In my role as LMS Service Manager at Rizing HCM, I often assist our sales organization with scoping prospective LMS deals. Second only to “How much will it cost?”, the most common question we get is “How long will it take?”

This is like asking “How long will it take to build my house?” So many variables go into an educated answer – square footage, number of bathrooms, custom carpentry, and so on.

Similarly, the following 11 factors will prolong an LMS implementation:

  1. Operability of online content. If our customer will bring existing online (OLT, WBT) courses from a prior LMS, testing operability and republishing those courses as needed can be VERY time-consuming. We try to get ahead of this whenever possible starting on day 1 (or even day -1) of an implementation.
  2. A large volume of historical course content and associated learning histories must be migrated. Sometimes there is no way around this – but we advise customers to only bring in what is strictly needed.
  3. Requirement to migrate “operational assignments” with due date – i.e. a recurring license or certification must be tracked in LMS, every employee has a different due date, and our customer requires uninterrupted assignment in the new system based on prior completion dates in their old system. Lots of moving pieces here.
  4. Complex admin security structure: a highly de-centralized administration model where “local” admins must have viewability restrictions around user audiences or other entities (e.g. courses, curricula, instructor-led training resources, etc.). Sometimes the adage “keep it simple” only goes so far, when confronted with regulatory requirements.
  5. Source user data does not accommodate all required reporting or course assignment scenarios in LMS (e.g. need to assign training by hair color). Frequently this can require re-engineering of data in the source system, or integration of a secondary user data source into LMS.
  6. Out of box LMS email notifications do not meet business needs and require customization. This can be time-consuming to scope, edit and test.
  7. Requirement for an external audience (extended enterprise model) to access LMS – e.g. customers, subscribers, channel partners. This adds a whole dimension of configuration variables and testing.
  8. Requirement for cost tracking (Commerce or eCommerce) – i.e. tracking chargebacks and/or training delivery costs to internal cost centers, or actually charging money for training. This introduces dependencies with other key implementation tasks, such as migrating content.
  9. Localization – i.e. configuration of additional languages in the application. Not only does this expand the scope of configuration, but it exponentially increases complexity of UAT.
  10. Strategy for go live is not well defined. Customers need to be clear on goals for day 1 go live, prior to project launch. What does “go live” actually look like? Make sure your stakeholders agree on this fundamental question.
  11. All stakeholders are not identified prior to kickoff. Few things prolong an implementation more than new cooks entering the kitchen halfway through the project.

So, back to the original question: How long will it take?

A high complexity LMS implementation (i.e. checks most of the boxes above) can take 6 to 9 months, though we have had highly complex projects take a year. All parties involved agreed in the end: we needed every minute of that time.

Medium complexity LMS implementations are typically in the 12 – 16 week range, from kickoff through go live.

On the low end of the complexity scale, if our customer is starting from scratch, and has a centralized admin model, we usually get things up and running in 12 weeks or less. This largely depends on a clear customer vision for what comes at go live and what is prioritized for later phases. A “big bang” go live with complex curricula and assignment scenarios for many distinct audiences may not be feasible in 12 weeks, while deploying one or two compliance courses to the entire company probably would be.

Obligatory disclaimer: All of the above estimates assume that our customer has allocated appropriate resources for the implementation, and has budgeted adequate time for those resources to complete project tasks. That, however, is a topic for another blog.