Project Management as It Relates to Needs Assessment
Case: Project Management at Compass Communications Solutions
Penelope Michaels is the Training Manager at Compass Communications Solutions. The company provides consultative services in the areas of instructional design and performance improvement. In the past five years, it has grown from a small office with 10 staff members to a staff of 50 employees. While Compass has worked with clients in a variety of industries, the majority of work involves the design and implementation of human resources training, leadership development, and information technology. Projects within each of these areas are handled differently.
When the company first started, training staff worked a variety of projects spanning these foci. With the growth of the company, Penelope and other leaders at Compass believe that training staff can begin to develop expertise in one of these areas. Recognizing that each of these foci has specific needs, Penelope has agreed to conduct a needs assessment to help Compass identify the differences between how business is handled in each of these areas. The leadership development programs have garnered the most success and have received higher ratings compared to the other courses and programs.
Three employees have been assigned to Penelope to assist with the needs assessment. As she begins to plan the project, she realizes that there are a lot of moving parts that she will have to manage throughout the process.
- 1. What is a project?
- 2. What is project management?
- 3. What are the steps to managing a project?
- 4. What are the different types of project planning?
- 5. How should a needs assessor integrate project management into the needs assessment process?
This chapter provides an overview of project management strategies for the practitioner to consider when preparing to start a needs assessment project. Emphasis will be placed on project planning, identifying resources, and establishing timelines.
Recap: Needs Assessor as Consultant
If you have read the first six chapters of this book, it has probably become quite apparent to you that a needs assessor is responsible for coordinating several tasks during a needs assessment project. Needs assessment teams can vary in size, ranging from one needs assessor to a needs assessment committee with multiple individuals.
Chapter 1 discussed the role of the needs assessor as a consultant during a project. The needs assessor must begin to think of themselves as a consultant, either internal or external to their client, for the following reasons:
- • It helps needs assessors emphasize the need for the client’s involvement in the project.
- • It enables needs assessors to objectively position themselves in the project.
- • It promotes a shared autonomy between the needs assessor and client early in the project.
The needs assessor and the client need to share ownership of the needs assessment. While a needs assessor may take the lead in all activities related to the project, the client needs to be readily available to provide the needs assessor with access to data and contribute to decision-making at various checkpoints during the process.
Regardless of whether needs assessors are internal or external to the organization, they need to view themselves in a consultancy role. This can help them separate themselves from the activity occurring within an organization. A needs assessor must remain objective during a needs assessment project. While this can be a difficult task, incorporating checkpoints and including others in various decision-making activities during the project can help the needs assessor remain objective through the process.
Dissecting the Elements of a Project
In its most primitive sense, a project is “a problem scheduled for solution” (Lewis, 1997, p. 4). Projects are temporary endeavors that often involve the assembly of a team for a specified amount of time. These endeavors typically last until the goals and objectives have been met.
Most projects are created as a result of a need for a change in performance. Typically, an organization or group of individuals have recognized that there is a discrepancy between the current state of performance and the desired state. The goal of most projects is to work toward addressing the discrepancies. There are several similarities between the basic definitions and characteristics of projects and needs assessments.
Many factors may contribute to the creation of a project, such as new technologies, competitive forces, political changes, economic changes, stakeholder demands, business process improvements, strategic opportunities, social needs, and environmental considerations (Project Management Institute, 2017).
What Is Project Management?
Project management is “the practice of initiating, planning executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time” (Phillips, 2003, p. 354). A project manager is an individual responsible for managing the activities related to project management.
Several elements comprise project management. These elements include establishing the scope of the project, accommodating change, planning, management, monitoring, and establishing metrics to measure the success of the project (Project Management Institute, 2017).
A project manager needs to identify the scope of the project. This entails establishing clear goals and objectives for the individuals contributing to the project to work toward. This also establishes goals for which performance criteria will be determined to measure if there is a change in performance.
The project management process’ central focus is leading the efforts of a project that are working toward achieving a change in performance. Similar to needs assessment, the emphasis is placed on improving the current state of performance and working toward a more desirable state. This shift or transition in performance ultimately leads to organizational change. Depending on the magnitude of the situation, this change may vary in the level of significance.
Project management requires the leader of a team to partake in a lot of planning to coordinate various aspects of the project. During a needs assessment, the needs assessor should coordinate several activities at various stages of the project. It is important that they coordinate meetings with the client and other key constituents relevant to the project, maintain communication with the clients throughout the project, schedule data collection at convenient times, and plan subsequent phases of data collection as necessary.
While many steps outlined in numerous needs assessment models suggest a systematic and linear approach, the needs assessor should be in a constant state of monitoring the progress of the project. This extends beyond typical project management responsibilities such as adhering to predetermined deadlines or operating within a given budget. Alignment has been stressed as a key component of a needs assessment; ensuring alignment between all activities in the needs assessment process, ranging from identifying and validating organizational needs, identifying appropriate data sources to validate these pre-identified needs, and determining the root causes contributing to gaps in performance to making recommendations to minimize or eliminate these gaps.
To ensure alignment is occurring at the necessary points, the needs assessor must be keeping a watchful eye on the project. If other individuals are involved in collecting data or analyzing data, the individual serving as the lead of the project needs to maintain open communication with their team and involve the necessary people throughout the project.
Lastly, the needs assessor is responsible for establishing criteria to measure the success of the project. Establishing criteria is two-fold: the needs assessment is responsible for identifying appropriate performance indicators that will give them an accurate understanding of the current state of affairs as well as the progress of the needs assessment itself. This will enable them to establish the necessary benchmark data needed to determine the extent of any change that may occur as the organization works toward a desired state of performance. Establishing criteria to measure the success of the project is dependent on the needs assessor’s ability to monitor and manage the activities of the needs assessment project.
A Needs Assessor's Role in Project Management
As previously stated, whether a needs assessor is conducting a needs assessment on their own or with a group of people, they are responsible for coordinating several activities throughout the process. Table 7.1 provides an overview of some of the tasks and activities a needs assessor will be responsible for coordinating during a project.
The responsibilities listed in Table 7.1 may require the needs assessor to manage multiple tasks at the same time, coordinate communication between the client and other members of the organization (or system) being explored, and schedule a time for when certain tasks need to occur.
The Project Management Institute (2017) emphasizes the need for individuals engaged in project management to demonstrate competency and proficiency across three dimensions: (1) technical project management, (2) leadership, and (3) strategic and business management. Table 7.2 provides a framework for how a needs assessor should embrace these project management dimensions during a needs assessment. Technical project management encompasses an individual’s declarative knowledge as it relates to specific domains of the project and their role managing or leading a project.
TABLE 7.1 Responsibilities of Needs Assessors
a timeline that accommodates the needs of the organization
• Explain if there are shifts or adjustments to the goals of the needs assessment project
Leadership encompasses the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to motivate, support, and lead others involved in the project (Aga, Noorderhaven, & Vallejo, 2016; Gehring, 2007). A needs assessor must demonstrate the necessary soft skills to interact and communicate with individuals within the organization. They must maintain an awareness of what is occurring in the organization that may be relevant to the needs assessment.
If a needs assessor is conducting the needs assessment with a team of individuals, it is important they provide their team members with the necessary resources to complete their jobs. They must demonstrate an openness to discussing new data and themes that may emerge and shift
TABLE 7.2 Dimensions of Project Management during Needs Assessment
• Proficiency scoping
a needs assessment project
the project needs. They must also lead their team on how to maintain an objective view during data assessment and analysis.
Strategic and business management encompasses the “knowledge of and expertise in the industry and organization that enhance performance and delivers business outcomes” (Project Management Institute, 2017, p. 56). A needs assessor will be at a disadvantage if they do not understand the industry in which they are conducting the needs assessment. They must be aware of the trends related to the field so that they can work with their client to identify competitive forces that may influence the goals of the needs assessment.
Addressing Human Factors in the Management of Needs Assessment Projects
When engaging in project management, a leader needs to be mindful of addressing some human factors that contribute to the success of project management. These factors include leadership, negotiation, team-building, motivation, communication, and decision-making (Lewis, 1997). These factors are not addressed at one particular time of a project; rather, they are characteristics that should be embodied throughout a project.
Chapter 3 presented a theoretical framework to guide a systemic approach to needs assessment. Human needs theory, general systems theory, and decision-making theory serve as theoretical constructs guiding a needs assessor’s approach to needs assessment and analysis. These constructs help the needs assessment to align decision-making strategies with contextual factors in a system that may contribute to or inhibit a gap in performance.
The above mentioned human factors serve as strategies that support the overarching theoretical constructs. A needs assessor must engage the individuals that they encounter during a needs assessment such as their client(s), other organizational constituents, and members of the needs assessment team. It is their responsibility to set standard protocols for carrying out data collection and analysis during the project.
Negotiation is a fundamental skill required of project managers. During a needs assessment, a needs assessor negotiates and attempts to maintain balance as they accommodate the needs of the client and any other additional pieces of information that may become present once a needs assessment is started. There is a notion of shared meaning as the needs assessor balances the client’s perceptions or felt needs, the actual needs (or the needs that can be verified with data sources), and other pieces of information that emerge that may redirect the initial needs assessment plan.
Maintaining open and frequent communication with all stakeholders of a needs assessment project is important. These open lines of communication also enable the needs assessor to engage in timely decisionmaking by providing reciprocal exchanges of information between project stakeholders, the needs assessor, and their team.
Steps to Managing a Project
While there are many variations of project management models, the following steps are described by Lewis (1997) to guide people on how to manage a project:
- 1. Define the problem
- 2. Plan the project
- 3. Execute the plan
- 4. Monitor and control progress
- 5. Close project
- (P- 7)
The initial step, Define the project, is the most important step of the project in that the scope should be clearly defined. This step tasks the needs assessor with establishing goals and objectives for moving forward with subsequent phases of the needs assessment. While this book has mentioned that there are times where the needs of a project may shift as additional information is brought forward during the assessment, the initial phase of defining the problem should not be skipped or rushed.
During this phase, the needs assessor will most likely meet with their client and any of their designees to discuss the purpose of the needs assessment. These conversations and meetings will determine the initial needs that the needs assessor will begin to explore. It is important that during this phase of the project the needs assessor has a clear understanding of any particular nuances that the client is aware of regarding the organization (the system). The needs assessor and the client should also discuss what their respective roles will be during the needs assessment, expectations for communicating progress made during the assessment, and any other individuals who need to be included in future meetings.
The second step, Plan the project, consists of the needs assessor determining what tasks are required for them to verify that the needs identified at the beginning of the project are the actual needs. This phase covers the logistics related to the project, such as identifying specific tasks to be completed, individuals responsible, the timing associated with the various activities, and resources needed to support the activities of the needs assessment.
Kaufman (1998) differentiates planning according to the purpose of the project into the following categories: strategic, tactical, operational, and action. Strategic planning is conducted to determine what gaps exist between current and desired societal results. This level of planning places additional focus on understanding the societal implications of business operations. Operational planning is typically conducted when the needs assessor is looking to minimize the gap between the current and desired state of performance as it relates to overall organizational results. These results do not necessarily have to have a societal impact. Operational planning focuses efforts on the gaps in the performance of particular functions within the organization. This could be limited to a select few departments or groups within the organization. Lastly, action planning is focused on determining the gap between the current and desired state of performance as it relates to specific processes or interventions that have been implemented in the organization.
The third step, Execute the plan, requires the needs assessor to execute the plan outlined in the previous step. A successfully executed project will be dependent on the quality of the plan. It is important that the needs assessor follow the plan as closely as possible and communicates with their client(s) if there is a need to deviate at any point during the project.
The fourth step, Monitor and control progress, consists of the needs assessor surveilling the project. This involves aligning data sources and data collection needs with specific needs, assessing the level of entropy within the system, and cross-referencing data with the initial goals of the needs assessment and the initial timeline outlined in the project plan.
Kaufman and Guerra-Lopez (2013) differentiate between hard and soft data. Hard data can be independently verified and often include facts and figures obtained from organizational reports. Soft data consists of individuals’ perceptions, beliefs, and opinions that are shared with the needs assessor. These data cannot be independently verified. Gathering both hard and soft data will help the needs assessor with understanding the context behind what may be reported solely by the hard data.
The fifth and final step, Close the project, requires the needs assessor to submit their final recommendations to the client and debrief on the project. This debriefing may be two-fold. The needs assessor is responsible for meeting with the client to explain if any deviations from the initial needs took place during the project. As they present their recommendations, they should discuss with the client how they prioritized particular needs and provide a rationale for their proposed interventions.
They should also debrief with the client and their team, how well they were able to execute the needs assessment according to the plan outlined in the second step. If any challenges arose, they must discuss what may have contributed to them. It is also important that they discuss any limitations associated with the data collected during the needs assessment, such as limited sample size, lack of hard data sources, availability of individuals in an organization, or the need to obtain additional data.
These debriefing meetings can serve as a means to provide closure to the project for all individuals involved, as well as providing the needs assessor (and their team) with an opportunity to reflect on the overall success of the project. As the project nears completion, they may reflect upon what went well during the project, any challenges faced, and whether any particular activities of the needs assessment project will inform their future practice.
A needs assessor should be in the habit of continuously monitoring the status of activities related to their needs assessment project. Project management strategies can help to provide structure for how one should establish parameters for a project, plan project activities, ensure alignment between various activities and system components, and report on progress. Demonstrating competency in technical knowledge, leadership, and strategic management can position the needs assessor to be a vital resource to a client.
Professional Practice Revisited: Project Management at Compass Communications Solutions
Penelope Michaels is responsible for conducting a needs assessment with a team to explore how work functions may be further refined according to foci. Her team must spend a lot of time planning the logistics of their needs assessment to ensure that they are adequately addressing the three branches of services provided by Compass Communications Solutions.
Connecting Process to Practice
- 1. As Penelope begins to plan the needs assessment, what are some questions she should ask herself to determine if she should carry out a strategic, tactical, operational, or action plan?
- 2. What strategies could Penelope employ to assist with monitoring the progress of her needs assessment?
- 3. Why is it important for a needs assessor to demonstrate competency in leadership?
- 4. What resources should Penelope ask for to help her lead the needs assessment?
- 5. Discuss how the human factors presented in this chapter contribute to shaping a needs assessor’s understanding of the organization as a system.
Besner, C., & Hobbs, B. (2006). The perceived value and potential contribution of project management practices to project success. Project Management Journal, 37(3), 37-48.
Caniëls, M. C., Chiocchio, E, & van Loon, N. P. (2019). Collaboration in project teams: The role of mastery and performance climates. International Journal of Project Management, 37(1), 1-13.
de Andrade, P. A., Martens, A., & Vanhoucke, M. (2019). Using real project schedule data to compare earned schedule and earned duration management project time forecasting capabilities. Automation in Construction, 99, 68-78.
de Oliveira, G. E, & Rabechini, J. R. (2019). Stakeholder management influence on trust in a project: A quantitative study. International Journal of Project Management, 37(1), 131-144.
Fabi, B., & Pettersen, N. (1992). Human resource management practices in project management. International Journal of Project Management, 10(2), 81-88.
Hornstein, H. A. (2015). The integration of project management and organizational change management is now a necessity. International Journal of Project Management, 33(2), 291-298.
Imran, S. M. J. 1., Nawaz, M. S., Siddiqui, S. H., & Kashif, M. (2019). Does project teamwork matter? Investigating the relationship between transformational leadership and project success. Journal of Management Sciences, 6(1), 79-95.
Kerzner, H. (2019). Using the project management maturity model: Strategic planning for project management. John Wiley & Sons.
Khaldi, M., & Erradi, M. (2019, October). Design of an e-Learning project management system: Project needs. In Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Big Data and Internet of Things (pp. 1-5).
Kliem, R. L., & Ludin, I. S. (2019). Reducing project risk. Routledge.
Kloppenborg, T. J., & Petrick, J. A. (1999). Leadership in project life cycle and team character development. Project Management Journal, 30(2), 8-13.
Maqbool, R., Sudong, Y, Manzoor, N., & Rashid, Y. (2017). The impact of emotional intelligence, project managers’ competencies, and transformational leadership on project success: An empirical perspective. Project Management Journal, 48(3), 58-75.
Tereso, A., Ribeiro, P, Fernandes, G., Loureiro, I., & Ferreira, M. (2019). Project management practices in private organizations. Project Management Journal, 50(1), 6-22.
Unterhitzenberger, C., & Bryde, D. J. (2019). Organizational justice, project performance, and the mediating effects of key success factors. Project Management Journal, 50(1), 57-70.
Aga, D. A., Noorderhaven, N.. & Vallejo, B. (2016). Transformational leadership and project success: The mediating role of team-building. International Journal of Project Management, 34(5), 806-818.
Gehring, D. R. (2007). Applying traits theory of leadership to project management. Project Management Journal, 38(1), 44-54.
Kaufman, R. (1998). Strategic thinking: A guide to identifying and solving problems. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.
Kaufman, R., & Guerra-Lopez, I. (2013). Needs assessment for organizational success. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.
Lewis, J. P. (1997). Fundamentals of project management. New York, NY: American Management Association.
Phillips, J. (2003). PMP project management professional study guide. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Project Management Institute. (2017). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (6th ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc.