Several years ago an associate told me about a training department he inherited from a merger that operated in a way he described as, "Build it and they will come." This group had spared no expense in creating the most lavish and well-produced products he had ever seen. Printed materials were full color on the highest quality print stock. The group had produced custom videos and even created their own specialized branding with internal advertising.

"Sowhat was the problem?" I asked.

"No one came," he said.

Although the training products were beautiful to look at, they all lacked something. Either they were missing important content, the delivery method or schedule didn't meet the customers' needs, or the products were things no one really wanted or needed.

So I asked about the group's process for conducting analysis. My colleague laughed and said, "You'd think a group of training professionals working in a sales-based company would have known better. They should have known to analyze their customers' needs, but they didn't."

Apparently, the group believed if they produced high-quality products, those products would sell themselves - in other words, if they built it, the customers would come. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

I'm sure we've all been guilty of this type of thinking at one time or another. Maybe sitting in a meeting, you hear of a department's performance problem and feel certain you can help. You know the people and the content, and have all the development tools at your disposal. You've seen substandard products and know you can do better. You might even have something you used before that you can edit and roll out immediately. Design and development are fun, so you jump right in and can't wait for the opportunity to show your customers what you can do to help them.

Jumping straight to design is a temptation we all have to avoid, however. We should never forget the first letter of the ADDIE model - A for "analyze." A lot of work needs to take place before the D of design or development. Failure to analyze is a failure to plan that can result in unfavorable evaluation results and a dissatisfied customer.

Of course, sometimes a customer is convinced that training is the answer when we are certain it isn't. Has something like this ever happened to you?

The director of sales calls and tells you he wants you to retrain the entire customer service staff. When you ask the manager why customer service workers need training, he explains that he received an unpleasant phone call from a key client and doesn't want something like that to happen again. It is common knowledge throughout the organization that a communication problem exists between the seasoned customer service staff and the less experienced sales staff. You know training won't fix the problem, but how do you communicate this to a high-level manager?

Begin by gathering information

Your best solution is to collect data that will adequately quantify the problem. Remember Bob Pike's Law 2 - People Don't Argue with Their Own Data - and think about the best way to get data that the sales director will appreciate. Find out if any existing reports or other information could help support your case. Think about the culture of your organization and the root cause analysis tools people are accustomed to using, such as customer satisfaction surveys or claims reports about the quality of service. Existing data probably won't be enough so you would have to collect more.

When I experienced a situation like this, I partnered with someone in the quality department to help me. The department director who came to us felt certain that his group's problems stemmed from one of the new computer programs or the phone system, or that his staff had trouble with multitasking.

We asked if we could work with him to create a survey and explained that, to focus on the right training solution, we first needed to clearly identify what actually was causing his group's problems. He agreed and gave us a list of everything customer service representatives needed to know and do, as well as the potential problems they faced with their jobs. We asked if we could add a question about communicating with other departments and plants within the company and if we could include the sales group to get their perspective, as well. He agreed to both requests.

We created a survey asking participants to rank the difficulty of each aspect of their jobs, and as expected, once the manager reviewed the data he understood why we took this "extra" step instead of diving headlong into a training session that might not solve the problem. He was also grateful that we helped him correct the underlying issues with a targeted solution without spending unnecessary time and money.

Choose the right analysis tool

We have at our disposal any number of analysis tools. We can use "The Five Whys" - a simple tool based on the fact that you usually have to ask "why" up to five times before you get to the true root cause. All you have to do is ask "why" until there are no more answers and you're there.

You can also use the Fishbone Diagram (also known as a Cause-and-Effect Diagram.) This is a structured brainstorming tool that helps you sort the different types of root causes into categories of people, environment, machines, materials, methods, and processes. In the example above, this tool helped us determine all of the components we wanted to include in our survey. The tool also includes cause mapping if you suspect your problem has multiple root causes.

My favorite tool, however, is the Mager and Pipe Performance Analysis Flow Diagram. This tool follows a methodical process to ask questions of your customer so you can identify the audience and drill down into similar categories as in the Fish Bone Diagram. In addition, this line of questioning also helps you differentiate between training and non-training root causes. When working to identify the root causes of human performance problems, this tool is my key to unlocking the right information and providing a logical series of questions that makes sense to my internal customers.

Dig deeper than root cause

Analysis doesn't stop once you identify the root cause. We also have to determine the gap or the difference between desired performance and current performance. Often our customers know they don't have the performance they want but have difficulty in identifying what it should look like. Job descriptions can give you some clues as to tasks. Investigate applicable policies, procedures, and work instructions. Also look at what individual performance goals or expectations have been established for each position. Has a competency model ever been established? Does the department have goals? Do these goals translate down to individual deliverables?

When I am new to an organization or situation I also like to investigate the training history, so one of the first things I do is look through a group's training records. Do they have established training requirements? What training have they had before? What evaluation data is available?

When I am wearing my analyst hat, I always want to know what happened and why, in part so I do not build a repeat of a past training disaster. It's important to know what worked well - and didn't - in past training experiences. Talk to people in the group. What hours do they work? When do they prefer to attend training? What types of training have they liked or disliked in the past and why? What was their favorite training event and why? Has past training been applied back on the job, and if not, why? What impression do group leaders have about the value of past training?

Sound project planning depends on having as much information as much as possible up front. You need to know everything you can to determine if there are quick fixes and to decide upon the best long-term actions. You might even determine the best course of action has nothing at all to do with training. But when you build your training solutions upon a solid foundation of analysis, your audience will surely come.