The LMS Dilemma & Chinese Food

Aug 09, 2017

Here at Snap Synapse, we do a lot of LMS implementations and integrations. Though we have a great track record of success, it’s hard won. It seems like we run into the same dilemma with every client. After looking for metaphors and analogies to express this, I think we have The One.

People come to an LMS asking, “what can this system do?” and “show me what to choose from” as if they’re walking into a café to order one or two of a dozen items off the menu.

Only this system is not a café at all, it’s more like a Chinese restaurant with 500 menu items in 3 different languages that can all be customized.

We need to know something about what the customer is looking for before we can be of much help.

Welcome to Happy LMS Chinese Restaurant!

Image under Creative Commons 4.0 license, owned by MANSINcha and courtesy Wikipedia

Image under Creative Commons 4.0 license, owned by MANSINcha and courtesy Wikipedia

  • Our specialty is Char Siu! We have made this recipe proudly for 5 generations — what, you don’t eat pork? No problem, we offer many delicious foods on our menu! But if no pork, you should skip this page.
  • And you have a shellfish allergy? Okay, nothing on this page. And nothing with today’s fish stock either.
  • Only poultry and no MSG? You want this page called “Fowl” and that symbol right there.
  • And what do you mean by “some spicy”?
  • Great, now did you want that served in courses or traditional dim sum style?
  • Yes, of course I can bring you a fork.

Then someone has to translate this order to the kitchen, of course. And the well-meaning customer can send things back too:

  • Here is the duck you ordered. Yes, of course it has a head. Why, is this a problem?
  • Oh, that doesn’t look like a mushroom to you? I can assure you this is most definitely a mushroom. But yes, we can certainly make it again without that (grumble, grumble).
  • Yes, this is tea. If you don’t like it, we serve several other kinds of tea as well. Oh, no we don’t have any black tea for you, sorry. We serve only green teas.

Both parties are utterly unfamiliar with what the other expects. Neither knows the constraints or the complexities at play, and over time grow frustrated by them.

Let the restaurant make what it makes best and the meal will turn out great, whether you knew what to ask for or not. But this might not suit your taste, and could possibly offend or even poison someone with a specific food allergy.

Tell the kitchen how to prepare everything and your order will get lost in translation. Worse yet, you’ll get exactly what you asked for — instead of what tastes good! This is not a reflection on the quality of the restaurant (or on ALL Chinese restaurants) but rather a just symptom of the flawed approach.

It doesn’t matter what the LMS can do, it matters what it can do in your specific use case, that is with your specific business processes and data sources for your specific problems and your specific people.

Of course there are many similarities between companies and especially within industries. But in my experience no two organizations are alike in their learning needs, organizational structure, infrastructural limitations, or reporting expectations.

The LMS doesn’t know what you’re allergic to, we have to tell it. I don’t know what processes it makes sense to automate until I know what you’re doing already. Sure, I can make assumptions about your tastes or your workflow, but I can’t walk in the door with a questionnaire that defines them all for you — it would be so big that you’d never fill it out!

So, just like the vendors and the clients, we do the very best we can based on all our experience and expertise. Is this good enough? Nope. We’re always looking for something better. Got any suggestions?

It all starts with a conversation

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