Great Idea with No Needs Assessment = No Plan

Posted By mregan on Mar 9, 2020 | 3 comments

Approximately three years ago, the Canadian Military sought to alleviate specific air traffic control training issues inherent within the overall national system. The problem: all air traffic control visual flight rules (VFR or Tower Control) simulators were located in one building, within the entire country, for all tower control trainees, in Cornwall, Ontario. This situation was deemed to be not beneficial in many regards. For starters, once tower controller trainees left the simulator environment, they had to go and train in real-world towers at an entirely new and different airport, sometimes located across the entire country. With no benefit of simulators at their new location, trainees had to endure a ‘sink-or-swim’ training environment, to which many failed. With simulation environments at each tower location, trainees could learn directly from training staff at their designated airport. Furthermore, training simulator environments allow trainees to make errors without any real-world impact to the decisions they make. If you crash two planes together, you actually didn’t crash two planes together.

To solve this problem, the Military decided to install new simulators at all the relevant required airports under their training jurisdiction. A sensible idea, if you ask any reasonably minded person. However, the idea was put into action with no robust plan in place to facilitate such a large change. The change would occur at multiple locations nation-wide, and would affect tens to hundreds of people, and all of whom work at different airports which facilitate different aircraft; moreover, each airport conducts different types of operations, which means the training environment is different at each location. A large-scale change in training requirements, requires a well-thought through plan of change. Although the intentions and idea of such change was genuine – the lack of a robust plan, ended up with the project being cancelled midway through.

The main question to ask is simply, what went wrong? Simple answer: there was no robust plan put in place for the change to be successfully carried out. However, what is really meant in this situation when you say, ‘there was no robust plan’? It is important to note that any type of plan that implements significant change, or arguably any change, is a complex and multifaceted issue in itself, and as such, requires an approach that can accommodate such dexterous characteristics. According to my “model for change in digital learning environments,” any plan needs to identify needs within an initial evaluation stage (Regan, 2020, Figure 1.1; see also Al-Haddad and Kotnour, 2015). This is where I believe the main issue occurred. Leadership was basing a quick plan on the idea that individual airports were ready to implement such change on their own accord. This was not the case. The lack of identifying key needs to individual bases caused confusion and a lack of support, at times, from the training staff at several locations. I could continue onto more specifics as to other areas of improvement; however, I believe the main issue at hand was a lack of a sufficient ‘needs assessment’, thus leading to the inability for individual bases to support and ultimately implement the new simulator training facilities. New plans are to be implemented shortly nation-wide once again. It is my hope that a more robust plan, which is one that contains a cogent initial ‘needs assessment,’ will be rolled out successfully.



Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: A model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262. doi:10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215

Regan, M.J. (2020, February 24). Model for change in digital learning environments within air traffic control [Blog Post]. Retrieved from


  1. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for sharing this scenario – and honing in on what you identify was one of the main factors that was a barrier for full success – lack of a needs assessment. Hopefully lessons learned from the last roll-out can be implemented in this instance – with a more cohesive approach that includes stakeholders at all the different airports, and that is supportive of everyone involved!

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  2. Hi Mark, thanks for sharing this experience. It seems that there are many lessons learned from this initial experience that hopefully will be applied when new plans are ready to be implemented. I think it is also important to take into consideration the behaviour and perceptions of the people as part of the assessment. I wonder if the failed first attempt left a bad impression on people? According to Weiner (2009), one of the factors that can predict a successful change is the perception of each member in the organization about the organization’s capabilities and competencies to implement change. Would you think the organization is ready to embark on this complex initiative? I wonder how stakeholders feel about this plan?

    Weiner, B. (2009). A theory of organizational readiness for change. Implementation Science, 4(67). Retrieved from

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  3. Hi Mark,

    As I read through your post I was both astonished that such scenarios unfold within our military establishments. I suppose it would be little naive of me to think that the entities tasked with our protection have everything figured out and well planned. We are all fundamentally human and burdened with the shortcomings that come along with that.

    It seems timely to me that I read your post as I’m sure I’m not alone with my worry that this sudden rush to online delivery is being as well planned out as it should be. I suppose part of the issue is the limited time available to us for the pre implementation planning.

    Your observations regarding the lack of pre-planning and suitable attention given to each training context is my biggest worry right now. That we are not considering the individual context of each student and their capacity to cope with such a huge delivery model change. Do they have the support in place to help them navigate this new educational world they have been thrust into.

    In their paper Cracking the Code of Change, the authors Beer and Nohria note that roughly 70% of all change initiative fail. Further that these failures can be a result of managers getting buried by the sheer volume of the initiative and a loose focus on the desired result.

    I hope we as a group at the forefront of this massive change, don’t lose our focus and can continue to offer timely guidance and direction. It is vital that we properly guide these planes as they travel down their chosen career paths.

    Stay healthy,
    Owen Lloyd

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