People are at the heart of any organization. They set the organization’s goals, they manage it, they deal with suppliers and customers and they work together to produce results.
We manage this by processes. Process are on a continuum by how complicated and complex they are. Simpler jobs can be reliably done by following procedure. More complex ones require the ability to analyze a situation – using established rules – and decide which of several alternative paths to follow. In even more complex cases they analyze, diagnose, design, redesign, program, plan or schedule. In some cases, they create new products, processes and new ways of being. Very complex jobs require individuals who can analyze and solve very complex problems.
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.