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ATD Blog

What to Expect in Your First Needs Assessment

Friday, November 3, 2023

To conduct high-quality needs assessments, think like a detective. The detectives Sherlock Holmes, Velma Dinkley, and Hercule Poirot didn’t have large teams, unlimited budgets, or a bottomless well of resources to work with, but they succeeded by identifying who, where, and how to solve mysteries that no one else could.

Needs Assessment on a Shoestring offers talent development professionals a process for addressing organizational needs and determining whether training is the solution. Needs assessment pros Kelly L. Jones and Jody N. Lumsden apply the Build-Borrow-Buy approach to provide guidance, quick tips, and shortcuts for investigating and uncovering everything you can about the organizational problem you need to solve.

1. What inspired you to write this book together?

Kelly: Jody and I met at work 10 years ago, and the first project we worked on together was a needs assessment. I was leading a large-scale, department-wide project that evolved into a fantastic opportunity for collaboration. Jody brought unique insight and skills. Her ability to visually communicate key data points was instrumental to that project’s success, and we helped each other expand and improve our approach and ways of thinking about needs assessments.

Jody: That project was my first needs assessment outside of traditional instructional design work. I knew the textbook approach but didn’t have hands-on work experience. Working with Kelly on that project, I learned how to conduct needs assessments in complex, fast-moving organizations and discovered practical strategies that weren’t included in the academic textbooks I studied.

Kelly: Over the last 10 years, we’ve each gained extensive experience with needs assessments. We want to share that hard-learned practical knowledge to help L&D professionals start and conduct needs assessments faster, more smoothly, and with immediate success. Writing a book seemed like the perfect choice for our next collaboration.

Needs assessments are complex and contextual. No two projects are the same, and no two practitioners will approach projects the exact same way. In this book, we offer two different perspectives and share multiple approaches, strategies, and examples with readers to help them discover what works for them.

2. What makes this book unique?

Kelly: After a lot of “trial by fire” and insights gained through real-world challenges and successes, we wrote the how-to book we wished we’d had years ago. This book is a curated collection of practical methodologies, strategies, and real-life examples. For example, the appendix includes a complete worked example of a needs assessment project so readers can connect the concepts presented in the book to practical application through a case study narrative, with templates and tools they can build or borrow and apply immediately on the job. Throughout the book, we share what has worked for us and lessons learned from things that didn’t. We explain the why behind our approach so readers can adapt or adopt tips and tools as needed.

Jody: When you are new to needs assessments or working as a team of one, distinguishing the must-knows from the nice-to-knows can be difficult. We structured this book so readers can quickly identify the essential components and do excellent needs assessment work, even when they’re working on a shoestring with limited resources.

3. What can people expect with their first needs assessment?

Jody: For those taking on their first needs assessment work, expect hiccups. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be sure to use the experience as an opportunity to grow. In my first needs assessments, I leaned into the development of interpersonal skills, which have served me well in my career.


Here are some of the specific skills you’ll need and that this book will help you develop:

  • Organizational insight: By conducting needs assessments, you will develop a deeper understanding of the organization’s goals, culture, and challenges. You will also discover how different departments and teams function and contribute to the overall mission.
  • Interpersonal relationships: Your work will involve interacting with a diverse range of individuals within the organization, from employees at all levels to senior management. You will need to develop strong working relationships and build trust with stakeholders throughout the organization.
  • Project management: In your needs assessment projects, you will develop milestones, create timelines, and ensure that the project runs smoothly. You will learn to organize and prioritize tasks, track progress, and adjust the scope as needed to complete the project.
  • Critical thinking: You must think critically when analyzing data and coming up with innovative solutions to problems.
  • Reporting and presenting: Clear and timely communication is key to conveying information to your stakeholders. Learn to create detailed, compelling reports and deliver presentations tailored to your audience, whether it is senior management, department heads, or employees.
  • Adaptability and flexibility: Needs assessment projects evolve and change as new information surfaces or organizational priorities shift. Be ready for this by remaining flexible with your methods and willing to adapt your approach to work within the new conditions.

4. How does this book address the challenges the L&D and larger talent development industry are facing?

Kelly: L&D professionals are managing a whole new world of work and tackling organizational needs beyond functional training, including hybrid and remote environments, upskilling needs, recruitment and retention challenges, postpandemic realities, system upgrades, demographic and cultural shifts, DEIB initiatives, leadership development and succession planning, project and process management, global economies, and more. They are doing all this while facing new and increasingly complex demands to quantify, measure, and demonstrate the value of their efforts.

Each of these challenges offers opportunities to reconsider the way we approach our roles and shift into a strategic business partner mindset. What problems can we help the organization solve? Needs assessments can help us clarify and prioritize problems before investing in solutions, align our work with key goals and initiatives, and identify gaps and outcomes that can be measured to show impact. If you don’t know the real problem that needs to be solved and the real business impact of that problem, you can’t effectively design solutions or measure the impact of solutions. Needs assessments are precursors to both strategic planning and data analytics. They can be leveraged for many organizational challenges beyond training, including change management, performance management, technology and system design and implementation, process improvement, and employee experience.

5. Who should read this book?

Jody: This book is for practitioners who work as a department of one or for small teams and businesses that have constrained resources. Kelly and I share tips and tricks based on our own experience in those situations. Our collective knowledge has proven effective in various industries, organizational structures, and career and consultant roles. This book is a distillation of our combined challenges, successes, and failures: We made the mistakes, so you don’t have to.

I always say that the worst part of a new project is starting with a blank file. If you use our book, you will have a needs assessment structure that you can start with. If you are building everything from scratch, follow the steps in order so you can progress through the concepts and immediately apply practical suggestions. We also share creative ideas on how to borrow or buy parts of your needs assessment project.

Kelly: Leaders should also read this book. Lead your team beyond completing tasks and projects to scaling up for the work required of a strategic business partner by using our proven tools and techniques to identify and address critical problems and build collaboration with other leaders across your organization. This book will help leaders approach needs assessment projects with a 30,000-foot view so they can think strategically while acting tactically and guiding others’ work toward effective outcomes. This book will help leaders prioritize projects; align focus and resources with the goals that matter most; prove the real impact of L&D team efforts; justify budgets, headcounts, and resource requests; and become trusted advisors within the organization.


6. What was the most surprising thing you learned from writing this book?

Jody: The skills and process we used for needs assessment aren’t limited to a professional setting. In fact, I use a similar framework to identify and address personal or household needs and make informed decisions. After writing the book, I realized I was using the tools to lead a more organized, purposeful, and fulfilling life. I have been able to use the same tools to help me align my actions with my goals, make informed decisions, and proactively address the areas that matter most to me.

Kelly: I learned that the process of writing a book is more involved than putting words on paper and requires a needs assessment to start. Just like a needs assessment project, it is an invitation for collaborative learning and solution design. As a first-time author, just like a needs assessment practitioner, it’s impossible to know what you don’t know when you begin, and just like a needs assessment, books cannot be completed in isolation. There are many stakeholders and involved, invested parties. For example, we built strong relationships and trust and worked closely with ATD’s editing, marketing, and content teams to address the goals and challenges of writing a book to make a helpful, positive, practical impact on L&D professionals and the field. I learned from Jody through every draft and edit of this work. We both knew that the L&D community is incredibly supportive and generous, but we’ve learned firsthand how other authors and thought leaders are willing to support us and contribute to knowledge sharing in the larger industry.

About the Authors

Kelly L. Jones, PhD, is a researcher, leader, consultant, and problem solver with expertise in building solutions that help people and organizations learn and 20 years of experience in curriculum development, instructional design, needs assessments, learning technologies, and workplace training and development. She holds a PhD in curriculum and instruction from Mercer University and a CPTD ® certification from ATD. She lives in Columbia, Missouri.

Jody N. Lumsden, EdD, is a consultant, speaker, and facilitator with 17 years of professional experience as a talent development and graphic design practitioner developing and implementing strategy and data-driven performance metrics in the areas of adult and workplace learning, curriculum planning, change management, and leadership coaching. She holds a doctorate in curriculum design and instruction from McKendree University. She lives in Jackson, Missouri.

About ATD Press

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit

Needs Assessment on a Shoestring
ISBN: 9781953946935 | 280 Pages | Paperback

To schedule an interview with the authors, please contact Kay Hechler, ATD Press senior marketing manager, at [email protected] or 703.683.8178.

To order books from ATD Press, call 800.628.2783.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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