Posts Tagged ‘Request for Proposal’

The One Simple Tool You Can Use to Help Select the Right Learning Management System

February 21, 2014 1 comment

Richard Nantel, Vice President, Enterprise Learning Solutions, Blatant Media | Absorb LMS

Dear readers, you’ve in the past endured me ranting about the horribly-designed Requests for Proposals (RFP) that regularly cross my desk and the desks of my Blatant^ colleagues. (See my previous posts titled “Why Your RFP May Not Get You the Best Learning Management System” and “The Worst Type of Question to Ask in Your Learning Management System Request for Proposal (RFP).“) These RFPs often ask hundreds of open-ended questions such as:

Describe the procedure to create a report showing the progress of a group of learners in a curriculum.

The vendors with enough time and mental fortitude to tackle submitting a proposal in response to the RFP then deliver 50 to 100 pages of answers to these questions. The organization looking to acquire the technology then needs to read hundreds if not thousands of pages containing answers that look like this:

  1. On the main Admin Control Panel dashboard, click on Reports
  2. Select the Learner Progress Report
  3. Add the appropriate courses
  4. Show or hide the columns you wish to display
  5. Define which learners should be included
  6. Etc.

A textual description of a feature that should be demonstrated is a waste of everyone’s time. Since few vendors will respond to your lengthy and poorly-designed RFP, you’ll be less likely to find a great system. The proposals you do receive will contain information that in no way helps you select the right learning management system. You believe you are doing your due diligence in issuing an RFP; what you are actually doing is significantly reducing your chances of finding the right system.

There’s a simple alternative.

Every once in a while, I receive from a prospective customer a short, elegant, Request for Information (RFI). Typically, these RFIs consist of one or more tables that simply require Yes/No answers from the vendors. Whereas a full-fledge RFP might take an LMS vendor 40 hours or more to complete, an RFI can take one-tenth the effort. The result is that the organization looking to acquire a LMS gets a 100 per cent response rate from vendors. In addition, the information received from the vendors can be easily compared and scored. Gone are the thousands of pages of materials, replaced with tables that illustrate feature sets at a glance.

Here’s a sample:

RFI for the selection of a learning management system

CAUTION: Your RFI should not contain a laundry list of every LMS feature in existence. The tables should only list your most important requirements. The longer you make your RFI, the lower the response rate from vendors. You’re aiming for a 100 per cent response rate, which means keeping the RFI short and focused on your top-level needs.

An RFI designed this way will quickly weed out the systems that aren’t a good match for your learning initiative. Demonstrations of the remaining systems, ideally employing use cases, will then identify the best system.

The vast majority of RFPs I see are horrible tools to select enterprise software. An RFI, if designed as illustrated above, is totally awesome and effective, and a very simple tool to help you select the right LMS.

The Worst Type of Question to Ask in Your Learning Management System Request for Proposal (RFP)

July 31, 2012 1 comment

I have to say, I feel really badly for the organizations that have issued some of the RFPs I’m seeing.

  • They turned to a research firm or various Web sites for a list of learning management system features
  • They copied most of these features into a RFP and sent it to vendors
  • Along with proposals, they asked for supporting documentation such as server security specifications, marketing materials, terms of service, etc.

In response to one recent request for proposal, I submitted about 150 pages of information. If the organization that issued the RFP gets ten similar responses from other providers, they’ll need to wade through about 1500 pages of material…  just to create a short list of systems to evaluate further.

(This is nuts.)Question mark made out of puzzle pieces (Some rights reserved by Horia Varlan/Flickr)

Picking a learning management system shouldn’t require an army of people just to read the RFPs and attempt to rank the systems to narrow the field down to a manageable few. A request for proposal should make the selection of technology easier, not harder.

Simply by eliminating one type of question, many of the RFPs I’m seeing would become much more efficient technology selection tools by reducing—significantly—the scope of the submitted proposals. Best of all, removing this type of commonly-asked question does away with information that provides zero value to your technology evaluation exercise.

Here’s the number one question you should remove from your RFP:

“Describe the procedure to [INSERT NAME OF TASK YOU WANT TO COMPLETE] using your learning management system.”

Why is this so bad? Let’s have a look using a specific example:

RFP QUESTION: “Describe the procedure to set up an instructor-led session using your learning management system.”


How to set up an instructor-led session in Absorb LMS:

  1. From the main Admin control panel, click the Courses menu to left
  2. Click Manage courses
  3. Click the button labelled +Add Instructor-led course
  4. Choose how your course will be categorized in the course catalog
  5. Give your new course a title
  6. Add a course description
  7. Click the “Learners can enroll and register for sessions” radio button if you wish to let learners enrol themselves in your course
  8. Click “Next.” This will take you to the tab that allows you to add a session
  9. Click “Add session”
  10. Yada
  11. Yada
  12. Yada

Let’s be honest. Does the textual procedure description above—even with the addition of screen captures—in any way help you evaluate this technology? This is like trying to describe a piece of music to someone using only words:

  • We first hear a violin playing a light, playful melody, supported by a viola and bass.
  • The melody is then repeated by a second violin. This time, the viola starts to play a counterpoint to the melody.
  • The melody is then repeated a third time. This time, horns and bassoons join in.
  • etc.

(Surely you’ve all recognized this as the opening to the first movement of Beethoven’s 6th symphony.)

Asking for textual descriptions of how a feature works is the worst type of question to ask in your learning management system request for proposal. This question type is, however, exactly what you should be asking in live demos of the software. Seeing features demonstrated, and trying the features in a trial account, will very quickly help you select the right learning management system.

Why Your RFP May Not Get You the Best Learning Management System

July 24, 2012 8 comments

It’s a Request for Proposal (RFP) response week for me. I have two proposals on my plate, both due at the end of this month. I write one or two of these per month, as do my colleagues. As a group, we’ve seen excellent RFPs and some that were both demoralizing to complete and obviously ineffective tools for the evaluation and selection of technology.

Some organizations believe that the best way to acquire a learning management system (LMS) that most closely matches its needs is to:

  • Create a committee of stakeholders to identify requirements
  • Compile these requirements into a detailed RFP
  • Send the RFP to a large number of LMS providers
  • Read, score, and rank the submitted RFPs
  • Invite the top scoring vendors to provide demonstrations of their technologies

In theory, all of this should work. In practice, though, this approach often fails.Stack of papers

Here’s why:

If your RFP is poorly designed, some of the vendors you have invited to participate will not respond. Suppliers who do not respond may have the best technological match for your requirements, but, you’ll never know. It isn’t that these no-show vendors don’t care about your project, they just need to manage their time and establish priorities like everyone else. Given the choice between having productive meetings with existing and prospective customers or spending three days writing one RFP, the vendor will at times pick the former.

Here are some tips for issuing a RFP that will generate responses from more vendors:

Keep the RFP short. The proposal I’m completing today will be about 40 pages long and will have taken about three days to write. This is about average. If the organization issuing the RFP receives 10 similar-size proposals, they will need to sift through 400 pages of information to create a short list of systems. Are we having fun yet? Eliminate low-priority requirements from your RFP; save the nice-to-have features for the demo phase of your technology selection.

Avoid questions no one will answer. I’ve actually seen the following questions in a RFP:

  • “What tactics or activities do you currently use to generate sales leads? Provide a list of your top lead sources and the percentage of leads that are generated from each source.”
  • “Provide a copy of your strategic plan for the next one, two, and three years”
  • “Provide annual reports, including year-end financial statements for the past three years”

This may come as a surprise but companies tend to be a bit private about sharing things like strategic plans. Also, whereas public companies need to disclose their financials, private companies do not. So, you’re unlikely to get Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet reports submitted by private companies. As for public companies, you can find their financial information online without asking for it.

List near the beginning of the RFP a small number of must-have features and mention that vendors who don’t meet these top-priority requirements have no need to complete the RFP. All vendors will love you. Vendors who can fulfil the top-priority requirements will be happy to answer how they meet or don’t meet your lower-level requirements. Vendors who don’t meet your top-priority requirements will be thrilled that they didn’t need to spend three days writing a proposal that didn’t stand a chance of winning.

Don’t issue an RFP “just to see what’s out there.” A respected learning professional once mentioned to me that she knows of one organization that issues a RFP for a learning management system every year just to get a sense of what’s going on in the industry. This organization has no intention of acquiring a LMS. Are you curious about how LMS technology is evolving? Ask vendors to give you a demonstration instead of asking them to respond to lengthy RFPs.


A request for proposal may uncover what a learning management system can and can’t do, but a RFP isn’t a good way find out HOW a system does what it does. Importing a SCORM course, for instance, may take a minute in one system and an hour—with the vendor’s assistance—in another. In their respective proposals, both vendors will say they meet the importing SCORM course requirement.

If you work for an organization or within an industry that requires issuing RFPs for the acquisition of technology, then by all means do so. Keep in mind, though, that scripted demos, where the client tells the vendors what they would like to see, quickly identify which systems will be the best fit.