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Is Your Outsourced Training Project Going Off Track?

This was originally posted on eLearning Industry on June 19, 2018.

It can be positively petrifying to hand over your training project to a group of people that you probably don’t know well and may not have even met before. What if they get it all wrong? What if it turns out badly? What if it all goes—gasp—off track?

Well, here’s the unfortunate truth: no matter how skilled and professional the client or the vendor, outsourced training projects go off track all the time. However, they don’t have to. In fact, when a project goes off track, there are almost always warning signs. Here are a few warning signs and what you should do to stay on track.

Warning Sign #1: You have a lot of SMEs.

This may sound like a false positive, but in our experience, a lot of SMEs is a good indicator that a project is going to get derailed sooner rather than later. Unless all your SMEs operate as a hive mind, they’re going to have different opinions, stakes, and priorities.

This means that, even though you decided that your Internet use training would have only one small job aid on using Google, your Google SME might come back to your vendor and announce that there “isn’t anywhere near enough content on the complexities of Googling” and “clearly we need to add 20 more minutes of training to address this!”

You approve the vendor making this change—after all, this is a SME, and he knows what he’s talking about—only to cringe at the final product. Instead of 2% of the training being about Google use as originally planned, 30% of the training is now about Google use, and it’s overshadowing the more important subjects you were trying to highlight. And because all 11 of your other SMEs also made demands that didn’t quite fit the original vision, you now have a training product that doesn’t address your needs. At all.

How do you stay on track? If you can’t or won’t cut back the number of SMEs, the best thing you can do is be firm with them. Be absolutely clear about what the training will and won’t include, what aspects of the training are and aren’t negotiable, and what level of detail they’re allowed to go into when rewriting the vendor content. (Better yet, don’t let them rewrite the content!) It’s also handy to have a primary decision-maker, leading us to…

Warning Sign #2: You don’t have a primary decision-maker.

Even if you have a reasonable number of SMEs and a reasonable number of stakeholders involved in the training project, opinions will clash. If you forward all the dissenting opinions to your vendor and say, “Here you go! Figure it out!” then a) they’ll be confused and b) you may not like the decisions they make when they have no guidance.

For example, let’s say your brand expert, Randy, gave your vendor all the brand guidelines, and the training assets match the guidelines perfectly. You ask Guadalupe from the content development department to review the training and send her feedback to the vendor, not realizing that she will suggest substantial visual changes based on her personal preferences.

You can’t fault your vendor if they immediately make the changes in good faith. After all, they came from one of your SMEs. But now you’re out quite a bit of money for the changes, and you may be out more to get things fixed.

How do you stay on track? Assign one person as the primary decision-maker. It can be you, it can be a SME (that you trust), it can even be an executive if that works. This person will be responsible for communicating changes to your vendor. If a SME wants a change, they must go through the decision-maker, who will approve, veto, or amend the change as they see fit. This will prevent your vendor from having to reconcile dueling feedback or make changes that were frivolously or incorrectly requested.

Warning Sign #3: You’re getting caught up in every little detail.

Being detail-oriented is good! If you’re losing sight of the big picture, though, it’s less good. Sure, you want to make sure that the training schemata are on-brand. And you want the graphics of employees to look like real employees. And you really, really don’t like the word “start,” so every instance should be replaced with the word “commence.” Okay, now you’re just being nitpicky, and you’re spending your company’s money on something that’s rather silly.

You might be thinking, “I’d never do that!” And maybe you wouldn’t, but this can be a bit of a slippery slope. One minute you’re reviewing a piece of training to document crucial process changes for the vendor to make; the next minute you’re including an addendum stating that Jacob the loan officer character should now be called Jake. Not because the character’s name affects the quality of the training. You just prefer Jake. Or Stevie. After your dog.

When you make a bunch of changes like this, you end up with training that has the insignificant bits sharply honed but that may not be so accurate in doing what it was commissioned to do.

How do you stay on track? What’s the purpose of your training project? This should be stated somewhere in your contract with your content development vendor. Reread it often to remind yourself of what you should be focused on. If you find yourself concentrating on things that won’t help the training achieve its purpose, stop and reorient yourself.

If you’re looking for a vendor who will help you stay on track with your training project, reach out to us. We’d love to help you get it done.