Needs Analysis Superpowers

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 Superpower
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
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
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
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 resources were curated as follow-up for my workshop: Honing your Consulting Superpowers: A focus on needs analysis. If you’d like to have a customized workshop on needs analysis in your organization, please contact me!

Curated Resources

These resources should help you to activate your superpowers.

//  Business Analysis  >

Superpower: Clairvoyance

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.

//  Performance Environment Analysis  >

Superpower: Enhanced vision

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.

//  Learning Needs Analysis  >

Superpower: Ability to bestow power

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.

//  Group Analysis  >

Superpower: Empathy

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.

  • Empathy – How to Improve Your Designs by Developing Empathy for Your Target Group. This article talks about the importance of empathy in product design, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see how it can apply in our context as well. By Priscilla Esser from the Interaction Design Foundation.
  • 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.
  • The Importance Of Context In Learning Design. This article makes the case that understanding the learners’ context is often as important as understanding their perspective. By Connie Malamed, The eLearning Coach.
  • 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.
  • Persona Template and Empathy Map Template. These versions (in PowerPoint) are by Catherine Lombardozzi; you’ll find many more options on the web.

//  Learning Environment Analysis  >

Superpower: Web Generation

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.

  • Cultivating Valuable Learning Environments. This article describes how to curate resources for ongoing learning. By Catherine Lombardozzi. Additional learning environment materials are also curated here.
  • Learning Environment Components Chart. This chart lists the elements that can be leveraged or activated to support ongoing learning. Chart compiled by Catherine Lombardozzi.
  • Continuous Learning Model. This article provides another vision around the range of activities that can support learning and how to conceptualize a learning path. By Bersin & Associates at Deloitte.
  • Learning Culture Audit by Marcia Conner and Signs of a Learning Culture by Stephen Gill on ATD. These lists of learning culture characteristics may help you analyze how easy or hard it may be to learn in a particular environment.

//  Field Analysis  >

Superpower: Augmented Intelligence

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.

//  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 (click to open)

//  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.

Devising Questions
These resources will help you in preparing the questions you want to ask.

For additional background, read these terrific articles by Chris How, a Brighton-based user experience consultant writing on Medium.



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Last updated: March 23, 2019 by Catherine Lombardozzi
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