It was 2AM. After another late night call with a frustrated exam taker in APAC, Jim rubbed his eyes and let out a deep sigh.
Jim was really worried about the future of his company’s performance-based certification program. Everything seemed to be unravelling at once after a great initial launch in North America.
As Jim and his small team began to expand the program to Europe and Asia, so too did the support issues related to the delivery of their exams. Network latency, software defects, misconfigured exam environments, challenges with remote proctoring, and a host of other issues were putting an enormous strain on his team. They were up at all hours of the night dealing with unhappy users, which affected their ability to create new exams and market the program.
The stakes were personally high for Jim too. He had advocated for transitioning the company’s certification program to performance-based exams in order to make the exams more meaningful. He was also the one who decided to build the exam delivery platform in-house.
As the night wore on, Jim began to wonder if the time had come to find a partner to help him deliver and support his performance-based exams. He also wondered if such a company even existed.
Performance-Based Exam Delivery – Core or Context?
In his landmark book on innovation entitled Dealing with Darwin, world-renowned author, speaker, and advisor Geoffrey Moore identified a key component of success for companies that was directly tied to their performance. It had to do with a company’s ability to relentless focus on activities that create differentiation by delivering meaningful value to customers.
Moore called these value creating activities Core. Everything else a company had to do to keep in business he called Context. When you are the best at delivering Core activities and focus most of your resources on them, revenue, profit, and market share skyrocket. You can be world-class at Context activities, and yet your customers won’t even care. Focusing too many resources on these types of activities creates a drain on company performance.
High-performing companies that keep their teams focused on Core activities all utilize a powerful method to extricate themselves from Context activities – outsourcing. They are relentless in outsourcing all Context activities in their organization to other companies that specialize in that type of work. They also periodically review activities, knowing full well that markets evolve and what was once a Core activity can quickly become Context.
Jim’s story is a perfect example of how focusing too many resources on Context activities can create a drain on growth. His team is too bogged down in developing and managing their in-house exam delivery platform, troubleshooting exam environment issues and issues with their online proctoring partner, grading exams, supporting exam takers, and issuing refunds (all Context activities). This leaves his team with little time to focus on creating new exams, improving existing ones, and marketing his program. The result is that his performance-based certification program is at serious risk of failure.
How to Get Out of the Context Trap
Moore proposes a framework that companies can use to get out of the Context trap. It’s based on a lifecycle that all activities evolve through, and advocates applying the right management approach at the right stage. This lifecycle consists of four stages that all activities evolve through.
Invent: This is where innovation occurs and where all new value-creation activities begin. During this stage it’s more about discovering the right solution for the right customer problem, and less about scaling revenue and profits. Hence why this stage is considered non-mission critical.
Deploy: At this stage demands begins to grow as do profits. Here it’s all about scaling to meet that demand in order to capture the lion’s share of revenue. Consequently, this activity becomes mission critical to the company.
Manage: This is the stage where growth declines as competitors and the market catch up. The activity is viewed as a necessity, but not a differentiator for your company. Consequently, it’s about making incremental improvements to maintain the revenue sources while winding down resources.
Offload: This is the final stage, where the activity has been commoditized. It’s time to focus on cost reduction and standardization by outsourcing the activity to another company that can give this activity its full attention.
Performance-based certification has evolved to a state where many of the activities required to deliver it have been commoditized. The image below presents a high-level view of the activities required to deliver an effective global PBC program and how these activities break down in terms of Core and Context.
The ultimate test for where to draw the Core/Context line is to ask yourself the question, “If I were world-class in doing this activity, would my customers care or even notice?”
Arguably, you could be world-class at delivering exams, proctoring exams, grading exams, and supporting exams, but if that’s all you deliver the average exam taker won’t care. These activities are simply viewed as table stakes. There’s still a cost to doing them poorly, as poor performance in these areas will impact the exam experience. But if they experience zero lag while taking the exam, for example, exam takers are not going to ring you up to compliment you and then rave about it to their friends and colleagues.
The value that customers derive from performance-based certification programs occurs at the top of the stack pictured above. Being world-class in ensuring that your training programs are aligned with your performance-based exams, that exams are designed and graded well, and marketing your program both internally to fellow stakeholders and externally to potential exam takers delivers tangible value to your customers. It means that when they need your certification program to help them get a job, they can find it. It also means that when they pass the exam, it will have meaning and value to employers who will pay them a higher salary because they are confident that this new hire can do the job well.
The State of Outsourcing for Performance-Based Exam Delivery
Many certification managers fall into the Core/Context trap because they are not aware that solutions exist to help them with the Context activities described above. Others fall into the trap because they feel that the solutions that do exist are immature and not well integrated. Still others fail because of NIH syndrome.
The good news is that solutions do exist in the market to help with performance-based exam delivery and get out of the Context trap. The trick is in understanding the current state of the market and adjusting your management approach accordingly. Fortunately outsourcing markets, like any other markets, follow predictable stages of evolution with proven methods for effectively managing outcomes.
The performance-based certification delivery platform market is currently evolving from the Early Integration Phase to the Late Integration Phase, with providers like TrueAbility leading the way. TrueAbility’s core solution, for example, has evolved to include exam registration, exam delivery, automated grading, badging, and comprehensive 24×7 support. It has also developed tight integrations with proctoring providers like Pearson VUE, Prometric, and Examity, and serves as a single point of contact and accountability for its customers.
What You Can Do Today
If you find yourself mired in Context activities like Jim, the path out of your current situation is clear. It’s time to leverage outsourcing to free you and your team to focus on what really matters to your customers – creating, improving, and promoting meaningful performance-based exams.
TrueAbility is here to help. If you’d like to find out more, just click on the button below to schedule a demo.Schedule a Demo