Needs Assessment or Needs Analysis?

Words are important. I hate to admit it – but they are. There are some folks who love to sit argueand debate from dawn until dusk about the best verb to use in a performance objective statement. I am 180 degrees opposite and want to get the verb that the majority agree on and move on! In my experience, the subject matter experts are pretty good at choosing a verb that works.

There are two terms that continue to get used interchangeably, Needs Assessment and Needs Analysis. Even worse is the fact that both can get shortened to “NA” by practitioners which can lead to even more confusion. Want to get crazy? Add in Training Needs Analysis (TNA) which is also often described as the “NA.”

If you want to find “the” explanation of NA and NA, be prepared for an arduous search through the Internet and many many texts where authors have put their own spin, tweak, massage and a coat of rust-o-leum paint on the definitions. I say “the” because there is no single definitive explanation.

While analyzing a previous client’s training system, the NA and NA terms were being used in very interesting but not necessarily accurate ways. To help clarify how the terms are related (but different) I headed to to do my own research. Watkins, Meiers and Visser’s (2012) FREE book A guide to assessing needs: Essential tools for collecting information, making decisions and achieving development results is an exceptional resource which helped me to develop the first version of this diagram:

na v na2
Needs Assessment vs. Analysis Concept Map

With some feedback from my colleagues John Egan and Julie Maiilé (merci mes amis), the diagram was tweaked, spun and massaged into the picture above which tells this story:

A performance problem or new opportunity starts with a Needs Assessment. When you do a Needs Assessment you will (should?) use both needs analysis and performance analysis. The results of the Needs Assessment works to improve results through the implementation of non-training and/or training interventions.

If a training intervention is required, then you will have to do a Training Needs Analysis. The TNA uses task analysis to determine what has to be trained and what doesn’t.

One of the big ah-hah’s in this client’s situation was that the Needs Assessment function resides within the training system and was being done by training specialists. How many non-training interventions do you think get recommended?

This is a very macro view of Needs Assessment aimed at making us all a little wiser about when we should use NA or NA… or maybe never use the acronym at all? If you want to learn more, go get that book! Did I mention it’s free!?


Watkins, R., Meiers, M.W., & Visser, Y.L. (2012). A guide to assessing needs: Essential tools for collecting information, making decisions and achieving development results. Washington, DC: The World Bank.