy. I've done a lot of e-Learning projects, created a lot of courses, but this is the first time that I've been a part of the strategy itself.

I did a lot of research in preparing our proposal and making our sales call. Apparently, that paid off since we got the gig.

And then it was time to start working. First things first -- get ready for the kickoff meeting. We had about a month between the time the contract was signed and the scheduled date of the meeting.

Here's what I did in those weeks. Some of these steps happened simultaneously or in no particular order at all. It was fairly organic.


Google away! I googled "Defining an e-Learning strategy" and various iterations thereof. I read articles, followed links, looked at websites. You know how that's done.

All the vendors and consultants say pretty much the same thing and follow the same process. Which may mean a few things:
  1. They've all got the system down and it works
  2. They're all flying by the seats of their pants and have borrowed heavily from each other's sites so they sound like they know what they're doing
  3. A few people know what they're doing and the rest borrow heavily from the real experts' sites....
I tagged some of the resources I found on, which you're free to grab yourself. If you have any suggestions, please offer them up! (I'm cammybean on -- try adding me to your network and make a for: cammybean list. I'll do the same for you!)

So from my research, I came up with the basic structure of the project and what information we needed to gather and define in order to help us make recommendations for the future. I wanted to discover and understand:
  • Overall project goals
  • Their organization and structure (Org chart, training org structure, staffing skills, cultural issues)
  • Current training and communication initiatives -- what are they doing now?
  • What would they like to do? Vision for the future.
  • Financial benchmarking to create an ROI statement
  • Technology infrastructure
  • Content specifics

Ask for Help

I'd done all this research and had a general sense of what to do. But I wanted to get some input from someone who's actually done this. So I solicited some advice from the noble Clive Shepherd, who I had the pleasure to meet at the e-Learning Guild event in April here in Boston. I told Clive what I had come up with and asked for his ideas on how I should structure the kickoff meeting.

My kickoff meeting experience has been historically very focused on a specific content project. The scope of this seems much larger than that. There will be more stakeholders, more input at this stage. And I want to be sure to give the client the confidence that we have the smarts to execute it well.

I asked Clive how much should we attempt to get done in this kind of kickoff meeting. With a strategy session like this, do you just dive right down into the nitty gritty details? Do you try to keep it more high-level? Does it just all depend on who's going to be there, etc? Any suggestions for what should be done as worksheets or breakout sessions?

Clive suggested that we keep the meeting at the high level.

Don’t waste time at your meeting getting them to inform you of stuff they can send you in advance or afterwards, e.g. structures, existing training, costs, etc. Let them know what you need to prepare for the opening meeting.

At the meeting, have them explore the strengths, weaknesses of their current offerings and the threats and opportunities they believe they are facing (a SWOT analysis). You can contribute by explaining the opportunities afforded by the many manifestations of e-learning. Then you can work together to articulate goals, look at the alternative ways of achieving these and agreeing next steps.

This was really helpful input. So I scaled way back the scope of what I was going to try to do in the meeting and decided to keep it more high level. I liked the suggestion to explain about the many manifestations of e-Learning: a little e-Learning primer, if you will.

Taking Care of the Prework

I created three main worksheets and questionnaires that I sent off to my client.
  • Understanding the Organization -- organizational structure, current training initiatives, resistance to change, content specifics, etc.
  • Financial/ROI -- current training- and technology-related costs.
  • Technical Infrastructure -- servers, software, etc.
Answers to some of the questions started pouring in well before the kickoff meeting. I had numerous phone calls with my main project contact. We dissected org charts and talked through all the details. I took lots and lots of notes. By the time of our kickoff meeting I already had a pretty good sense of the organization and some of the challenges they were facing regarding technology, education and communication.

Planning the Kickoff Meeting

Because this client had so many stakeholders that needed to be included in the meeting, we decided to break our kickoff into two separate sessions: two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon.

My goal was to get everyone on the same page, share goals and strategies, fears about e-Learning, talk about current issues and begin to identify some possible routes to take.

The agenda went a little something like this:
  • Welcome
  • Introductions (Have everyone introduce herself and discuss role/stake in the project)
  • What is e-Learning (I talked a little bit about what e-Learning is and isn't, some of the tools available).
  • SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Vision for the Future (General brainstorming session on how we can use e-Learning to support learning and communication in their organization)
  • Wrap-up & Next Steps
Time permitting, I'll try to write a post at some point about the kickoff meeting itself.

1 comment:

Lee said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing.