The Components of a Needs Analysis

Designing Digitally


The Components of a Needs Analysis

As discussed in our previous posts on the types and benefits of Needs Analysis, there are many different components that should be considered when completing a Needs Analysis for corporate education. For a thorough project-specific Needs Analysis, you should investigate a minimum of four areas: the audience, pain points, training goals, and technology expectations.

A thorough project-specific Needs Analysis investigates a minimum of four areas: the audience, pain points, training goals, and technology expectations.

Target Audience

Try to find out as much about your audience members as possible. Continuously remind yourself and the project team that you are building this training for them, so it should suit their needs. It can be easy to think, “The perfect solution is an on the job reference aid! We can make a laminated hard copy for them to keep in their back pocket, or microlearning modules they can quickly access on their phones!” But what if your audience are mechanics who have to crawl into small places and use both of their hands to work on equipment? They may tell you it is impossible to pull out a job aid when they encounter a question. This audience may benefit from a training simulation where they can practice troubleshooting problems in a less-strenuous environment, then take that knowledge with them to the work site. 

The method of Design Thinking focuses a great deal on understanding the audience. Two tools you can use are an Empathy Map and Learner Personas. To create an Empathy Map, place yourself in the shoes of the learner. Consider what they think and feel, and write those items in a quadrant of the map. In the other quadrants, think through what they see, what they say and do, and what they hear. Visualizing all of this information should help the project team relate to the audience. 

Learner Personas, or User Personas, expand on the Empathy Map and apply the generalized data to specific fictional characters. Rather than focusing on the audience of HVAC mechanics, look at a realistic scenario of Miguel Rodriguez, a 38-year-old male who has worked for your company for 12 years. Consider his motivations at work, his long-term goals, and the daily situations he finds himself in. Compare him to another fictional character who just transferred to your company from a competing HVAC company.

There is no golden method to understand your audience. Experiment with different routes and decide what is the best way for your team to discern your audience’s needs.

Ways to Uncover Pain Points

Perhaps the most important part of a project-specific Needs Analysis is to identify the pain points in the task or process. Where do employees get stuck? Where are mistakes commonly made? What do they overlook? The project team needs to find the root of a performance problem in order to address it through training. This applies even to onboarding training, when employees have not yet had a chance to make mistakes. Analyze common pitfalls of new-hires and teach their successors how to avoid the obstacles that lie ahead. There are several ways to uncover pain points.

Make Observations

For quick processes, such as preparing food in a restaurant, the project team could go on site to observe employees in action. Make notes on their confidence level in their work, when they ask for help, where the process seems inefficient, etc. Or, for training on less-tangible processes such as management soft skills, ask to sit in on a team meeting to observe what they talk about and gauge the team morale.

Gather Manager Evaluations

If you cannot personally make observations, ask the managers of the target audience to share specific or general observations they have of employees. Ideally, they should have a pulse on their team’s performance. Ask where employees need repeated coaching, what complaints they hear from individuals about their co-workers, and what they consistently do well. Managers often have more insight into what actually happens in the workplace than Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).

Customer Feedback

A fourth way to explore pain points, particularly in service industries, is to study customer reviews or surveys. Customers are brutally honest in pointing out ways they felt mistreated by employees. Just like feedback from your target audience, you may need to sift through some irrational complaints to find valuable input.

Talk with the Target Audience

Be sure to ask some of the audience members what they think is valuable in training for their job role. You can hold informal interviews or distribute short online surveys. Ask them what they would improve about the training they currently have in place and where they feel they need additional training or support. You may end up with a long list of complaints for things you have no control over, but you may also find a gold mine of information no one else knew about. Keep in mind that pain points would be easy to solve if they were lying out in the open! Be willing to investigate from all angles to find the root of the problem.

Training Goals

Based on the project goals and pain points, write specific training goals or learning objectives for the course. You can keep them at a high level for now, then refine detailed goals for each module or session as you move deeper into the design process. Clarify with the project team how the new training will fit into the existing training plan. Is it a Serious Game game that will replace an old eLearning module? Or, is it a training simulation that learners will use during a classroom seminar? The approach of the project may shift depending on how it fits into the learner’s overall experience.

Also discuss how the project aligns to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Determine if learners need to walk away from the course with an understanding of the content, the ability to apply the material, proof they can analyze problems, etc. This will help your team solidify a choice on the format of training and the level of engagement or interactivity it should include. 

The SMEs will be heavily involved in this portion of the Needs Analysis. You of course need to include all of the relevant content, but be sure the project’s emphasis is on the pain points you have worked so hard to discover. This is where disagreements sometimes arise. Keep pressing into the issues until everyone is content with the training goals that will reasonably fit in the scope of the project. You want everyone to reach an agreement during the Needs Analysis so the team can contribute fun, creative ideas in the design phases.

Technology Expectations

The last section of a project-specific Needs Analysis outlines the technology expectations for the development. This is more applicable to online training, although it is helpful to confirm what capabilities will be available in the venue for classroom-based training.

For online training, make a definitive decision on which devices or platforms you will target. It is possible that audience members were split on their preferences to take training on their phones or desktop computers. As a project team, decide if it is feasible to make a responsive course accessible on multiple platforms. If it is not, then pick the most logical choice based on the project parameters. The targeted device(s) could also impact the style or format of training you choose to design, as well as the authoring platform you use.

Similarly, narrow down a list of web browsers to guarantee. Stakeholders always want training to work on any platform in any corner of the world. The reality is, unless you have a team of 100 testers who can work around the clock, it is impossible to promise a bug-free experience in every possible scenario. Use analytics from your Learning Management System (LMS) or poll the target audience to determine the most commonly-used browsers. Plan to test on these browsers and make sure the project team understands the constraints


A Training Needs Analysis is not a rigid procedure you have to follow precisely. It is a discovery process to learn how you can maximize the impact of the training you develop. If you need any assistance with your own analysis feel free to contact our team of experts. If you are interested in some more reading material on this topic, get a copy of our full white paper today.