What does your project, business or organization need? It’s not a simple question. However, answering this question shouldn’t overwhelm you. Simply conduct a needs assessment to accurately identify your project needs.
What Is a Needs Assessment?
As noted above, a needs assessment is a process to figure out the needs of an organization or project. This is done by identifying a current state and the desired state, similar to a gap analysis. The needs assessment process is a systematic process used in many industries and disciplines such as healthcare, business administration, HR and project management.
- Data collection and analysis
- Final production
In project management, the needs assessment can address the organization and if the project is aligned with its needs. It can also be used as a systematic process within a project that seeks to discover how far apart the current conditions of the project are in comparison to the needed condition for successful completion.
The needs assessment process starts with questions to identify the needs of your project, business or organization. Then once you’ve identified your needs, Gap analysis then determines how to close the gap between where the organization is at present and where it needs to be at a later date.
Once you’ve done a needs assessment, you’ll want to turn those findings into a direction for your project. Using project management software helps streamline that process. ProjectManager is cloud-based work and project management software with multiple project views. You can list the needs assessment questions on our kanban boards and all the details are captured on your Gantt, sheet, task list and calendar view, which makes it easier to turn the answers to those questions into a project plan. Get started with ProjectManager for free today.
Needs Assessment Questions
You can use these questions to get you started with the needs assessment process. These example questions work for any industry.
- Are your services and/or products delivered to clients on time? If the answer to this question is no, then you need to explore why. If the answer is yes, you’ll want to look into the process to see if there are areas in which you can further streamline operations to save even more time.
- Is the company profitable or achieving its financial goals annually? If you’re not making money or even reaching the targets you set for yourself, then you need to explore the financial areas of your business to find out why. If you are, then the question to ask is how can you do even better.
- Are leads regularly generated? This is a question related to the sales of your business but also ties into the financial side. You need a certain about of leads to make sales. The more leads, the more likelihood of closing deals. Therefore, generating leads is crucial and if you’re lagging in this regard, you need to find out why.
- Is there a clear vision for the company? The vision statement is the guiding document for any business. If that vision statement isn’t clear it’s going to negatively impact every aspect of your work. If it is clear, then you might want to revisit the needs assessment regularly as the vision could be updated as the company grows and changes.
- Is the quality of work being continuously monitored? The success of any business rides on the quality of the work it’s doing. If you don’t have a tool in place that monitors that quality to make sure you’re always delivering on quality expectations, you’re going to need to get one. If you have one, perhaps it needs to be upgraded.
Why Is a Needs Assessment Important?
As we expressed earlier, it can be difficult to discern the needs of a project, especially when you’re in the midst of one. With a systematic process that carefully goes through the project plan piece by piece, it is more likely that any issues that are not being met will become evident. Then the gap between the need and the current condition can be closed.
There are different types of needs assessment, each of which can uncover a variety of gaps; it can address a gap in knowledge, practices, skills or tools. The needs assessment helps to show what is and isn’t working in the project. Then, what isn’t working can be fixed. This helps an organization, or a project, in that it makes it more efficient.
The needs assessment is a powerful planning tool because it not only assesses needs from one level of the project or organization but all levels. You get a holistic approach that both see needs from a high level to a granular one. This helps to inform your plan and provide specific actions to take in order to make improvements.
Types of Needs Assessment
There is no one type of needs assessment, in fact, there are seven. For example, you can do a gap analysis or discrepancy analysis to compare performance with what you had intended. There’s also a reflection on action and reflection in action. The former is looking back to identify what was done well and what could be improved. The latter is the same, only on actions that are currently happening.
You can also keep a diary, journal, logbook or do weekly reviews as part of a self-assessment. Then there is peer review, which is other professionals looking at the work and reporting back to you with feedback and advice. Observation is important, as well, just keeping an eye on tasks as they go through business processes.
There’s also something called critical incident review and significant event auditing, which can identify the competencies of a company for quality assurance. Finally, a practice review is a routine review of work that can identify needs and what needs improving. These seven needs assessment techniques are not unique to project management but can apply to many industries.
How to Conduct a Needs Assessment in 7 Steps
For a fully-fledged needs assessment that can identify gaps and best serve the needs of your projects, we’ve identified seven steps. These steps are relevant in almost any discipline or technique you may prefer.
1. Identify the Sponsor of the Project
The project sponsor is not simply a stakeholder, but an executive sponsor, who is a senior leader in the organization. This person will help guide the needs assessment and keep it aligned with the goals of the larger organization.
The sponsor can also garner support for the needs assessment. They are in a high enough position within the organization to get department leaders in line with the process, which can clear hurdles that may block progress. The sponsor gets buy-in from all those involved by offering direction and, importantly, funding for the project. They make sure that everyone has a stake in the success of the process.
2. Create ROI Model
By defining the return on investment (ROI) and how the project will benefit the organization, a needs assessment justifies financial commitment.
It will also, in a larger sense, show that the project itself is of value. The project is worth the effort, time and costs that it requires as it will bring a significant return on its investment. Part of this ROI model should therefore include a cost schedule, capital investment and the staffing requirements are for the project.
3. Identify Necessary Workstreams
This is when every department is analyzed, including the workstreams and team members therein. There must be transparency for this step to work.
There are workstreams that are outside of the organization as well, such as when projects work with vendors, contractors and other organizations. Therefore, all silos in the project must be removed for this step to work.
4. Interview Workstream Leaders
Once you’ve identified the workstreams that are related to the project, it’s time to speak with the leaders of each of these workstreams in order to understand their process. You’ll want to discover any pain points they’re experiencing. Also, see how this needs assessment will impact their work. That latter data will help when you resolve any gaps in needs.
By opening up the channels of communication between all the workstreams that are part of the larger project, you foster better communications throughout the execution of the project. This helps managers, but also the teams working on the project.
5. Meet with Teams
You’ve met with workstream leaders, now it’s time to set up meetings with their teams. You want to speak with every team member, no matter where in the organization they work. The teams are your troops on the front lines and have experience and perspective that is often not reflected in management.
Teams can give you a ground view of the project, which is where the issues first show up. They can provide information that is key to resolving these issues.
Related: 8 Steps for Better Issue Management
Your job is to make clear the project’s goals and objectives. Leave time for the team members to ask questions and engage them in a conversation. Let the team members be honest and hear their complaints in a safe space, without judgment or penalty. They will show you areas in the project that must be fixed. Build their trust, and resolutions are more effective.
6. Generate a Team and Schedule
With all the data you’ve compiled, it’s now time to assemble a team to respond to the issues raised and schedule the information in a way that allocates all the different parts and provides accountability that is based on the project needs.
This schedule is shared, stored digitally so all can access it, as well as physically posted in public places the teams gather. The improvements must be effectively communicated across all departments and teams.
7. Pre-Executive Report-Out
This last step is when the data and schedule get executive approval. Without approval at the executive level, the gaps exposed during a needs assessment will not be closed. Once everyone has agreed on the way forward, and only then, can it be implemented.
Needs Assessment Example
Let’s imagine a hypothetical needs assessment example to get a clearer picture of what we’re talking about. In this case, we’ll imagine a manufacturing company that is having problems delivering its product to customers on time. That would be the first step, identifying the business need, which they have. Though, they could have gone through an analysis to realize that they were not meeting production deadlines.
The next step would be to perform a gap analysis to get an idea of the current situation and the gap between that and the desired state. This could lead to issues with the production method, training needs of your team or more efficient tools. Let’s say, the plant has recently upgraded the tools it uses to produce its products but the team is not meeting the potential of the new equipment.
Related: Gap Analysis Template
This leads to the next step, which is assessing training options to bring the teams up to speed with the new tools. You’ll need to research training programs, costs, return on investment, legal compliance, the time training will take and how to remain competitive during this training process. At this point, you’ll create a report explaining the training needs and recommend a path forward.
Needs Assessment Templates
If you’re looking to do a needs assessment, project management software can help, especially as you implement your plan to improve. However, if you’re not ready to make that step up, we have free project management templates to assist you. Our site features dozens of project management templates for every phase of your project. Here are a few that go with a needs assessment.
Requirements Gathering Template
A needs assessment means capturing a lot of data. Our free requirements gathering template for Word is a great tool to collect all those documents. There’s a cover page to identify the need, a section for the project plan on how to implement your plan to close the gap you found, a place to write stakeholders’ thoughts on the goals and objectives plus a lot more.
Action Items Template
As you go through the needs assessment process you’re going to come up with tasks. Our free action items template for Excel is where you can capture them. Now you have a list of the tasks you’ll need to assign your team. You’ll know the work that must be done, what the deadline is and more. The who, what and when is the start of a schedule.
Project Plan Template
The schedule you have started with the free action items template will lead you to the project plan to execute what you’ve learned in the needs assessment. Our free project plan template for Word has places for you to put everything you need to execute your project plan, from goals to activities and tasks to the resources you’ll need to get the work done.
How ProjectManager Helps with a Needs Assessment
Once you have a plan to respond to the gaps you’ve discovered in your needs assessment, that plan can be set up in ProjectManager, a cloud-based work and project management software. We help you map out your tasks and schedule work to achieve what you need from your needs assessment.
Organize Tasks on Interactive Gantt Charts
Get all your tasks in order when planning how to meet your needs with our online Gantt chart. You can link dependent tasks to avoid delays, add milestones to track progress and even filter for the critical path.
Now you can see your whole schedule on a timeline to get an overview. Then set a baseline and you’ll be able to track planned effort against the actual effort in real time to keep to that schedule.
Use Multiple Project Views to Work How You Want
When you assign your team tasks, they might work in an agile environment, which is not suited for Gantt charts. That’s why we offer multiple project views to keep everyone happy.
Agile teams can use kanban boards to manage their backlog and plan sprints, while managers can visibility into their process to re-allocate resources as needed to avoid bottlenecks. Other team members might want to have a task list or calendar view. It’s up to them. All views are updated together so there’s always a signal source of truth.
Track Progress and Performance on Real-Time Dashboards
Even though your teams might work on different project views, might even be working remotely, you can still monitor their work with our real-time dashboard. There’s no setup as with lightweight tools, and we automatically gather real-time data, calculate it and then display the results in colorful graphs that track six project metrics.
Of course, we have status reports and more just a keystroke away that can be filtered and shared with stakeholders. Customize workflow to streamline your processes and add task approvals to control status changes. Plus, we’re collaborative to the core, helping teams work better together. You can even save all your needs assessment documents for future use as we have unlimited file storage.
ProjectManager is award-winning work and project management software that connects hybrid teams no matter where, when or how they work. Multiple project views and a collaborative platform help your team work more productively, while you have transparency into that process to keep them working at capacity with resource management tools. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.