Planning the Timing of your LNA & Ensuring your LNA Runs to Plan


When should you undertake a learning needs analysis? What is the best way of ensuring that the LNA project keeps on track? In this article Sarah Cook provides a framework for ensuring that the timing of your learning needs analysis is both efficient and effective.

When to undertake a learning needs analysis

As we have seen earlier in the series, there are three types of learning needs analysis (LNA) that training and HR specialists are likely to be involved in:

• Organisational or strategic LNA
• Operational / Departmental or tactical LNA
• and Individual learning needs analysis.

A tactical or Operational / Departmental LNA by its very nature comes about through a one off or previously unplanned for development need. This is often driven by circumstance or external factors e.g. the team has expanded and needs a team building event; a new product has been introduced and training is required.

In these circumstances the training professional is often reactive; they must undertake a learning needs analysis as and when the need arises. In the case of strategic or organisational learning needs analysis, the trainer has a much more active role to play. He or she must ensure that the learning needs analysis is suitably timed so that it is aligned to the organisation's annual planning process.

The learning needs analysis needs to be undertaken at a time that fits in with the business's planning process so that the outputs of the LNA are prioritised to meet the organisation's development needs going forward. In this way a corporate training and development plan can be developed. This plan needs to take into account the individual development needs that typically are discussed at one to one reviews with each employee. Best practice is for each individual to have a development plan and for the Learning and Development function to collate these needs so that gaps can be addressed.

One retail organisation for example prepares its organisational strategic plan in November each year. The training professionals in this business have put in place an organisational learning needs analysis that takes place at the beginning of December each year. This allows them to capture and build on the needs of the business in the year to come. They have also aligned their timing so that they are able to build on the performance review system that takes place every six months. The outputs of individual development plans are logged on their learning management system, thus allowing them to gain an overview of the development needs of the business. Their training year begins in March, thus allowing them two months to plan and prepare their development programme. The organisation uses a competency based framework and their strategic and individual LNA process allows them to identify learning needs against each of the competency areas. Involving the right people

When trying to plan the timing of an organisational or operational LNA, be careful not to impose your own views on the best timing for this to take place. Part of the successful timing of a learning needs analysis is the buy-in of key stakeholders to the process. The successful outcome of any LNA is affected by people. These people who have a 'stake' and are affected by the LNA, influence to a great extent the effective implementation of the project. Stakeholder mapping is a useful technique that allows you to identify who will need to be involved in the learning needs analysis. The technique involves using a blank sheet of paper to brainstorm which groups are likely to have a development need. A useful tip is to break down large stakeholder groups into smaller discrete areas. So, for example instead of putting 'all employees' as a stakeholder, divide these into separate groups or functions that may be affected. Having brainstormed different stakeholder groups, the next phase is to identify who will actively help you in undertaking the learning needs analysis and who will hinder you or be neutral. Make a note of helpers and hinderers and those people that are likely to be neutral on the stakeholder map that you draw.

Taking account of the stance stakeholders may take during a LNA Having identified the stakeholders in your LNA, the next step is to consider the stance that they will take towards the LNA. Consider the following questions to help identify possible approaches to the change:

1. What happened during the last LNA? What lessons can you learn from this?
2. How willing are people to participate in the LNA? What has been discussed with them already? What have been their reactions so far? It may be that you need to 'sound people out' about the LNA to gauge their likely position.

It is useful to assess the degree of their likely response to the LNA e.g. Will they:

• Champion this
• Be somewhat positive
• Be neutral
• Be negative
• Be antagonistic Here is a stakeholder template that allows you to summarise each stakeholder?s position. It also asks you to assess their degree of influence and propose the action to take to enhance their views positively towards undertaking the LNA.


List the names of the key stakeholders List the function to which they belong
List whether their view is
: +2 Champions + 1 Positive 0 Neutral - 1 Negative 2 Antagonistic Don't know
What is their degree of influence?
H = High M = Medium L = Low

Actions to reduce risks or enhance positive views

Developing a timely plan of action

When managing learning needs analysis, one way of ensuring effective and efficient timeliness is to regard the LNA as a project. The use of project management techniques will ensure that each stage of the project is well thought through and has a time scale with clearly determined activities.

Here is a simple guide to some of the techniques you can put into play to ensure that the LNA stays on target and on time. Think about the LNA project as having four distinct phases:

1. Set up During the set-up phase of the LNA project an initial scope is agreed. It is essential that there is a sponsor for the LNA and this person should be at a senior level. Also a project manager should be identified who will manage the LNA process. The Sponsor has ultimate responsibility for the delivery of the project. The Sponsor should ensure that the project is value for money and is delivered within the specified timescales. The Sponsor has ultimate responsibility for the effective management of risks and issues. The Sponsor champions the LNA within the business and ensure benefits realisation from the initiative. The Project Manager has the authority and responsibility to run a project on a day to day basis to deliver the required deliverables on behalf of the Sponsor. He or she is responsible for producing the required deliverables, to the required standard of quality and within the specified constraints of time and cost. The Project Manager must operate within the constraints agreed by the Sponsor.

Checklist for role of organizational LNA project manager

• Sets & agrees clear goals
• Produces schedules
• Establishes budgets
• Estimates resources
• Analyses risks and makes contingencies
• Communicates the vision for the project
• Structures the team, establishes roles
• Identifies individual and team needs
• Agrees clear responsibilities and accountabilities
• Leads and manages meetings effectively
• Creates an open climate (support & challenge)
• Confronts & resolves issues
• Monitors progress & holds regular reviews
• Reviews individual & team performance
• Recognises and rewards effective contribution
• Coaches where appropriate
• Gives & seeks feedback
• Listens & responds
• Demonstrates effective influencing and negotiation skills
• Works across boundaries
• Communicates effectively to all involved
• Transfers the learning
• Champions and defends the team

2. Kick off During this phase the project team is formed. Led by the project manager the first task of the team is to agree the detailed scope of the project. Here is an example of a scope document. The scope is agreed and signed off by the sponsor.


• Justification for the LNA project - what is this based on and what would the perceived benefits be?
Who are the customers/stakeholders in the project?

• What do you want the LNA project to achieve in SMART terms?
• Which key issues will the project address/resolve?
• How does the LNA project fit in with your strategic aims?

• What are the boundaries/parameters of this project?
Where do the boundaries/parameters cross with other projects?

• What are you not looking at/including in this project?

• What are the different phases of delivery?

• What assumptions are you making about this project e.g. we have this project team as a resource for the length of the project

• What are the constraints of this project e.g. budgetary constraints

• Estimate timescales for each phase

• What are the deliverables/outputs for this project?

• How many people will be needed to implement the project and for how long?

• Who is the project manager and the project sponsor and their contact details. Who are the project team members and what are their contact details?

• Who has the authority to make decisions and sign off the project? E.g. Project sponsor

If you work in a large organization it is helpful to appoint a project team to undertake the LNA. During the Kick Off phase and throughout the delivery phase the LNA project team will be identifying and monitoring risk. Risk Management focuses attention on the chance of an event occurring that may threaten the successful delivery of a project and to identify actions (risk response) that could be taken to minimise the threat and impact of the risk. A risk can be defined as a potential problem that may have a negative impact on the progress, costs or benefits of a project if it were to happen. Action should normally be taken to minimise or reduce the impact or likelihood of the risk, the risk response strategy could be to avoid, minimise, mitigate, transfer or accept the risk. A risk left unattended may potentially become an issue. This is something that has happened and is causing a problem. Actions are required to avoid or decrease the impact of the problem. If action is not taken to resolve the issue this may result in changes to the scope of the project in terms of time, cost or resources. For each risk the potential Impact and Likelihood is evaluated.

The following assessment criteria were used by one organization in the financial services sector: Impact (of the risk materialising) Likelihood (of the risk materialising) 5 Critical, for example:

Immediate financial impact, recovery costs, loss of opportunity more than 20% of a project's budget/benefits impacted.

5 Probable, e.g. more than 1 in 10 chance, or imminent
4 Severe, for example: Direct financial impact, recovery costs, or loss of opportunity more than 20% of a project's budget/benefits impacted.
3 Possible, e.g. less than 1 in 10 chance, or could happen within 1 year 3 Significant, for example: Direct financial impact, recovery costs, or loss of opportunity between 10% and 20% of a project?s budget/benefits impacted. 2 Unlikely, e.g. less than 1 in 100 chance
2 Moderate, for example: Direct financial impact, recovery costs, or loss of opportunity between 5% and 10% of a project's budget/benefits impacted.
1 Remote, e.g. less than 1 in 1000 chance 1 Minor, for example: Direct financial impact, recovery costs, or loss of opportunity less than 5% of a project's budget/benefits impacted.

Having evaluated the Impact and Likelihood, these elements are then plotted on a risk map to determine their relative importance and to help focus subsequent analysis on really significant risks.

HH Business Critical Immediate action should be taken to reduce the risk.
H Major/Immediate Threats to the Programme/Project Immediate action should be taken to reduce the risk.
M Serious Threats to the Programme/Project Early action is required to reduce the risk.
L Moderate Threats to the Programme/Project Actions to deal with risks should be planned.
LL Low Level Threats to the Programme/Project The least significant risks, with little impact.

Risks should be periodically monitored to confirm their status. During the Kick Off phase also the project team needs to define activities and work streams.

Using a RACI template is helpful in establishing for each activity who is:

Responsible = 'Doer' R Individuals who perform an activity : responsible for action/implementation.

The accountable person defines the degree of responsibility.

Rs can be shared. Accountable = 'Buck stops here' A The individual who is ultimately accountable  includes yes/no and power of veto. Only one A can be assigned to an activity / decision.

To be Consulted = 'In the loop' C The individuals who need to be consulted prior to a decision or action being taken. Two-way communication is vital in all forms of consultation.

To be Informed = 'For your information' I The individuals who need to be informed after a decision or action are taken. One way communication is sufficient for this.

A RACI chart can be used in conjunction with another useful planning tool: a Gantt Chart. This is a diagram which is used for illustrating the sequence of events involved in achieving a project plan against a timeline. It is made by representing events as blocks on a picture whose horizontal axis is divided into units of time. It enables project managers and team members to assess the tasks which need to be done, the sequence of those tasks and progress to date.

To create a Gantt chart:

1. Decide on the tasks involved in the project being undertaken.
2. By experience or discussion, decide on the likely duration of each task.
3. Work out the sequence of activities.
4. Establish the overall project deadline.
5. Draw the Gantt chart. (There are versions of this available on software such as Microsoft Project)
6. Monitor progress against the planned activity. Delivery During the delivery phase of the project the project team needs to control risks and issues, make any changes to the project plan that occur as well as monitoring delivery against the plan. Review Remember to recognise and celebrate success as well as capturing the learning for future projects.


Check the timeliness of your LNAs:                                        Yes/ No

I consider the business's strategic planning cycle when undertaking an organizational LNA I take into account the opinions of my key stakeholders
I have developed a strategy to best influence key stakeholders who hold negative towards the LNA
There is a clear sponsor at a senior level for the LNA
There is a project manager and a project team for the organizational LNA
I have developed a project plan for the LNA I have identified the risks and taken steps to overcome them
I regularly review the progress of the LNA against plan and take steps to ensure this is on track
Conclusions By consulting key stakeholders about the best timing of a learning needs analysis as well as using project management techniques, it is possible to develop and effect a LNA that is of timely benefit to the organization

Key Learning Points

• An organizational LNA needs to be undertaken at a time to best fit in with the strategic planning cycle of the business
• In order to ensure the effective implementation of the LNA, the needs of key stakeholders, their views and opinions need to be taken into account.
• LNAs can be run to time when project management techniques are deployed to scope and manage the project.

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