Avoid these Traps in your SumTotal LMS Implementation

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We often see statistics about the failure rate of human capital management technology projects. Since much of the research is based on self-reporting, we do not trust the statistics. However, we have seen enough troubled projects to present an informed opinion, based on twenty years of experience as managers, customers, consultants, and implementers of learning management systems. In our experience, troubled projects fall prey to three traps:

  • failure to own the project,
  • limiting the team, and
  • neglecting change management.

We want to give you our recommendations for avoiding these traps, based on our experience with well-managed implementations that have succeeded.

Own the Project

Failure to own the project shows itself when project leaders make the assumption that their implementation partner has the project plan, manages the project, and completes the testing.

A good partner will give you a project plan template and will assist you in creating your plan. Assuming the template is the plan virtually guarantees you will miss at least one critical task. Your partner does not have your awareness of your internal resources and their challenges -- only you do. Take the time to create a detailed project plan and stick to it.

Project accountability rests on your organization, and the person managing the project must be accountable to your CEO. If you do have the experience and expertise to administer the plan, hire the skills. Project management is more than holding meetings and maintaining a schedule. It includes the ability to manage resources and people that are not under the PM’s direct control. Hire an expert.

It can be easy to assume that testing doesn’t need a lot of attention. After all, hundreds of thousands of people use SumTotal every day. Your partner can make sure your LMS works, but only your people can ensure that it works for your organization. Use a systematic testing plan and let your users tell you where the problems are before you launch. For more information on testing see A Disciplined Approach to Testing your HCM Implementation.

Assemble the Right Team

Sometimes organizations try to keep the implementation team as small as possible to keep it manageable. The problem with this approach is that only a few people commit to the project. The project team is one of the most valuable tools in your change management effort, so you should see that everyone in the organization has some representation. Let your team be your ambassadors.

It is a modern axiom that the path to success is to surround yourself with the right people. An LMS implementation is no exception. These are the people you need on the team:

  • An Executive Sponsor, who is a member of the C-suite or closely associated with it. This person is your liaison with executive leadership and the person who can command the resources to complete the project. Who is the sponsor depends on your organization. It could be the leader of an operational business unit with an interest in performance improvement through learning.
  • A Project Manager with successful experience leading large-scale technology projects. If you don’t have that kind of expertise, hire it.
  • The L&D Team. Learning expertise is essential, and the L&D team are the experts in learning delivery processes. They will also serve as administrative staff and will likely have a support role after launch.
  • The Technology Team. The CIO should be a co-strategist, but you will also need support for data migration, data integration, and user security. You will need continued support as your digitization plan unfolds. IT people will very likely have some good suggestions about how to maximize technical learning.
  • Functional and Operational Leaders have a stake in performance through learning. Each function has its unique needs. The leaders will probably delegate ongoing work, but it is a good practice to get their commitment to the plan.
  • Subject Matter Experts are the people who work in the business processes. They have detailed knowledge of what people need to know to get the job done.

Manage the Change

By far, most enterprise technology project failures are due to inadequate change management, but the failure is often invisible. It manifests itself when the new technology fails to have an impact on the business. The organization loses the opportunity to use the technology to improve workforce capability.

  • You can avoid this trap by involving the entire organization from the beginning of the project.
  • Begin with formal and informal discussions with people about what the future learning environment should be. Talking about a potential change has the effect of creating dissatisfaction with the status quo, which creates momentum for change. In a global organization, have your project team help with their extended contacts, and use your HR business partners to assist.
  • Create a project discussion platform. It can be a private social network like Yammer, a private group on LinkedIn, or even a SharePoint site. Invite questions and comments. You can allow users to determine whether their issues and responses are public, and share public responses with everyone.
  • Create formal change management, training, and communication plans and execute them faithfully. Too often we have seen organization create the plans and file them away.
  • Recognize that change management, training and communication do not stop at go-live. They will go on indefinitely.
  • Make training resources, videos, and quick reference guides available on the SumTotal home page. Be careful not to use them as a barrier to person-to-person help and support when people need it.

We hope these suggestions help you with a successful SumTotal LMS project, and that you are able to use SumTotal to create an agile learning organization.

5 Ways to Optimize Your SumTotal LMS


As a business customer, a major software launch is always a worrisome time. We are sure we were diligent in our preparations, but there is a nagging uneasiness that something might go wrong. Our careful preparations always made the transition smooth, but there is that small worry that we missed something.

After the nail-biting period is over, it seems it would be time to relax, but the work has just begun. We finished only the first phase of what will be a long journey.

The good news is that the structure you put in place to launch your project will continue to support you in the future. Let us review the project management components that should stay in place indefinitely.

Strategies for Continued Improvement

Strategy Review. Your learning strategy review should be concurrent with the organization strategy review. Even if there is not a strategy change, your tools and methods may change enough that you need to review how to execute the strategy.

The Team. Keep your LMS implementation team together as ad advisory and governance group. During the preparation for launch they became the core of your company-wide team.They know your learning strategy and how your technology supports it. They understand the challenges you face in getting to organizational agility. Gather them together periodically to review comments and suggestions for improvement.

Governance. The governance and decision-making process you put in place should remain so. You will need to adapt to changing business conditions, new technology, and new methods.

Change Management. You can use the communication channels you developed to manage future changes when you upgrade, bring new learning modes onboard, and launch new programs.

Impact Analysis. In your implementation, you established measures for evaluating and reporting the impact of learning on the business. Continue to measure and adjust your metrics, and evaluate the impact of every learning activity in your portfolio.

Optimize the LMS

The first few days after your SumTotal LMS goes live, you probably dealt with issues that came up. Once you have a stable platform, it is time to think about how to get the maximum possible value out of your investment.

We want to give you five recommendations to help you on your way. The first is communication.

1. Keep The Conversation Going

Solicit feedback from your users. Use your private social media site, SharePoint site, or private groups on Facebook or LinkedIn. As you set them up, you may want to create private areas for different user groups. Administrators and managers might not want their foibles to be public, and low-level employees might be less willing to participate if they see managers in the group.

Monitor your feedback site frequently and respond directly to comments and questions. If there is something everyone needs to know, it might be best to repackage it to avoid embarrassing someone who had a hard time figuring out how to do something. Put the responses in a FAQ or Wiki.

Continue to engage in performance conversations with leaders around the organization to learn how changes in programs or new initiatives might help improve performance. Address these issues as resources become available.

2. Monitor Staffing and Training

Stay on top of administrative and support staffing. If possible, set up a notification system so you know in advance when your staffing changes. Keep backup plans in place so you can avoid a service lapse.

Some organizations focus on user training during the initial rollout but become lax over time. This is normal human behavior. We recommend you maintain a scheduled review of your training materials and program and engage regularly in refresher training. A good time to do it is at every SumTotal update release. Your administrators will almost always need some training for the new release, and it should prompt a review of all the support and training assets. If you need support, you can access the Pixentia guides here.

3. Evaluate Updates

Sumtotal makes major updates to the learning platform every year. Each one includes new capabilities and functions. Some new fixes and features are deployed automatically, but some you can enable when you are ready. Evaluate the impact of each of the optional features before you enable them. When new features have a positive impact on your organization, use your change management communication channels to leverage the improvement.

4. Integrate the Enterprise

SumTotal has an extensive Application Program Interface (API) library for many types of integrations. As you work with Sumtotal LMS, you may find opportunities where it may be smart to connect to other business applications. Applications like succession planning, performance management, and customer relationship management can benefit from integration with SumTotal. Consider also the benefits of extending learning to your partners and distribution channels.

If you have not already done so, you may wish to integrate with SkillSoft or another content provider. You may want to set up a connection to a MOOC. If you have remote locations, you can use SumTotal to connect directly with online remote training platforms like Webex and GoToTraining.

5. Participate in the Sumtotal Community

Become an active member of the SumTotal Community. Share your experience with others, and ask questions about how other organizations use SumTotal to best advantage. You or your users can enter suggestions that will improve the software for everyone. Scan through existing suggestions and upvote those that are important to you.          

                                 Sumtotal_community_IC.jpg                 sumtotal_lms_users_IB.png  

            Sumtotal User Group           Sumtotal Community

Focus on the Future

Your organization will continue to evolve, and other events that can impact your learning system will occur. Your enterprise learning platform will need to adapt to changing business needs, and your capabilities will increase as SumTotal improves. Keep your strategy roadmap up to date. Give your executive team a good indication of where you are headed and how you will continue to realize value from your SumTotal investment.

How to Measure the ROI of your SumTotal LMS


Over the past decade, the explosive growth of computing power has brought a new era of measurement and analytics to operations, marketing, and finance. Knowing the financial impact of business decisions has become almost routine, and the more analytical tools cross organizational boundaries, the better the business intelligence has become.

There is increasing pressure on Enterprise Learning and Development to show a return on investment, but in most organizations L&D has struggled to keep up. We want to offer ways you can show the value of your SumTotal LMS investment and the impact of learning on business results.

Much of the solution is learning to ask the right questions. We will delve into that, but before we do, let’s look at the impact of technology and the growth of cloud platforms.

ROI of a New LMS

If you are acquiring a learning management system for the first time, there are metrics that will help you make the case for your new platform.

  • Lower administrative costs
  • Reduce travel expenses for remote training by implementing virtual classrooms and e-Learning
  • Reduced cost of taking employees off the job to attend training
  • Cost comparison of training development with curated content
  • Improved time to productivity for new hires and product changes
  • Reduction in turnover due to increased learning opportunities

ROI of On-Premises to Cloud Deployment

If you are thinking about replacing your LMS, this may be a good time to reduce cost by moving from an on-premises platform to a cloud LMS. Implementation costs are shrinking. Installations that took months or years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars now take weeks. The costs of LMS implementation now range from zero to less than $100K.

A word of caution: Your organizational needs will determine your implementation costs. A large, complex implementation will be costlier. Jumping on a free implementation for a platform that doesn’t meet your needs will cost more in the long run.

Cost Comparisons

Moving from an on-premises platform to the cloud has a lower total cost of ownership in the first three to five years. Most businesses use that time frame for planning. After that, the costs for a cloud platform can be higher. We believe the additional cost pays off in flexibility and included upgrades. An on-premises platform will become obsolete without expensive upgrades.

Pricing models vary, and there is no common lexicon to help make comparisons. You will need to evaluate each licensing model to see if it meets your needs. You can use the table below to help with your cost comparison.


Measuring Learning Activity

We use three types of measurement when we are evaluating learning: efficiency, effectiveness, and quality. Each of these suggestions can be framed as a question, and each one can be answered by stating the impact in financial terms -- the language of business.

For each of the suggestions we list, frame it as a question and seek the answer. It will be in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), revenue, or cost. If you find you don’t have a specific measure you can pinpoint, try correlation to revenue per employee.


When we speak of efficiency measures, we refer to internal efficiencies in L&D. They will normally manifest themselves in reduced time and cost, but could be revenue opportunities.

  • Cost reduction from automated and streamlined learning processes
  • Reduction in training materials cost by using e-learning and online content
  • Reduced time to value in delivering new learning
  • Cost savings realized by using MOOCs and free online content
  • Revenue realized from selling training to partners and customers


Effectiveness measures are those that identify when learning took place and what impact it had. Many of these measures will result from a specific learning intervention.

  • Learning retention measured by assessments
  • Improved sales because of a learning intervention
  • Improved sales due to partner training
  • Decreased support costs due to customer education and training
  • Increased customer engagement and repeat sales due to customer education and training
  • Decreased cycle times in operational processes attributable to learning
  • Lower risk exposure due to better tracking of compliance training
  • Fewer accidents and worker’s compensation claims because of improved safety training
  • Improved revenue per employee due to a learning intervention
  • Any other business KPI affected by learning activities


Although they are harder to quantify, quality measures are important. Many of them have a secondary impact on business performance, but it is possible to draw a correlation.

  • Increase in employee engagement due to improved learning and development opportunity
  • Retention of high potential employees in succession management due to learning opportunities and structured mentoring
  • Increase in social learning activity due to social media tools in the LMS and the ability to create and share content

Next Steps

We hope these lists of suggestions helps you work through all the many ways to evaluate and measure the impact of learning. We believe the most important step you will take will be to align learning to the business.

Begin by engaging in conversations around the organization about performance. Where performance could be improved with learning or a learning technique such as gamification, work with the process owners to design an improvement and measure the result. You will have solid evidence that learning pays.

Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.