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.

Identify and engage stakeholders

Every change (and lets be frank, most everything involves change) requires understanding the individuals and groups that will participate or are affected – directly or indirectly.

Stakeholder analysis involves identifying the stakeholders and analyzing their various characteristics. These characteristics can include:

  • Level of authority within the organization and the domain of change
  • Attitudes toward or interest in the change
  • Attitudes towards the process
  • Level of decision-making authority

The goal of stakeholder analysis is to choose the best collaboration and communication approaches and to appropriately plan for stakeholder risks.

There are a variety of mechanisms for doing this and then mapping it out.

Start by brainstorming a list of the stakeholders by answering these questions:

  • Who will be impacted?
  • Who will be responsible or accountable
  • Who will have decision authority
  • Who can support
  • Who can obstruct
  • Who has been involved in something similar in the past?

Map these on a stakeholder matrix based on relative power and interest. This should be an iterative process.

Stakeholder Matrix
  • High influence/High Impact: these are key players and effort should be focused here to engage this group regularly
  • High influence/Low impact: these stakeholders have needs that should be met so engage and consult with them while also attempting to increase their level of interest.
  • Low influence/High impact: these stakeholders are supporters and potential goodwill ambassadors. Engage the group for their input and show interests in their needs.
  • Low influence/Low impact: the stakeholders can be kept informed using general communications. Additional targeted engagement may move them into the goodwill ambassador quadrant.

Another way to look at stakeholders is though an onion diagram.

A RACI is another popular way to look at stakeholders.

Once stakeholders are identified is is important to define how communication and engagement will achieved. There is usually no one sized fits all approach and it is important to meet the needs of each stakeholder group to ensure their interest and involvement is maintained. Some considerations include:

  • timing and frequency
  • location
  • tools
  • delivery methods (in-person or virtual)
  • preferences of the stakeholders
  • geographic considerations or impact

Document this in a communication plan, including:

  • what needs to be communicated
  • what is the appropriate delivery method
  • who the appropriate audience is
  • when communication should occur
  • frequency of communication
  • level of detail appropriate for the communication and stakeholder
  • level of formality of communication

SIPOC diagrams

I am a huge fan of a SIPOC which stands for suppliers-inputs-process-outputs-customers. A SIPOC diagram is a quick broad overview of all the elements of a process and serves as a great visual scope.

Blank SIPOC

Start with the process

Provide the key steps of the process in the middle column and briefly describe its key steps.  A SIPOC diagram is a high-level process map and is designed to get a birds-eye overview of the process. Do not include decision points or feedback loops.

Identify the outputs of the process

Focus on the key outputs of the process. In this step, write down the three or more main outputs. Use nouns for the most part and avoid categorizing your outputs into good or bad ones – that’s not the point of the diagram.

Identify the customers

List the people who benefit from the process. These don’t have to be the literal “customers.” E.g., if you are working on a diagram for an internal process, the “customers” are your coworkers. Think of who benefits from this process. Who would be upset if the process is not complete?

List the inputs for the process

List the inputs required for the process to function properly. Just like with every previous step, focus on the most important ones. Three to six main inputs should do.

Identify the suppliers of the inputs

List the suppliers based on what inputs the process uses. Be sure to mention any specific suppliers whose input has a direct influence on the output.

The template I use is here.

Examples of SIPOCs:

Personal Audits as part of team building for Projects

The personal audit is a tool used in change and project management (and such) to help team members and sponsors judge their strengths and weaknesses with respect to change leadership. It illustrates some skills from the full range necessary to introduce change into an organization.

This exercise is great to do at the beginning of the project, where it can help team members begin to understand some of the human issues applicable to all projects. As one mentor once told me – If this exercise strikes team members as inapplicable, then they really need to do it.

Domain What I do Well What I Need to Work On
Manage Attention: To what extent do I manage my time, energy, passion, focus and agenda?    
Adopt change roles? How much attention do I pay to smatters like: Creating a need, Shaping a vision, Mobilizing commitment,  Monitoring progress, Finishing the job,  Anchoring the change)    
Technical competence: To what extent to I demonstrate competence in technical abilities?    
Interpersonal competence: how skilled am I at interacting with others?    
Vision: How well can I articulate the desired outcome of the project and the benefits to others?    
Teamwork: How often do I recognize good work done by teammates?    
Diplomacy: How closely am I working with all the groups affected by this project?    
Conflict management: Can I deal with disagreement without avoiding it or blowing up?    
Summary: Overall strengths and weaknesses    

Layering metrics

We have these quality systems with lots of levers, with interrelated components. And yet we select one or two metrics and realize that even if we meet them, we aren’t really measuring the right stuff nor are we driving continious improvement.

One solution is to create layered metrics, which basically means drill down your process and identify the metrics at each step.

Lots of ways to do this. An easy way to start is to use the 5-why process, a tool most folks are comfortable with.

So for example, CAPA. It is pretty much agreed upon that CAPAs should be completed in a timely manner. That makes this a top level goal. Unfortunately, in this hypothetical example, we are suffering a less than 100% closure goal (or whatever level is appropriate in your organization based on maturity)

Why 1Why was CAPA closure not 100%
Because CAPA tasks were not closed on time.

Success factor needed for this step: CAPA tasks to be closed by due date.

Metric for this step: CAPA closure task success rate
Why 2Why were CAPA tasks not closed on time?
Because individuals did not have appropriate time to complete CAPA tasks.

Metric for this step: Planned versus Actual time commitment
Why 3Why did individuals not have appropriate time to complete CAPA tasks?
Because CAPA task due dates are guessed at.

Metric for this step: CAPA task adherence to target dates based on activity (e.g. it takes 14 days to revise a document and another 14 days to train, the average document revision task should be 28 days)
Why 4Why are CAPA task due dates guessed at?
Because appropriate project planning is not completed.

Metric for this step: Adherence to Process Confirmation
Why 5Why is appropriate project planning not completed?
Because CAPAs are always determined on the last day the deviation is due.

Metric: Adherence to Root Cause Analysis process

I might on report on the top CAPA closure rate and 1 or 2 of these, and keep the others in my process owner toolkit. Maybe we jump right to the last one as what we report on. Depends on what needs to be influenced in my organization and it will change over time.

It helps to compare this output against the 12 system leverage points.

Donella Meadows 12 System Leverage Points

These metrics go from 3 “goals of the system” with completing CAPA tasks effectively and on time, to 4 “self organize” and 5 “rules of the system.” It also has nice feedback loops based on the process confirmations. I’d view them as potentially pretty successful. Of course, we would test these and tinker and basically experiment until we find the right set of metrics that improves our top-level goal.