A needs assessment is the process of collecting information about a performance issue or need. The need can be a desire to improve current performance or to correct a deficiency. The needs assessment process helps the learning and development professional, trainer, or performance consultant and the person requesting help or training specify the performance improvement need or performance deficiency. Assessments can be formal (using survey and interview techniques) or informal (asking a few questions of those involved). 

The term ‘needs assessment’ is a general term for a three-phase process to collect information, analyze it, and create a training plan. Different types of assessments are called need analysis, such as performance analysis, job/task analysis, target population analysis, etc. Needs assessment often involves more than one type of analysis.

Why do a needs assessment?

The purpose of a needs assessment is to answer some familiar questions: why, who, how, what, and when.

  1. Why conduct a training or performance intervention: tie the performance deficiency to a business need and be sure the benefits of conducting the training are greater than the problems being caused by the performance deficiency.
  2. Who is involved in the training or intervention: involve all of the appropriate people needed to solve the deficiency. This might involve employees, supervisors, internal and external customers, etc. This information also helps identify how to customize a training program to capture interest.
  3. How can the performance deficiency be fixed: training may not be the best solution. Or it might be only part of the solution. Identify what skill deficiency is to be fixed by a training solution and plan for non-training solutions to support performance.
  4. What is the best way to perform: what is the better or preferred way to do a task to get the best results? Are job standards set by the organization, such as SOPs? Are there governmental regulations to consider when completing the task?
  5. When will training take place: what is the best timing to deliver training or the performance intervention, because attendance at training can be impacted by business cycles, holidays, etc.

When trainers and instructional designers know the answers to these five issues, they know whether or not training would be appropriate. Sometimes instructional designers mistakenly assume that the person requesting the training has already determined the answers to these five issues and proceed to design and conduct training without raising these questions. A performance enhancement plan that reports the conclusions from a needs assessment provides a road map that describes a business issue, problems and deficiencies that a performance intervention or training can address, and how that will be accomplished. 

Think of conducting a needs assessment as investing a bit of time in coming up with the right solution and a greater return on the time invested. Begin by asking the person requesting the training (the client) the questions about the five purposes (why, who, how, what, and when). This assures the client that the intervention will be likely to be successful because it will be customized for the specific target population and business need.

Even if the client may think a needs assessment is not required, ask questions (why, who, how, what, and when) to confirm your understanding of the training request. Make suggestions about how to customize and tailor the existing training and best meet the needs of the client. When you begin asking questions of the client, you are already conducting an informal needs assessment. Not asking these five types of questions before conducting training can result in difficulties later.

What are the different types of needs assessments? Select the Right Type Of Needs Assessment

There are different types of needs assessments that produce a variety of types of information about the proposed training or intervention. Each type of assessment is called an analysis. Here are some of the key assessments:


Type of needs assessment

What the assessment answers

Performance analysis or gap analysis

Is this issue a skill deficiency?

How can the deficiency be addressed?

Is training the appropriate way to fix this deficiency?

What are non-training issues?

Feasibility analysis

Why should this training be done?

Is the benefit of training greater than the cost of the current deficiency?

Needs versus wants analysis

Why should this training be done?

Is the deficiency is tied to a business need?

Target population analysis

Who is the audience for this training?

What is known about them to help design and customize this training?

Job/Task analysis

What is the best and correct way to do this task?

How can this job and task be broken down into teachable parts?

Contextual or Best Delivery Method analysis

When will the training be presented?

What is the best delivery method?

What are the other requirements to deliver the training?

Keep in touch and let us know how you're doing with your needs assessments. We're all on this journey together!

Maria Chilcote & Melissa Smith
The Training Clinic

Adapted from workshops designed and facilitated by The Training Clinic and documented by Training Clinic founder Jean Barbazette in her book, Training Needs Assessment, ©2006 published by Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley, San Francisco, CA.