How can needs analysis reveal opportunities for adding value?
Curated resources on the many facets of needs analysis
When we get calls for help or see our organizations in some sort of distress, we want to be able to move in and save the day somehow. In our quest to be of service, we need to be sure to dig into the true needs and desired outcomes before we unleash our particular brand of support. That’s what the needs analysis is for.
Needs analysis too often gets scant attention. Despite our emphasis on being strategic partners and our enthusiasm about engaging design thinking, a variety of forces often push us to agree to the easy deliverables rather than explore more complex, impactful solutions. If we desire to change that, getting better at conducting an up-front needs analysis is a step in the right direction.
When we are approached to help with a challenge, we might get caught in the trap of simply asking order-taking questions: What solution do you want to see implemented? What change needs to be made? When is the deadline?
We can have a game-changing impact if we strive to ask deeper questions: queries that get at why the request is being made, what the requester is hoping to accomplish, what else is happening in the work and learning environment, the perspective of the people who are most impacted, and more. The deeper we understand the whole situation, the more targeted – and impactful – our recommendations can be.
Questions give us superpowers. They illuminate the nooks and crannies so we can see needs clearly and identify barriers. They prompt action – guiding people to explore more deeply and to support learning and performance more effectively. And they seal collaboration; they make us true partners with our clients, bringing them along to explore issues together.
In order to gain superpowers, we need to conduct a multi-faceted analysis that asks revealing questions in the right areas. And we need to plan a process that balances a rigorous analysis of the situation against a ticking clock and limited resources to conduct this kind of inquiry. That’s the challenge we face. And we become heroes in our organizations when we can bring superpowers to the task.
An array of superpowers
There are seven different facets of analysis that can be explored. Often, these are explored in stages, and sometimes, certain facets are unnecessary. But each facet gives unique insight that influences the kinds of solutions that might be under consideration, so asking an array of questions may help to identify new ways to add value.
Facet of Analysis
Activities in this facet
Keep your finger on the pulse of the organization, being sensitive to how the business is shifting and where business issues might be occurring so that you can be proactive in supporting the development of employees. Look for the ways that your projects are in alignment with business goals and initiatives.
Clairvoyance Reveals what the future holds and allows you to trace the line of sight from your project through to business outcomes
Performance environment analysis
Evaluate all aspects of the performance environment, looking for the ways that it supports and inhibits desired performance so that you are tackling the right issues.
Enhanced vision Enables you to envision desired performance as well as what can be used to support it – and what needs to be thwarted in order to enable it
Learning needs analysis
Analyze the knowledge and skill needed to do the job and prioritize how gaps can be addressed.
Ability to bestow power Allows you to grasp what people need to know, value, or be able to do
Get to know the perspectives of the people at the heart of your project in addition to their characteristics so that you can design human-centered solutions.
Empathy Gives you a deep understanding of the perspective of the people you are trying to serve
Learning environment analysis
Develop an understanding of all the ways that employees might develop knowledge and skill in your project’s context and identify the most effective supports.
Web generation Makes it possible for you to connect a variety of learning strategies to ensure the kind of deep knowledge and skill building that is required for effective performance
Look inside and outside the organization for successful practices, useful resources, and models that can be applied to your project.
Augmented intelligence Ensures that your project will both benefit from and expand beyond the experiences of others
Define the requirements and limitations within which you need to work (e.g. budget, deadlines, resources).
Danger sensitivity Raises your awareness of the guardrails around your work
These materials were compiled for my one-day workshop, Honing Your Consulting Superpowers: A focus on needs analysis. If you’d like a customized workshop or development program on needs analysis, please contact me to explore the possibilities.
These resources should help you to activate your superpowers.
// Business Analysis
Your role as a consultant has a dual focus – on the needs of the business, and on the needs of the people who you want to serve – whose behavior you want to change. Business analysis explores how to ensure your work has a long-term impact on the success of the organizations you serve.
These resources talk about what it means to take a more strategic, business-focused look at being a consultant.
A performance analysis identifies what is in place to support and inhibit desired actions and behaviors. It also explores the degree to which all aspects of the work environment are aligned to support desired performance. A number of thinkers have provided frameworks that help us to understand the performance environment. Training and development only impacts employee knowledge and skill; if other elements of the environment are not supportive, or are interfering with performance, then a training intervention alone will not be sufficient to successfully impact performance.
Transition From Order-Taker to Impact Maker. Written by consultant and Performance Consulting author Dana Robinson, this article lays out the argument for exploring the performance angle and a vision for becoming a strategic partner with business leaders. By Dana Robinson on ATD (members only).
Learning needs analysis digs down into the knowledge and skills that people need to build in order to achieve desired performance and goals. A task analysis goes into depth, and may be conducted by a training designer. These articles will give you some background.
The group analysis consists of gathering basic information about the group you are trying to serve as a whole (e.g. job roles, numbers, locations, etc.). More importantly, though, it’s important to gain a deep understanding of their perspective. That is accomplished by conducting activities designed to increase your empathy for the group, and it is often documented by crafting a set of personas to represent the group in your decision-making process.
Empathizing Tool Index. This document provides links to resources that offer clear guidance on employing a wide variety of empathy-building techniques as described in design thinking circles. Compiled by Catherine Lombardozzi.
Personas Place Developer Focus on Learners’ Needs. In this article, industry thought leaders share their perspective on the importance of the tool that is the heart of this week’s challenge, learner personas. By Pamela Hogle on Learning Solutions.
The learning environment consists of all the available resources from which people can draw in order to learn, and the context in which they do their learning. From this perspective, then, you’re identifying what might be leveraged or created to support desired capability development AND analyzing the factors in the work environment that support or inhibit learning. In analyzing the learning environment, you’re looking for the tools that employees already use to support their learning as well as what might be needed to enrich the environment to support learning in general and the development of a specific skill set in particular. A learning environment analysis also helps you to determine the kinds of resources that might be useful for a comprehensive learning path.
The field analysis encompasses your research into whether there are models, case studies, or research results that can inform how you address the issues at hand and the content or skill you choose to include in your proposal.
Conducting Best and Current Practices Research: A Starter Kit. A solid description of steps to take to find good practices outside of your organization. The links are out-dated, but the process description is relevant. (Download link on right of web page under titles.) By Ophelia Eglene, University of Albany.
// Requirements Analysis
Superpower: Danger sensitivity
It can also be critically important to explore the overall requirements of the project so you are aware of the limits within which you need to work.
Quick List of Limits to Explore:
Decision-Makers. Identification of who has authority over the project and their particular wants and needs
Budget. Funds being allocated to the effort
Deadlines. Dates when the solutions need to be implemented (when they can start / when they must be complete)
Dedicated Time. Amount of time you and other participants in the project have to dedicate to the work
Resources. Availability of people with specific specialties, and access to tools, workspace, and other needed resources
Skill Set. Relevant skill and experience of those who need to be able to execute the project
Expressed Preferences. Endorsements and cautions from key decision-makers and those you want to serve (not necessarily definitive or disqualifying, but important to know nonetheless)
Stakeholder Concerns. Analysis of other stakeholders who may be interested in the execution or results of the project, and their degree of involvement in the project
Measures of Success. How key stakeholders will define success (this should be clear from other areas of analysis, but worth considering again)
Crafting a Needs Assessment Plan
As you develop your sense of areas to explore, your next step will be to write a comprehensive plan and develop a specific list of questions. The resources below provide advice in these areas.
// General Needs Analysis Resources
To create a needs assessment plan, start by determining the data you require for the decisions you need to make. Consider all the levels of analysis and select which areas should be explored. Then determine who has the information you need, and the most effective and efficient ways to collect data from them. Write a comprehensive plan and share with a manager or colleague to get some feedback before you launch.
Many resources provide advice on how to effectively plan for and implement data gathering activities. The guidelines below highlight some of the most important ones. Your experiences and particular contexts may suggest differently; use your judgment to plan for your particular situation.