Task Analysis

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?

  1. Review any documentation, manuals or process maps
  2. Observe at least one expert and take notes as you observe
  3. Either slow down experts during the task to ask questions or interview afterward
  4. Identify each step
  5. Document what you saw and what the expert told you, then ask for the SME’s reaction, there will almost always be gaps identified
  6. 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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