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Tips for analyzing training needs to narrow your project scope

This article is part of a series that looks at the seven elements of needs analysis. The elements are: curriculum mapping, knowing / doing / believing, defining the target group, designing a learning brand, defining the return on investment, building the team and the scope of the project.

What you are reading right now is a fable. AshCom is a fictional company, but the learning challenges that Kathryn, AshCom’s CLO, and their team face are real and shared by learning teams across corporations, nonprofits, associations and educational institutions. We hope you can connect with the characters, their challenges, and the solutions they discover. Building and following a needs assessment system is critical to the success of the learning opportunities we create.

eBook release

How to Change Your Approach Requirements Analysis: A Story Around the 7 Essential Elements

How does the fictional company AshCom adapt to changes and develop innovative L&D solutions? Discover the seven crucial components of a successful needs analysis.

Beyond project management

Kathryn stared at her notebook page from the previous study team meeting. Lost in thought, she traced the loop that encircled a series of numbers she’d written on the top of the page. The topic of conversation at the meeting focused on roles and stakeholders as the AshCom Learning Leadership team completed its planning process and began producing the new digital learning resources that are critical to AshCom’s success.

In the middle of this discussion, Amy said, “Fifty percent more projects usually require one hundred percent more project management effort.” Kathryn wrote “50% / 100%” in her notebook and circled it to remind herself to think about something later after the conversation was over. She didn’t need the memory, however. The comment was in her head and she whirled around until she found time to focus on it.

It wasn’t that she thought Amy was wrong. It was more like wondering if what Amy was saying applied far beyond project management. What if all of their systems weren’t strong enough to function well given the increased workload? What if Amy’s comment was true in every step of building the learning needed?

AshCom’s management has taken a big and somewhat risky step with the acquisition of Globex. Through her interaction with the family who owned the company and its management, she knew they were serious people. The purchase of Globex was made in a hurry. These were serious business people who wanted to make AshCom bigger and better.

Kathryn also knew that AshCom leadership had placed a lot of responsibility in their hands. Merging the two companies so that one plus one equals more than two would require robust and complete learning opportunities. Kathryn was clear: tell us what it takes to make this happen.

Progress monitoring of the learning needs analysis

Kathryn’s analysis of learning needs has been the focus of the past few weeks. Your team asked the right questions and investigated the right things. They had made a curriculum card and developed a Know / Do / Believe set of buckets for the objects for the materials they would create. They had also made a serious effort to understand their learners, taking the time to consider how they would brand and market their learners for the company. They had a system in place for defining the key metrics and methods for collecting them so they could produce return on investment reports. And they had mapped out the roles they needed to fill in order to achieve their goals, identified the key stakeholders, and determined how to communicate with them.

Five levels - descriptions

Kathryn and her team had come a long way since the day, weeks before, when she first heard confirmation of the Globex acquisition and left the meeting with her head turned. She was confident that her team had done everything in the planning phase to achieve her learning and organizational goals.

But Amy’s comment “50% / 100%” popped back into her head. She decided to bring in Maggie, her lead instruction designer, who had been with AshCom for more than 20 years. Maggie knew the company as well as anyone, having started in HR and eventually being the first person to specifically point out learning.

Kathryn was more than just her institutional knowledge, she valued Maggie’s methodical nature. While Kathryn thought mostly about the overall systems, Maggie often concentrated on the subsystems. In the past few years, Maggie had neared perfection in reviewing current courses and producing digital learning modules. She appreciated new software that improved her ability to see where each project was in its development. But she loved paper, which was reflected in the appearance of her workstation. Maggie was kind of a detail person.

Testing their skills

When Maggie arrived at Kathryn’s office, Kathryn quickly checked everything that had been achieved so far in her study needs analysis. She also commented on how pleased she was with the learning team’s ability to think through complex topics. Then she came to the subject she had most on her mind. She simply said, “Fifty percent more projects usually require one hundred percent more project management effort.”

Maggie didn’t need to be reminded of the source. As a methodical person, Amy’s comment from the previous team meeting had also impressed Maggie. “Amy,” she said.

“Yes,” replied Kathryn, “I’ve thought about it a lot since we were all together. I have to think. Could it be that we have a great master plan but haven’t examined our production system to see if it is capable of doing what needs to be done?

“I don’t mean our people. What I mean are the steps they are going to follow to make sure we get what we want to achieve. I know our teaching design team works well together, but it will carry a much greater burden. And we will add new teaching designers and new subject matter experts. I think we will also outsource some of this work. All in all, the number of people involved in building the objects to be built will increase. Will we all be on the same page “

Both Kathryn and Maggie knew that what was asked of them was far more than they had ever produced in a single year. Maggie immediately realized what Kathryn was driving at because she had some of the same concerns. And she valued Kathryn’s ability to examine a large system and ask the right questions.

Lingering doubts

“The honest answer,” said Maggie, “is that I’m not one hundred percent sure.” Maybe it’s like running a single restaurant where everyone knows each other rather than running a chain of restaurants in multiple cities. “

“Exactly my concern, said Kathryn. “We need a prescription. Or maybe better, and I apologize for switching metaphors. Maybe we need a set of standard operating procedures. People need to know where to start and which path to take so we can stay on time and on budget. “

“I will review our current practices and procedures and get a feel for what may need to be changed and what needs to be added,” said Maggie. “That’s my thing.” Kathryn smiled. She already knew that.

“We have a few minutes before I get to my budget meeting,” said Kathryn. “Okay, if we just have some general topics on the whiteboard for me to see? I don’t mean we are building the system, but let’s ponder some of the questions that we want the system to contain as if we were starting to build the first module. “

“Sounds like a plan,” said Maggie.

The big questions

For the next few minutes, Kathryn and Maggie took turns writing questions on the whiteboard. It wasn’t an exhaustive list that would later come up in a conversation with the entire team, but it was a good start.

  • What is the budget for this project?
  • Do we need 508 / ADA compliance?
  • Do we have existing source material for this module?
  • Where is the source material stored?
  • What is the project start date? What is the completion date?
  • Where is the source material stored when the module is built?
  • How often will the team meet? When and where?
  • What is the desired sitting time?
  • What will the format be when a module is finally delivered?
  • How is the module tested on site before it is released?
  • How do SMEs and stakeholders give feedback to the learning team?
  • What media and graphics are already available? Where are they?
  • Will the module be compatible with our LMS? Any concerns?

When her time was up, Maggie took a picture of the whiteboard and assured Kathryn that she would compare this list to the system they had already set up. Kathryn was confident that Maggie would do what she said and do it well. The concern about “50% / 100%” had not completely resolved, but Kathryn was convinced that they were on their way to addressing them.

Looking for more tips on analyzing training needs in action?

To read the rest of the chapters in this series on needs assessment and see how Kathryn and her team handle the other basics, please download the eBook. How to Change Your Approach to Needs Assessment: A Story About the 7 Essential Elements. You can also attend the webinar to analyze your training needs analysis and develop a culture of continuous improvement.

eBook Release: Inno-Versity


Inno-Versity creates individual e-learning for some of the largest companies in the world. We remove complexity from critical e-learning projects. We are an in-house team of talented and experienced instruction designers, artists and learning experts.

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