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How to build your education services plan for 2021

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on October 14, 2020

It’s that time of year again: annual planning. It’s when education services teams at software companies all over the world scramble to put presentation decks together to justify what they plan to do and how they plan to do it. Then, during their presentations, assumptions are challenged, unexpected questions are asked, and we frantically go back to our drawing boards to re-do our plans. 

It's a stressful time.

I think it’s stressful because so many software companies (especially those in early stages) don’t have standard expectations and processes for how to design these annual plans. Every year we start from scratch, and we seem to be making these up as we go. 

I’d like to offer a way to relieve some of this stress and uncertainty with a four step process for building your annual education services plan. This is not a presentation deck template. Instead, I propose four steps that will give you the information you need to put in your presentation decks. 

The four steps are these:

  1. Complete a business model canvas
  2. Set your goals
  3. Design your plan forecast
  4. List the resources you will need

If you go through these four steps, as I describe below, you will have what you need to build your presentation deck, and you will impress management.

Let’s get started. 

Step 1: Design your business model

Before you start creating your education services plan for 2021, I’d like you to take a step back and understand your business model better. By business model, I do not mean whether you charge money for training or offer it for free. That is not a business model. That is a pricing strategy.

By “understand your business model” I mean what Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, authors of Business Model Generation, mean when they define a business model. According to them, a business model describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value. If we are going to build solid annual plans, we need to understand how we create, deliver, and capture value. 

The business model canvas is a design tool to help us figure out what our business model is and helps education services teams think through how they help drive company results. The business model canvas has nine building blocks: 

  1. Customer segments
  2. Value propositions
  3. Channels
  4. Customer relationships
  5. Revenue streams
  6. Key resources
  7. Key activities
  8. Key partnerships
  9. Cost structures

The design exercise is to list and define elements for each of these building blocks, and when you are done, you have a draft of your business model. We will spend more time in future articles discussing how the business model canvas can apply to education services teams, but for now, I hope you are inspired to learn more. 

If you go through the exercise of designing your business model, you will have a much better idea of how your function creates, delivers, and captures value...not just for your team, but for the entire company.  

Step 2: Set your goals

Before you start to think about “how,” you want to list the goals you intend to achieve. If you start with ‘how,’ you might get caught up in unnecessary details that will prevent you from exploring the goals you need to achieve. 

To set your education services goals, you need to understand your company goals. 

Do you know what your company goals are? If not, find out. You need to set goals that will contribute to the company goals. 

You need to be able to say, “Our goal is ‘this’ because the company goal is ‘that.’ ”

For example, if your company has a revenue growth goal, you need to have a revenue contribution goal. This could be revenue from selling training or it could be a training goal that increases net revenue retention with existing customers. If your company has a new customer growth goal, your training goal needs to contribute to getting new customers. 

So, before you set your goals, go get your company’s goals. 

Step 3: Create your plan (forecast)

Now that you understand your business model and your goals for next year, it’s time to create your plan. Your plan describes how you will achieve your goals.

It’s a forecast. Not a budget.

Of course, each plan is unique to your circumstances and business culture, but for most education services teams, some or all of the following elements will be part of your plan: 

  • Training course sales
  • Training credits sales
  • Training subscription sales
  • Number of live courses delivered
  • Number of enrollments per live course
  • Number of new live courses developed
  • Number of enrollments per eLearning course
  • Number of new eLearning courses developed

Map these out by month on a spreadsheet. Each month is a column and each element is a row. Your forecasted number for each item, by month, will go in the appropriate cell. Then, put a total on the end of each row. 

As you put in your forecasted numbers, refer to your goal for each element and plan out what you will need to deliver to achieve your goal for the year. 

If your goal is $4 million dollars in training sales, the sales figure in each column of your spreadsheet better add up to $4 million. 

If your goal is 10,000 new enrollments, your monthly enrollment numbers better add up to 10,000. 

That’s your plan. 

Step 4: List the resources you need

If your plan defines how you will achieve your goal, your list of resources defines how you will deliver on your plan. Here’s the part of planning most people misunderstand. Your list of resources is not a budget request. It is a list of things you will need in order to deliver on your plan. So, as you make progress on your plan, you get the resources you need. If you fall short of making your plan each month, you don’t get additional resources. 

Progress on results must come first. 

In other words, even if your list of resources is approved, based on the plan you present, getting the resources you need is still contingent on results. 

I know you might be thinking, “But I won’t be able to achieve the plan, if I don’t get the resources I need.” Look at it from the CEO point of view, “What if we spend all this money upfront for the resources you need, then the plan doesn’t work? We are stuck with additional headcount and technology that we cannot pay for.” 

It’s a balancing act. 

We need to understand this and build this assumption into our plans. With that understood, let’s look at a typical list of resources you might need to deliver on an education services plan: 

  1. Instructional designers
  2. Instructors
  3. Authoring software
  4. Learning management system (or equivalent website)
  5. Marketing 
  6. Sales

You might need all of these resources to deliver on your plan. But you will not need all of them upfront. You need them as you go. So plan it that way. Indicate in your plan that you will need one instructional designer and authoring software in month 1, but don’t need an LMS until month 7. You may get to month 6 and realize you are not delivering on enough course content (for whatever reason) to require an LMS, so you delay that purchase until necessary. 

If you want a seat at the table, this might be the way to get it

Just to summarize. In preparing for your 2021 planning meeting, take the following steps:

  1. Complete your business model canvas
  2. Set your goals
  3. Create your plan (forecast)
  4. List the resources (and what they will cost) you need to deliver on your plan

Once you go through this exercise, creating your 10 slide (or less) plan presentation will be the easy part. 

Finally, I am going to make a bet. If you do what I describe above and present it to your management team, your CEO or head of the department will be so impressed, she will question why other teams (your peer leaders) aren’t doing the same thing and send them all back to rework their plans.

We are running a webinar on this

I know what you are think, "This blog tells me what to do, but I want to know how to do it." I agree. On Wednesday, November 18, we are running a webinar to walk you through how to create your 20201 education services plan. This will be a hands-on webinar. By hands-on, I mean you are going to start on your plan during the webinar. Bring a pencil. Then, we'll give you a template spreadsheet you can use to build your forecast. If you want to WOW your management team, this is it. 

Click below and register. Don't miss this, if you want to get that seat at the table. 


Originally published Oct 14, 2020 5:09:34 PM, updated Oct 23, 2020