Outsourcing of eLearning content development has been there for a few decades. What has helped it grow is certainly its most significant gain, that is, cost savings. The bigger gains are in terms of other strategic benefits that it offers. It enables the Learning and Development teams to focus on the next level of tasks including strategic planning, determining ways to measure the effectiveness of learning, analyzing program usage, and exploration on what more is possible. However, there are several challenges that are inherent to outsourcing eLearning content development. I believe the answer lies in an effective evaluation strategy that can help you address these challenges plus help you create a sound and long term partnership that can deliver the required value. Here is how to evaluate the right partner to outsource your eLearning content development.
Ultimate Cheat Sheet To Evaluate The Right Partner To Outsource Your eLearning Content Development
In this article, I will share my “cheat sheet” that you can use to evaluate and select the right partner to outsource your eLearning content development.
The Challenges When You Outsource Your eLearning Content Development
You can refer to my article Is Outsourcing eLearning Content Development Right For You to review the triggers that typically initiate the outsourcing process. The article also outlines the advantages of outsourcing your eLearning content development.
I quote from this article the challenges in outsourcing your eLearning content development that you should be mindful of as you structure your evaluation and selection process:
The success of your outsourcing strategy for eLearning development can go belly up on account of:
- Hidden costs.
In your budgeting, you would have factored for the pay-out on account of outsourcing as well as time and budget for your Project Managers who would work with the outsourced team. The outsourced team’s inability to follow the brief accurately can often lead to higher review times adding to your costs. They may also add delays in your project schedules.
- Aspects that you can identify only after you begin outsourcing.
During the evaluation phase as well in the pilot phase, you get to interact with your partner’s top notch talent. Once you start scaling (after looking at the initial success), you find the talent pool has changed. Often this leads to additional costs for you to cover the re-briefing, additional reviews, and quality issues.
- Inconsistency in performance and quality standards.
Closely linked to the challenge outlined above, you often see a variation in the quality or lack of consistency. This too leads to additional review time and adding days to your project schedule to mitigate these challenges.
- Inability of your partner to adapt and align effectively to changing dynamics.
Often, the business dynamics change, the kind of solutions your customers require now can change, and this can lead to a gap in what you gain from an existing partnership. (For instance, significant transitions like Flash to mLearning or the current need of fully responsive mobile learning solutions that need a different expertise set) can play havoc with your further planning. If the partner is not in sync with changing market expectations or what more is required, you may have a show-stopper.
Cheat Sheet For Evaluation To Outsource Your eLearning Content Development
Here is my “cheat sheet” that you can use during your evaluation process. As the list is fairly long, I have tagged this into 3 categories:
- Success factors.
- Focus on custom eLearning development.
If you are doing outsourcing for the first time, you are drawn towards the “safety net” a larger company offers. In many situations, eLearning services may be a small component of their portfolio. As a result, the focus on continuously refreshing and revitalizing these services is not very high. On the other hand, the eLearning needs and the solutions are changing very rapidly so you may be stuck with a partnership you cannot leverage on for a longer period of time.
- If you still opt for this approach, ask what percentage of their revenue comes from custom eLearning solutions.
- Ask them more questions to determine their focus, the frequency of their portfolio update, and if they are in sync with the changing industry dynamics.
- Capability and expertise in custom eLearning.
This is the certainly the start point to look at your potential partner’s services and product portfolio and how closely this maps to your current and future needs.
- Do check for the industry-specific expertise that is relevant for you.
- Match your growth plans with the expertise they currently offer/have plans to add in future.
- Do ascertain what they “do not do”!
- Do not miss out the review of audited balance sheets to check on the financial stability (more importantly, you must get an understanding of their next 2-3 years’ plan).
- Size and capability to scale.
While the current team size should be an important factor for your evaluation, it is equally important to understand how they can scale at a short notice, if required.
- Check on the number of concurrent projects that a typical team handles and the turn-around time.
- Ascertain how easily they can scale to your ad-hoc requirements.
It is important for you to know the potential partner that you’re looking to deal with and what their standing in the market is.
- Ask how long have they been in business of custom eLearning.
- Ask how much has the business grown.
- Ask how many customers are long-term.
A look at what they have developed already helps give you a sense of what their development capabilities are.
- Ask for a wide range of samples (cutting across various authoring tools).
- Ask for samples showcasing innovative learning strategies.
- Ask for samples showcasing their take on what the future holds.
- Reference checks.
Don’t just go by the introduction they give you about themselves. Probe further and carry out reference checks.
- Do not depend on email alone to get feedback.
- Pick up the phone and have a detailed discussion – ask for the pain areas, how were challenges addressed, and so on; do not restrict your questions to what worked, ask for what did not work and how they addressed the challenges.
- Talent (particularly in Project Management and Instructional Design).
The quality of people in the vendor team determines the success of your outsourcing initiative. So, ask for the details on the talent that will be potentially aligned for you.
- While you start your interaction with the Account Management and Project Management talent first, ask for the details of the next level as well. This information is an important indicator to ascertain how multiple, concurrent projects will be handled.
- Particularly significant is the check on the expertise from the Instructional Design team. It is vital to determine their expertise in learning design. You also need to get clarity on their Instructional Design methodology.
- Then look at Visual Design from the range of talent available (for instance, from visualization to illustration capability).
- Look at the Technology team’s capability to support varied requirements (different authoring tools, adaptive and response frameworks, and Learning Management System support).
- Look at their Quality Management System and specifically check for how they feed the lessons learned to continuously enhance the process.
- Clear and well-defined process.
A mature development framework is the second most important factor that would determine the success of your outsourcing initiative. Ask for the detailed work-flow and the supporting assets. Do assess how efficiently the sign-offs will be handled. Ask for the risk management and mitigation measures. Additionally, ask for the communication guidelines and ascertain what measures are in place to ensure timely delivery (with requisite quality).
- Check on the flexibility the development framework offers and how easily it can be tweaked and aligned to your development methodology. The important thing to check here is the work-flow and if it is aligned to “continuous improvement”.
- Check for actual assets to assess how they are used practically.
- Check if their focus is on international business and how it can address the dynamics of distributed development.
- Ask for their communication practices (how they will share updates constantly, the periodicity of their updates, how they will handle exceptions, and so on).Ask about the review mechanisms (how they will handle the feedback, regression, and change-requests).
This must be aligned to the dynamics of distributed custom eLearning development and it should offer you the flexibility to your specific requirements.
- Check for the periodicity of updates to the existing work-flow.
- Ask about the AGILE practices.
- Infrastructure and measures to protect your Intellectual Property (IP).
As the outsourcing vendor would be your distributed development arm, it is vital to ensure that their infrastructure is in line with your requirements. Additionally, you must ascertain the Info Security policies that they have in place to safeguard your IP.
- Ask for their Information Security policy and how exactly it will be aligned to protect your IP.
- Ask for status updates on these (at least once in 6 months).
3. Success Factors.
Ask what drives their solution architecting. Ascertain if their solutions are driven by tools or learning experience.
- Check if their solutions are based on learner performance and how they will create a positive impact on the business.
- Ascertain if they take a consultative approach to craft the right solution.
- Their take on what they see as the “future of learning” and how they are aligning to it.
Get a sense of their forethought and if they are working towards keeping track of the new and possible future trends.
- Ask for their “philosophy” to create learning solutions.
- Ask for the focus on new and current approaches and how do they dovetail into the existing or older approach.
- Meeting deadlines (while sustaining quality).
It’s important for you to ascertain whether your potential partner is capable enough to strike a balance between making timely deliveries and maintaining the desired quality.
- Ask how they manage the schedules.
- Particularly check on the impact (if any) when concurrent projects happen. Ask this question during the reference checks.
- Risk management and mitigation.
Ask about their framework and how exactly risks would be communicated to you (including their mitigation plan).
- Ask how this is implemented in each project (from initiation onwards).
- Ask how this learning will be factored in the subsequent projects.
Ask about their framework for collaboration between distributed teams. Specifically ask how they handle time zone challenges.
- Ascertain the effectiveness of their communication and collaboration during the reference checks.
Ask if this exists and, if so, how exactly this is driven. Ascertain if this is indeed part of their DNA.
- Ascertain the outcomes and some success stories and certainly check this during the reference checks.
- Outline of their HR initiatives (to support talent management).
Ask what attrition rates they currently have.
- Ask what measures are in place to retain talent.
- Pricing model.
Ascertain that there are no hidden costs.
- Ask for the “rate card” to begin with but ascertain if it allows for dynamic costing.
I hope these pointers would be useful in evaluating partners to outsource your eLearning content development. If you have any other pointers, do share them with me. I would like this list to be dynamic and will be updating this every 6 months to keep it current.