Friday, 19 April 2013

It's all about Ownership


So you buy a new car and it's yours right?  Well, at least finance dependent and the day you pick it up etc… but let's assume you're a cash buyer and you drive the car off the lot. It's yours.  You tell everyone it's yours, you show off your new car and you probably don't let anyone else drive the thing because… well… it's yours right?  We even ironically do this with houses that we may never get to truly own in our lifetime (and who knows in a generation or two's time if anyone will ever own a house they didn't just inherit or win?).  Surely it's the same with your Learning Management System or LMS?

No.  Not always and often not at all.  The hardest implementations of Totara that I'm involved in are the ones where it seems no-one really wants to rise up and claim the awesome system we've just put in place for them.  The madness is that a house, a car and an LMS all benefit immensely from taking ownership and responsibility and ultimately you mould them so that they become an integral part of you or your organisation.  Of course maybe owning an LMS is a bit like a dog or children.  When working well it's yours and your proud of them, when they misbehave and pee in the wrong place (hopefully the dog rather than children) you make a hasty retreat and they become your partner's responsibility not yours.  No, that doesn't work, really someone has to own your system, but who?

I've talked in previous blogs (did anyone read them?) about who I believe should own the LMS in an organisation.  Let's take that a little further this time.  I think that an LMS is all about Learning (yes, read my earlier blog on that and re-read, it's all about learning).  That means the LMS should have its ownership roots firmly planted in that area, whether that's in Learning and Development, HR or Capability type parts of your organisation.  That's only really half the story, this is where governance and key stakeholders come in.  It's an imperative for a successful implementation that your LMS has some high-level support from somebody organisationally important - they may not be the owner but they are your top level guidance and offer key backing.  That top-level exec must be a fan of what you are trying to achieve and you must sell them the vision, you can then flow behind them delivering your message.  For want of a better term this person is often referred to internally as the 'sponsor' or even primary stakeholder.  Whilst they are incredibly important to your success, they're not actually the owner so they need to be great at a distant rather than too heavily involved in the project/learning.

The owner is different again, because the owner is going to really shape the LMS and drive it forwards.  This has to be someone with a passion for what the system is going to do (not necessarily the system, but that helps too).  This person has that learning focus, drive and as much responsibility as possible in that area.  But going back to my earlier car analogy they're a bit like a rich car owner - rich enough to pick the right LMS hopefully!  They own the car, they decide where it's going and how it gets used, but the driving?  No, there's staff for that.  The next role may be as important as the owner and sponsor, but almost certainly gets paid a lot less money.  In my analogy this is the driver, the driver in reality is the system administrator or sys-ad.  I've often seen the sys-ad very successfully falling into the lap of what was previously a training co-ordinator.  Ideally they have a great knowledge of how to get things done in training/development/learning and are used to organising things like face-to-face training sessions or meetings without a great deal of fuss.  If ever there was a need to have a switched on cookie in your org this would be it.  As I said before, you may not pay them the most but value them if you have a good one as they will do more than just drive your car for you, they'll service it, and get it running in a way that you hadn't even thought possible.

So with a sponsor, owner and sys-ad in place, it's time to drive your vehicle around your organisation.  Everyone will look at you and be envious of this beautiful machine you have and want a go.  So show it off by all means, keep control, but allow others to be stakeholders in it too - let them own a little piece and make that their own whilst keeping your overall vision communicated and intact.  Once you reach this stage you may be ready to "Love and let go of your LMS" as I once wrote.

As a final note, if your system owner or sponsor or sys-ad doesn't fall anywhere in any learning or training function, you will struggle and that's probably pretty obvious.  Your LMS is also an IT system, so if the above roles don't touch on IT, you've probably got it wrong too.  I'm not saying your owner needs or even should be in IT, but somewhere along the line you need IT to be a stakeholder.  My advice on this would be to do that at the start of your project so that they're on-side with what you're doing and at a high enough level that it doesn't come back down from above later in a way that's damaging. 

Lastly remember if no-one owns your organisation in your organisation, then you are just renting space, and that's a different market altogether - and a dangerous place for something as important as learning to sit.  Remember Life for Rent by Dido?  Bit like that.