Needs assessment can be used to determine what factors are causing a problem. Can it also be used to improve organizational learning?
With my colleague, Dr. Denise Cumberland, I was involved in a project that sought to understand if needs assessment could be used as an organizational learning tool, in addition to identifying causes of a problem. We worked with a Fortune 200 quick service restaurant chain and their “broken” new product development process. Data were gathered from multiple stakeholder groups using interviews and a survey questionnaire.
First, we sought to understand whether needs assessment can work in facilitating organizational learning in the context of new product development. Second, we investigated how a well-known stakeholder classification system could be adopted in a practitioner setting. Third, we sought to identify why the new product development process derailed in this organization.
This study provides insights for applying needs assessments in conjunction with a stakeholder analysis when problems arise in a product development process. Three primary findings arose:
- Needs assessment is an adaptable tool that be used to facilitate organizational learning when organizations are seeking to identify and address performance gaps.
- The stakeholder classification system from Mitchell et al. (1997) was applicable in identifying and prioritizing groups of stakeholders.
- The study revealed that specific activities involved in the new product development process were not documented and that the restaurant chain’s cross-functional team was not adhering to the process, primarily due to a lack of understanding and training.