Needs Assessment as a Learning Tool: Three Findings

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:

  1. Needs assessment is an adaptable tool that be used to facilitate organizational learning when organizations are seeking to identify and address performance gaps.
  2. The stakeholder classification system from Mitchell et al. (1997) was applicable in identifying and prioritizing groups of stakeholders.
  3. 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.

A pre-copyedited version of the study is linked here.  The final version is published in the Journal of Workplace Learning.

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