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Recently, we were invited by a large multinational to ‘pitch’ eLearning for them.  It was a strange experience and quite different from other large customers we have dealt with in the past.

Let me set a little context. We were contacted to provide a pitch on the possibilities of eLearning for the company. A conference call meeting was set up with four people on the team.  I am usually not a fan of these scenarios. Typically, three are uninterested and have been dragged into the meeting and not keen to buy and the one person leading the discussion with every reason not to go ahead. (All the projects we have start typically with having an earnest conversation with one person (the decision maker) and then a group is brought in to form the buyer’s box).

Needless to say, the relationship (or transaction) did not develop. This is because in my view their team were very busy and were not genuinely looking to engage with the process in the same way as our team felt necessary. (To be fair, their team felt we misunderstood their brief). While the issue was over the presentation, and the perceived need for us to produce a showcase and scenario of possibilities for them, it was quite vague and unclear what the project was about. From my perspective, and feedback related to our team, is that their team did not see a pitch and wanted something about ‘look and feel’ (more black, less black, a touch more, a touch less).

While I realise that many companies are seeking a way to differentiate their training with a different ‘look and feel’ or ‘bells and whistle’ piece of training, it is faulty logic. It is easy to understand that finding an existing solution to your issues (whatsoever they may) would be more attractive and easier to work with than building from the ground up and adding to the workload.  There are no shortcuts. You got to do the work. System first, then process.

In dealing with really fantastic and less than great multinational companies, there are few observations I would like to share from our team’s perspective. Hopefully, it helps individuals and team in procurement, understanding their pain points, and what it is exactly they are looking for before heading to market.

First of all, without understanding the problem that is trying to be solved, it really is not possible to present an effective solution (we are not talking about products, here). While teams think that a basic sketch of an idea might suffice, it does not really help. What you really might not want to hear but is crucially necessary, are questions to get you to think about the gaps and issues as to what you are trying to do.

The most fundamental issue for those seeking to create a project is to articulate the project goals and aims clearly. What is especially important is to articulate the business drivers underpinning the project.

  • Aside from specific design, what are you trying to achieve? What criteria for a successful result are important for you? Is it speed? Is it time? It is quality?
  • In working with suppliers, do you want a full agency solution or individual instructional designers to support your team? Do you want IDs to work according to your style guide or create a new look and feel? Are they working within your company’s system? Or are they taking a project and running with it?
  • For projects, do you want to follow the ADDIE model (which is quite out of fashion) or use agile, design thinking or lean? If so, would you project manage that internally or outsource it? For the existing content and courses, what has already been developed online? What remains? What volume of work needs to be produced – the whole catalogue – or parts of it? Would you not be better starting off with small projects than tackling a whole faculty (and the risk that comes with that)? Are you planning to keep the 70:20:10 (again, old hat) or complete a full digital transfer?

Aside from these questions, we also see red flags when we are approached about the ‘look and feel’ of a particular project. While it is something akin to telling someone else’s child they look ugly, here are a few reasons why:

  • Firstly, putting aesthetics before substance is like putting the horse before the cart. Business decisions and planning documents will shape the look and feel, not the other way around. It is ass backwards.
  • Secondly, presenting generic designs related to other projects is never going to hit the mark. Rather than being transactional ‘off the shelf’ solutions, every (successful and effective) project is unique, customized and niche. Understanding your needs is the starting point, not something we assume or that we would throw some guesses up against.
  • Thirdly and most importantly, slapping something together, based on previous client’s needs, leaves a potential client (and us) exposed to disappointment and failed pitches. It is evident that your specific drivers (or those of other clients) are not captured in the solutions provided to others and that these defy an information brochure.

If you are looking for inspiration on ‘cutting edge’ eLearning design, then simply shop around. There are lots of individuals and companies that are testing the limits. The reason they are cutting edge, however, is that they are risky and have often not been fully rolled out in projects or companies are not interested in investing in tech that may result in failure. This is the case with the current craze for AR/VR. This is an agile, early adopter’s market. Sometimes it is better to wait and to observe (unless you are a tech hardware or software company) and see how the market plays out. Devices and technology yet have a winner, and you certainly don’t want to be investing in BlueRay when DVDs take the market.

An additional point is to ensure to do some market research or ask a prospective supplier (like ourselves) about the state of the market.  As experts in the field of international eLearning, we are very well aware of products and services in this area (and our position within it).  We also have lots of market research to help you. I guess the point is that if you are looking for expertise, you might benefit from receiving advice rather than challenging experts to prove themselves. It is a formula for disaster and starts off with a low-trust, low collaborative position.

To sum up the key ideas from this post: (1) understand the problem; (2) understand what you want to achieve; (3) be ready to answer questions and issues around your project; (4) be ready to participate in discussing your vision for the new products and services (or training) that suit your business and willing to share ideas; (5) go with agile and consultative approaches – projects are quicker, better, and more likely to be under budget.