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Determine the Business Needs in Instructional System Design

As discussed in the introduction to analysis, the analysis phase begins with identifying the real business need. To ensure you capture the business need, begin with the end in mind — a learning or performance initiative should be a means to an end. Thus, learning and performance initiatives should show how they will improve the business or organization, such as increase revenue, reduce costs, or speed up a process. For example, training salespeople in order to reduce the percentage that fail to make sales will both increase revenue through more sales and reduce turnover costs.

Mapping the pathway of a good training and development program would look something like this (Wick, Pollock, Jefferson, Flanagan, 2006):

Motivated employees → Successful training and development → More effective and efficient performance → Improved business outcomes

Since the flow of causality of the above pathway is from left to right, training must be planned in the opposite direction:

Desired business outcome → Required changes in performance to produce business outcome → Experiences and learnings needed to produce the desired performance → What will motivate the employees to learn and perform?

Thus, the starting point is to ensure you understand the real business need and the solution is actually a performance problem that can you can solve. One of the most common mistakes that instructional designers make is failing to link the learning solution (such as training, a performance aid, social learning media, or mLearning) with a business need.

In addition, the business unit or customer often does not understand how the performance solution links to their business needs.

Since the designers, managers, learners, and perhaps some subject matter experts and/or exemplary performers will be in on the initial anaylsis/planning stage, a high degree of collaboration needs to take place to accurately identify the problem and solution. Collaboration does not mean agreeing with everything others say as this leads to group-think or the Abilene Paradox. You want the team members to share information and ideas, ask questions, and use both valid pro and con arguments. To encourage lower status members to share their expertise, you need to acknowledge them at the onset of the meetimng — people who sense they have a high status in the group will more likely want to share their knowledge.

The chart below shows the average percent of time for creating a learning platform. As shown, most training activities spend very little of their time showing their customers (Business Linkage) how their efforts add value to their clients (Trolley, 2006).

Time spent in various traning activities

Since each customer is different, you have to ask them what their expectations are and how they would measure success. If they do not see the learning processes benefiting them, then they are going to start picturing your department as a consumer of the organization's resources rather than a resource that produces valuable assets.

Identify the Performance Problem

Customer or clients will often present all performance problems as training problems, thus the need to fully analyze the problem in order to determine its root cause. One tool that can be used is the Performance Analysis Quadrant as shown below, which helps to identify the root cause of a performance problem. When facing a performance problem, two questions are asked:

Next, a numerical rating between 1 and 10 is given for each answer (one is the lowest rating, while ten is the highest). This will place the employeess in one of the four performance quadrants:

Performance Analysis Quadrant

The quadrant that they land in informs you of the performance inititive required:

If the problem lies in Quadrant D, Training, then this guide on ISD (ADDIE) can be used. If not, then you need a different performance solution model.

Note: The performance quadrant are based on Jones' (1993) description of the four factors that affects job performance.

Is it a Training (Learning) Problem that Needs to be Solved?

Another tool, beside the performance chart discusses above, is the Training Problem flowchart shown below (click the button below it for a larger image). This tool further helps to determine if the problem should be solved (Laird, 1985, p63).

While it may not be worthwhile to solve the problem with training, it could be worth your time to solve it with another solution, such as a performance aid or informal learning solution.

performance problems

the Five Moments of Need model developed by Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson (2011)

1. When learning for the first time
2. When wanting to learn more
3. When trying to remember and/or apply
4. When things change
5. When something goes wrong

Mosher, M., Gottfredson, C. (2011). Innovative Performance Support: Strategies and Practices for Learning in the Workflow. New York: McGraw-Hill

Next Steps

Go to the next section: Performance Analysis

Analysis Templates (contains several analysis templates)

Return to the Instructional Design Table of Contents


Wick, C., Pollock, R., Jefferson, A., Flanagan, R. (2006). Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning: How to Turn Training and Development Into Business Results. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Laird D. (1985). Approaches to Training and Development. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley.

Trolley, E. (2006). Lies About Learning. Larry Israelite (ed). Baltimore, Maryland: ASTD.