The CLO’s Guide to Successful Elearning Business Collaboration

I recently had the privilege of working on one of the most inspiring and challenging projects that I’ve ever worked on. The vision was to build a mobile solution to tackle youth unemployment.

The solution we were building had very specific technical and learning requirements. It had to be data efficient, able to work on any type of mobile phone, and be engaging enough to appeal to the notoriously short-attention-spanned millennial generation. Quite an ask!

There was no single provider who could deliver on these requirements, so our client gathered together a group of specialists.

• As the learning developer, we used our learning expertise and digital coaching format to develop engaging, interesting, and data-light learning.
• Our mobile developer ensured that the learning program would work on all mobile devices.
• Our client was the subject matter expert on the youth and was critical to the development of all aspects of the solution.

The above diagram provides an overview of the scope items the various providers were accountable for, and where scope items overlapped. Clearly, the only way for this project to achieve a successful outcome was deep collaboration, since almost every scope item required input from another provider.

Is the pain worth the gain?

As Chief Learning Officer, you might have an idea, but be struggling to find a provider to help you develop the solution.

What I learned was that working with various specialist providers on the project was a breeding ground for innovation. We were each able to bring our own unique perspective to the solution, making the final product rich and versatile and exceeding the client’s expectations.

4 things to consider when putting your dream team together

When selecting your providers, it’s a good idea to keep these considerations in mind:

• It’s best if the providers share similar cultures and values. I would suggest that you find companies that value transparency. For the project to work, it’s critical to openly and honestly share risks, issues, and challenges.

Similar development processes will go a long way to ensure that development is as efficient as possible. In our case we worked with Agile software development and the mobile provider used the Waterfall development methodology. As a result, we were often out of synch in terms of project phases. This resulted in some inefficiencies and duplication of effort by both parties.

• Make sure that all providers have strong project management capabilities and processes. This will remove some of the stress of managing the project from your team, since each provider will drive their own development processes and cross-company communication.

• With most work happening virtually these days, proximity is often not considered important. On the project that I managed, the team was spread nationally which made it challenging to build rapport between teams and communicate effectively. We managed this by having daily and weekly meetings for the various teams working on the project, and monthly face-to-face meetings for key project resources. We also leveraged technologies for shared project planning, instant communication, and file sharing to ensure as much visibility as possible.

Plan to succeed

To set yourself, your providers, and your project up for success, make sure that you spend enough time on the planning phase of the project. This is true for any project, but it’s absolutely critical for business collaboration. I would suggest that you have a large mobilization session where all the teams meet to plan, once all the providers are on board.

In your mobilization, you’ll need to ensure that you spend enough time covering these agenda items:

1. Have a clear and shared vision of what you’re developing

• Scope clarity
Each of your providers will know what they proposed for and aim to deliver on. Ensure that each provider understands what the other is delivering and how this will feed into delivering on your project vision. This will ensure that each party’s scope is respected by the others and that your project will not go over budget.

• Set project parameters
I like to use the innovation sandbox as a conceptual guardrail for having this dialog. Yes, each provider will have a scope that they’ll work to, but the reality is that on these types of projects, things change. If the teams understand the quality expectations and the constraints, they’ll be able to make good decisions at the point where change is required – without delaying the project or breaking your budget.

2. Understand who will do what

• Accountability matrix, roles, and responsibilities
Completing a RACI diagram as a team is an excellent way to gain further clarity on where any gray areas in terms of scope and expectations may linger. This activity provides each team member with a clear understanding of what’s expected of them, how they will contribute, and who is responsible and accountable for tasks.

• Co-mapped project plan
Each provider will come to the session with their proposed project plan. It is critical that these plans are combined into one master plan. As the project owner, you will want a view of what delivery will look like, in order to manage the expectations of your internal stakeholders. Make sure that the dependencies among the plans are understood and managed. I would suggest that you refine and update the RACI chart as you build the master project plan.

3. Decide on how the work will be done

• Decision management
As a team, decide on the procedure for making decisions and what the mandate for decision making is. I like to track decisions on a shared document so that it’s easy to refer to later in the project.

• Potential risks and issues
As a team, brainstorm potential risks and decide on mitigating actions. This should also be a shared document that providers can access and contribute to as the project progresses.

• Meeting management
Set up the meeting schedule for the project. Understand what types of meetings are required, what the cadence should be, and use the RACI chart to ensure that the right people are in the meetings.

• Tools
Collectively decide on the tools that will be used to collaborate, communicate, and house work-in-progress and final deliverables. Collaboratively create the shared workspace so that team members understand where documents should be housed during each phase of the project. This will save you a lot of agony when you need to archive the project documentation after completion.

• Connect and play!
Remember that one of the outcomes from the mobilization session is for the humans on the project to connect and build relationships. It’s easier to own up to a mistake to people who you know and like.

You’ll notice that the focus of the mobilization session is to create a clear and shared vision of what is being developed, who will do what, and how it will be done. By doing this, each team is set up for success and is able to fully contribute during the project.

The prospect of business collaboration may still seem daunting and risky to you. Being able to collaborate – and do it well – is rapidly becoming the new way to work as businesses move toward more specialty and niche services and products.

• Which of the projects in your pipeline will need cross-company collaboration?
• As CLO, what do you need to do to get your teams ready to work in this way?