Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Comparing Analysis Models

A recent LinkedIn discussion got me thinking about the differences between Front-End Analysis, Needs Assessment, and Performance Analysis. It seems like those terms are thrown around interchangeably in our field, while some insist there are differences. I decided to do some investigation.

For my investigation I've read through various articles, my collection of books on Needs Assessment, my old ABCD workbooks, and various websites. I've come to the conclusion that all three models have three tools in common: Gap Analysis, Root Cause Analysis, and Intervention Selection. This is supported by ISPIs definition:

"Front-end Analysis (FEA), Needs Assessment, Performance Analysis - in most contexts, these mean the same thing. Their goal is to identify “performance gaps” which can be “closed” with “interventions.” To find these gaps, these analysis processes identify the current and the desired performance state, or what exists and what should exist, or actuals and optimals. The optimal set of conditions is best found by identifying Accomplished Performers (or the “Exemplar”) and observing their performance" (Unknown, ISPI).

There's also this:

"Gap analysis, needs analysis, and performance analysis are occasionally
used as synonyms for needs assessment, yet they are more frequently (and
more accurately) defined as needs assessment tools
" (Watkins, 2012, p. 16).

And this:

"Performance analysis (PA) is partnering with clients and customers to help them define and achieve their goals. PA involves reaching out for several perspectives on a problem or opportunity; determining any and all drivers toward or barriers to successful performance; and proposing a solution system based on what is learned, not on what is typically done" (Rossett, 2009, p. 20).

Allison Rossett speaks of Needs Assessments as "Training Needs Assessments" (TNA). She defines TNA as what is done AFTER a Performance Analysis to "design and develop instructional and informational programs and materials" (Rossett, 2009, p. 31).

And this:

Needs Assessment is "a diagnostic process that relies on data collection, collaboration, and negotiation to identify and understand gaps in learning and performance and to determine future actions" (Gupta, 2007, p. 310).

And this:

"Assessments are used to identify strategic priorities, define results to be accomplished, guide decisions related to appropriate actions to be taken, establish evaluation criteria for making judgments of success, and inform the continual improvement of activities within organizations" (Watkins, needsassessment.org).


I believe Ryan Watkins and Roger Kauffman would say that Needs Assessments are used to identify gaps and prioritize interventions.

I do not have a definition of Front-end Analysis from Joe Harless - and admittedly do not have his book on the subject. What I do have is his ABCD Method which he offers two types of Front-End Analysis: New Performance Planning (NPP) and Diagnostic. An NPP FEA is used to determine what is needed for optimal performance for any new intervention within the organization. A Diagnostic FEA is used when there is an organizational goal not being met. A Gap Analysis is completed using Accomplished Performers, which leads to a Root Cause Analysis and Intervention Selection.

All this being said, there are several tools used in Analysis as Performance Improvement professionals that have not been mentioned, but could certainly be used when determining interventions. In Ryan Watkins book "A Guide to Needs Assessment" (2012), he categorizes tools into two categories; Data Collection, and Decision Making.
Here's how I believe the following methods would handle an organizational problem:

Diagnostic FEA:
1. Clarify Organizational Goal not meeting standards
2. Conduct Extant Data research
3. Interview Accomplished Performer (Job Analysis)
4. Observe Accomplished Performer (Task Analysis)
5. Conduct Gap Analysis
6. Conduct Root Cause Analysis
7. Identify Interventions
(When you are done, if the intervention is Training, you already have a completed Job and Task Analysis!)

Performance Analysis
1. Clarify problem
2. Collect Organization and Environmental Information (interviews, observation, extant data)
3. Conduct Gap Analysis
4. Conduct Root Cause Analysis
5. Identify Interventions

Needs Assessment
1. Clarify problem
2. Collect information on the problem
3. Conduct Gap Analysis
4. Conduct Root Cause Analysis
5. Identify Interventions
6. Prioritize Interventions

(Very flexible in the use of tools, processes, and procedures)

Enterprise Process Performance Improvement
1. Clarify the problem
2. Create Performance Model (Job/Task Analysis, Gap Analysis, Root Cause Analysis) through a focus group (Accomplished Performers + stakeholders)
3. Determine if the Process is the problem
4. If not, or if necessary Conduct Human and Environmental Asset Assessment
5. Identify Interventions

(This process is quick because most of the analysis happens in one sitting. The use of Focus Groups is key. Like a Diagnostic FEA, if training is the intervention, you already have a Job and Task Analysis - plus you have a Knowledge and Skills Analysis)

Final Thoughts

When can we say an industry is mature, and how does having an agreed upon set of terminology play into that? It seems like we have an agreed upon set of tools, but we can't agree on what to call it, I recall my early exposure to these processes being confusing for that reason. If we did an analysis on an organization and found they had four or more names for the same process, what would we say to them about the effect that has on employee performance? Until we can agree as a Performance Improvement industry, the models we choose will come down to personal preference. In my experience, a Diagnostic FEA, and EPPI are better approaches if you are working within a training function because they both produce analysis you will need for training development. If you are working in the field of Performance Improvement (in the broad sense), Performance Analysis and Needs Assessment leave open the possibility of using multiple tools and processes depending on the situation (not that you couldn't use multiple tools with FEA or EPPI).

I would be interested to hear any additional thoughts and opinions on the subject.


Gupta, Kavita. (2007). A practical guide to needs assessment (2nd Ed). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Rossett, Allison. (2009). First things fast: A handbook for performance analysis (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Unknown. (Unknown). Human performance technology (HPT) primer. Retrieved from http://www.afc-ispi.org/Repository/hptprimer.html.

Watkins, Ryan. (2012). A guide to assessing needs: essential tools for collecting information, making decisions, and achieving developmental results. Washington DC: The World Bank.

Watkins, Ryan. (2012). Your complete resource site on needs and needs assessments. Retrieved from http://www.needsasessment.org.

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