Recruiting an agency to create eLearning is a risky business. How do you know they'll deliver? Can you ensure the quality of work is up to scratch? In this article, we'll look at a simple strategy that will save you time, money and will guarantee the end product is EXACTLY what you need.
You've been given a decent budget to outsource the development of a new eLearning course or platform.
You've googled "Top 10 eLearning Agencies" and found a list of stunning agency websites:
- Services? Check! They design custom eLearning courses.
- Portfolio? Check! Looking good. Some damn fine examples there.
- About Us? Check! They've been in business for a while.
So it's time to drop them an email with your brief (you have written a brief, right?).
How many agencies will you contact? Five used to be my rule of thumb, enough that I would receive a decent spread of email responses, without being bombarded by too many companies trying to sell to me.
Then I would leaf through responses and filter by the most impressive combined with those that suited my budget.
But this is where I get nervous...
I'm about to agree to pay tens of thousands to an agency that I have no previous relationship with.
How do I know they are going to deliver on time, on budget and surpass my expectations in the process?
This is my reputation on the line!
The problem with hiring an agency
This is where the problem lies - we assume the agency will understand how to deliver the perfect solution based purely on the information in our brief.
Usually they will reply and schedule a call or two - and there is always a bit of back and forth where you can explain what you're looking for.
But is that enough to fully understand the complexities of a project like this?
I don't think so. Seems like a risky strategy - wouldn't you like some more reassurance that you're headed in the right direction before you get started?
What you really need is to:
- Sit down with the experts.
- Explain what you're trying to achieve.
- Discuss different solutions.
- Look at examples of similar work.
- Adjust brief based on findings.
- Ask agency for proposal.
Wouldn't that take a long time?
To do it properly, yes! But, unfortunately, because the agency knows that you have sent your proposal to four other agencies, they have correctly calculated that they only have a 20% chance of winning this project.
So it's unlikely that they are going to invest hours digging into your project to understand the best solution, until you've signed on the dotted line.
And I really don't blame them - investing hours into researching the best solution with no compensation would not be a viable business model!
So they don't have time to do this - but they do want your business! Therefore, one of two scenarios will occur. The agency will either:
- Inflate price - Just in case after scoping the project, there's more work than they realized, they will build some 'wiggle-room' into the price.
- Choose easiest option - To ensure they minimize costs and maximize profits, they will base their proposal on the quickest and easiest solution rather than the best.
So, in the first scenario, you will be paying an unnecessarily high price because the agency doesn't know the details of the project until they start work.
But in the second scenario you are going to end up with a solution that may not be optimal for what you need.
So how do we keep everyone happy?
Introduction to roadmapping
The best solution is to only pay for the first phase of work before committing to the whole project - I call this roadmapping.
How does that work?
Well, you need to spend time with the agency and work together to figure out the best way to achieve the objectives for the course - at this stage, this shouldn't be biased by the type of eLearning, choice of tool etc.
So what are the benefits of doing this?
After having run several of these roadmapping sessions, it never ceases to amaze me how different the project can look from what was initially discussed.
Once you've sat down together and discussed all possible variables, you may find that what was recommended on first inspection changes significantly after you dig deeper into your objectives.
There are several advantages to following this process including:
- Low risk
You aren't committing to a huge project before feeling confident you're moving in the right direction.
- Vendor commitment.
The agency are invested in identifying the right solution because they have time to dig deeper into the project.
- Project flexibility.
If you aren't totally convinced of the ideas suggested in the early stages, it's not too late to change direction.
- Vendor flexibility.
If after working together in the initial phase, you realize you've made a mistake with your choice of agency, it isn't too late to take the project plans to another supplier.
- Reduced costs.
As you move deeper into the project, you may discover elements of work that you can do in house.
Writing a brief, receiving a proposal and paying a huge fee for a project with little proof that the result is going to achieve the desired objective is the most common way to start an eLearning project - but it isn't the only way.
Organise a roadmapping session to start your next project and I'm confident you will see many benefits.
If you enjoyed this article, then you'll really enjoy my free 5-day email crash course on 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting an eLearning Project.
This article was first published on the eLearning Industry website on 16th March 2017.