9 Priorities for Conducting a Needs Assessment

project team needs assessment

Making some changes in your organization? Looking to improve some inefficiencies? Start with a Needs Assessment.

A needs assessment is a process to get your organization or team from “here” to “there.” The priorities in conducting a comprehensive needs assessment are critical to identify and outline the gaps from your current state and get you to your desired future state. Identifying the needs, or gaps, is important. However, it’s equally essential to outline the action plan that will close the gaps and get you and your team to “there.”

A needs assessment, also referred to as a needs analysis, is central to address concerns in business operations or to achieve an organizational goal. It’s a process that identifies priorities, makes organizational change, and outlines needed resources. And to focus specifically on employee training, a training needs assessment is crucial to identify needs and opportunities for employee development.

Business leaders and team members may want to instinctively point towards the gap or problem to achieve the desired result. However, a needs assessment is a necessary process. You can’t jump from start to finish without running the full race. Checking-off each of the priorities in the needs assessment process is critical to its success.

Identify Project Outcomes

Start with identifying the problem to ensure the project team is pointed in the right direction. The team is not trying to solve for the “whys” or “hows” at this early juncture. Rather, it’s important to verbalize and capture what you’re going after and what you need to achieve.  What are the outcomes you plan to realize with the undertaking?

Some examples when a needs assessment is necessary include:

  • Create or improve an organization’s employee training program
  • Implement new technology
  • Merge or move business units
  • Launch a new product or service
  • Identify and achieve strategic goals for the organization
  • Address problems related to delays in a process, customer service delivery, or increased costs
  • Improve efficiency among work streams or within teams

A needs assessment is a process that takes the project team on a journey through each layer that impacts the problem. Refrain from finger-pointing to individuals. Hold back from confirming the root cause of the problem or highlighting the pathway to success before the needs assessment journey. By following the needs assessment process, the pathway will eventually become clear.

Assess the Current State of the Process

Assessing the current state is a process in itself. Each individual with connectivity to the area of focus should be involved in mapping out the current state process. Often led by a facilitator or consultant, the team identifies all steps and decision points regarding how things are currently done. The team outlines who is responsible for each step, if approvals or other technology is needed at this juncture, and the time it takes to accomplish each task.

The methodology of a current state process map is most often incorporated in a value stream map or swim lane diagram. The map highlights each step in a process and establishes the baseline of how things are currently done in order to improve efficiency.

The current state map provides a visual representation of process bottlenecks, time delays, lack of resources, employee skills and training needs, and other opportunities to improve the process.

Develop an ROI Model

To achieve a desired future state requires resources, training, and often a culture change. Resources can involve financial commitments, staff, and technology. Therefore, prior to launching the needed changes outlined in the needs assessment, it’s imperative to identify how the organization will measure its effectiveness.

Anything and everything is measurable. If you’re not measuring your results, there’s no definitive way to know if things are improving or goals are achieved. With an established baseline, a quantifiable ROI model must be established to provide guidance and accountability for the impending expenditures. As is often the case, prior to tackling any organizational change, executive leaders must buy-in to the assessment and sign-off on the scope of work. A clear, definitive ROI model will greatly assist in the leadership review and approval process.

In outlining your ROI model, include a cost savings framework that incorporates direct cost benefits, indirect cost benefits, also referred to as cost avoidance, and intangible benefits.

Create the Scope of Work

project team planning

The scope of work should succinctly outline details related to the project including deliverables, milestones, timeline, and expected outcomes. The scope of work not only defines what will be done on the project but prevents scope creep. It’s very common for leaders and team members to be tempted to add deliverables to the finalized scope of work. This can expand the timeline and balloon the budget. Leadership sign-off on the scope of work is crucial to adhere to the outlined details in the project.

The scope of work starts with the problem statement. Based on the team’s work outlining the current state, objectives identify the intended outcome to address the problem statement.

It’s important to outline a clear timeline for the project, including major milestones along the way. The schedule keeps the project on track, increases the ability to measure progress, and highlights obstacles.

Who are the team members involved in the project? The scope of work should identify leaders, individual contributors, and subject matter experts, along with designed tasks.

The scope of work should highlight the deliverables for the project. There may be tasks accompanying the milestones or just the final end of the project. As examples, this could include final implementation of a new ERP system, launching a new employee training program, or successfully launching a new product.

Budget allocation is another key component to the scope of work. What are the costs involved with the project?

The scope of work should outline the expected outcomes for the project and answers the initial problem statement. This includes ROI.

The scope of work is one of the priorities that rolls up into the final Statement of Work, which is a comprehensive legal document describing the entire project. The scope of work outlines in depth the deliverables involved with completing the work with the team or work stream involved.

Pre/Post Performance Measurements (KPI)

A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a metric to quantify progress towards the goals outlined in the scope of work. KPIs are outcome-based statements to measure key details in the project that track goals and objectives and highlight what you want to achieve by when. To succeed in the project and achieve the goals, you must measure it. KPIs are the compass to ensure goals are targeted and met.

KPIs should be established along the continuum of the projects timeline and evaluate the level of performance over time. KPIs can be established to measure efficiency, time, quality, compliance, employee performance, cost, customer satisfaction, cycle times, and utilization of resources, among others.

KPIs include a balance of quantifiable and qualifiable metrics, along with both leading and lagging indicators. Collectively, KPIs are a necessary tool to monitor objectives throughout the duration of the project and adjust as needed to ensure project-wide success.

Workflow Prioritization

project workflow

The current state needs assessment precedes the workflow prioritization. The visual representation of the process maps that the team developed will highlight bottlenecks, needed resources, and skills training, among many more gaps and bottlenecks in the current state.

In review of the process maps, the team leader or consultant details a comprehensive “laundry list” of items that need attention to improve outcomes. Depending on the scope of the project, the list could include a few items, dozens, or even hundreds of components that need to be addressed.

So how do you assign the order of the list? What do you tackle first? Does the team start from the top of the list? Or address the easier ones first? At RTG Solutions Group, we help organizations prioritize the workflow with a detailed methodology and grading system for each item on the list.

Workflow prioritization is calculated by ranking each priority against the ease of execution, likelihood of success, implementation cost, urgency and importance, ROI, and impact on the business. These six categories are then weighted based on high, medium, or low favorability of success.

Decisions in how to prioritize the workflow of the project are not always clear-cut. Leaders, and those with knowledge of the priorities, can provide an added level of insight to rank priorities. There is no hard and fast rule to prioritize the workflow. What is important in assessing priorities is to apply thoughtful logic based on data and valuable insight by those knowledgeable with the work involved.

SME Resource Identification

Subject Matter Experts (SME) provide a high level of knowledge and proficiency on an area of the business that has connectivity to the project work. They may not be intimately involved in the scope of work, but their insight and experience can assist the project managers in heading off problems and easing implementation.

While outlining the scope of work, it’s beneficial in the short and long term to identify internal and external individuals who can assist the team at key junctures.

As an example, the IT team is deploying new technology that will impact everyone in the business unit or organization.  At the early stage, it’s important to identify departments and their teams who will be impacted by the deployment. Does the new technology require training? Most likely it does in some manner. It is prudent to involve the Learning & Development SME to exchange information and ensure the technology launch and integration is seamless with training development, instructional design, and execution.

It’s important to identify and collaborate with SMEs to provide efficiency, fill knowledge gaps, and ensure success of the project.

Develop Project Schedule

The project schedule is essential for project leaders, teams, and stakeholders to have a clear roadmap for the project. It should outline what will be accomplished, who is responsible for each task, and those with connectivity to the task. The project schedule delineates each deliverable with start and end dates. The schedule can track and identify if timelines are being met and the percentage complete of each task as well as the total project.

The project schedule provides clarity and helps teams to effectively communicate and collaborate with those involved. Additionally, it provides project managers a tool to update senior leaders and the executive sponsor of the project status.

Specifically, a project schedule includes:

  • Project actions / deliverables
  • Description of each task
  • Name of who is responsible
  • Start and end date
  • Estimated duration
  • Connectivity between tasks
  • Required resources
  • Milestones associated with tasks
  • Budget allocation

Develop Budget Allocation

It always comes down to dollar and cents, doesn’t it? Refrain from launching the project, assigning tasks, or submitting a purchase order until a comprehensive budget is allocated.

It’s important to identify all cost estimates for each task as well as the entire project. Based on budget availability, prioritization of some tasks may need to be adjusted. Following the budget submission to the executive sponsor and approval by executive leaders, the project timeline can begin.

Conclusion

The above nine priorities will assist you and your team in conducting a needs assessment in your organization. These priorities are applicable to all industries and size of business.

For additional insight, check out another blog: 7 Steps to Execute a Needs Analysis.

If your organization is seeking assistance in conducting a needs assessment, reach out to us. We can schedule a call to assess your needs and how we can assist your business.

“A vision cannot be realized without the ability to execute.”

Khris K. Bhattan
President, RTG Solutions Group
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