What is Task Analysis?
A task analysis breaks down a complex task into its components – the steps involved and the knowledge required. To do a task analysis, you observe the work and interview a subject matter expert (SME) or key performer.
What do you want to identify in a task analysis?
- Why someone would learn the skill
- Prerequisite skills, knowledge and attitudes
- Special materials or tools required
- Warnings of dangers, both overall and at specific points in the process
- The critical steps (no more than five to seven, otherwise you should split it into another task) and their sequence
- Whether the sequence is critical or flexible
- Any other steps necessary to complete the task and their sequence
- How critical any given substep is
- Conditions that must be satisfied before going on to the next step
- Reasons for doing steps at a particular point
- Signs of success for each step (for confirmations)
- Signs of failure for each step
What is the process for doing a task analysis?
- Review any documentation, manuals or process maps
- Observe at least one expert and take notes as you observe
- Either slow down experts during the task to ask questions or interview afterward
- Identify each step
- Document what you saw and what the expert told you, then ask for the SME’s reaction, there will almost always be gaps identified
- Expect the process to be iterative
What should you ask the SME?
- What is the SME doing?
- Why is it important, or what is the rationale?
- Why is the SME doing it that way?
- Is there a warning necessary?
- How does the SME know what to do next (if there is a choice between two or more actions)?
- How can the SME tell if a step was done right?
- How can the SME tell if a step was done wrong or incompletely?
- How is the sequence critical?
- What does the SME do that isn’t documented?
While often viewed from the training perspective, task analysis is a core quality tool that is utilized in procedure writing, automation, user interface development, problem solving and so much more.
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