How Are the Project Needs Determined?

Steps to Achieve Business Alignment

If needs are not defined clearly and early in the process, a flawed project can result, creating inefficiencies and other problems. In this article we explore needs assessment of the various levels of needs, which lead to the levels of objectives for a project. Specifically, we will address payoff needs, business needs, performance needs, learning needs and preference needs.

The model presented in Figure 1 will prove helpful as analysis begins. We will briefly explore the process of detailing the needs at five levels, beginning with payoff needs and progressing to preference needs. The objectives derived directly from these needs are defined, making a case for multiple levels of objectives that correspond with specific needs. The objectives serve as the transition from needs assessment to evaluation. (Click on diagram to enlarge.)

Payoff Needs

The highest level of objectives, return-on-investment, comes from an analysis of payoff needs. This initial step begins with a few crucial questions:

  • Is this program worth doing?
  • Does this address an issue worth pursuing?
  • Is this an opportunity?
  • Is it a feasible program?
  • What is the likelihood of a positive ROI?

The answers to these questions are obvious for proposed projects or programs that address significant problems or opportunities with potentially high rewards. The questions might take longer to answer for lower-profile programs or those for which the possible payoff is less apparent. In any case, these are legitimate questions, and the analysis can be simple or comprehensive.

Business Needs

Determining specific business needs is linked to the previous step in the needs analysis, developing the potential payoff. To determine business needs, specific measures must be pinpointed so the business situation is clearly assessed. A business need is represented by a business measure. The term "business" is used in governments, nonprofits, educational institutions and private sector organizations. Programs and projects in all types of organizations can show business contribution by improving productivity, quality and efficiency, as well as by saving time and reducing costs.

Business measures are represented by hard data and soft data. Distinguishing between the two types of data helps in the process of defining specific business measures. Hard data are primary measures of improvement presented in rational, undisputed facts that are usually accumulated. They are the most desired type of data because they’re easy to measure and quantify and relatively easy to convert to monetary values.

Hard data are objectively based and represent common, credible measures of performance and usually classify into four categories, as shown in Table 1. (Click on diagram to enlarge.)

Business Measures Represented by Soft Data

Hard data might lag behind changes and conditions in human performance within an organization by many months; therefore, it is useful to supplement hard data with soft data such as attitude, motivation, and satisfaction. Often more difficult to collect and analyze, soft data are used when hard data are unavailable. Soft data are also more difficult to convert to monetary values and are often based on subjective input. Table 2 shows common examples of soft data.

Performance Needs

In the needs analysis, this step explores reasons the business measure is where it is rather than at the desired level of performance. If the proposed program addresses a problem, this step focuses on the cause of the problem. If the program takes advantage of an opportunity, this step focuses on what is inhibiting the organization from taking advantage of that opportunity.

This step might require a variety of analytical techniques shown in Table 3 to uncover the causes of the problem or inhibitors to success. It is important to relate the issue to the organizational setting, to the behavior of the individuals involved and to the functioning of various systems. These analytical techniques often use tools from problem-solving, quality assurance and performance improvement fields. Searching for multiple solutions is also important, because measures are often inhibited for several reasons. Keep in mind the implementation of multiple solutions—whether they should be explored in total or tackled in priority order. The detailed approaches of all the techniques are contained in many references. (Click on diagram to enlarge.)

Learning Needs

Addressing the job performance needs uncovered in the previous step often requires a knowledge or information component, such as participants and team members learning how to perform a task differently or how to use a new process. In some cases, learning is the principal solution, as in competency development, major technology changes, capability development and system installations. In these situations, the learning becomes the actual solution.

For other programs, learning is a minor solution and involves simply understanding the process, procedure or policy. For example, when a new ethics policy is implemented, the learning component requires understanding how the policy works and the participants’ role in the policy. In short, a learning solution is not always needed. But all solutions have a learning component.

Preference Needs

This level of needs analysis drives the program features and requirements. Essentially, individuals prefer certain processes, schedules or activities for the learning and performance improvement program or project. Those preferences define how the particular program will be implemented.

Typical preference needs are statements that define the parameters of the program in terms of timing, content, staffing, location, technology and extent of disruption allowed. Although everyone involved has certain needs or preferences for the program, implementation is based on the input of several stakeholders rather than that of an individual. For example, participants involved in the program (those who must make it work) might have a particular preference, but their preference could exceed resources, time and budget requirements. The immediate manager’s input may help minimize the amount of disruption and maximize resources. Available funds are also a constraining resource. The urgency for program implementation may create a constraint in the preferences. Those who support or own the program often place preferences around the program in terms of timing, budget and the use of technology. Because this is a need, the program structure and solution will directly relate to the reaction objectives and to the initial reaction to the program.

Our next column will address the developing the multiple levels of objectives that correspond with these needs. If you need more detail on this initial analysis that we briefly described, let us know. And always, we welcome your comments about ROI methodology.

Adapted from Beyond Learning Objectives