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Tips for Task Analysis

The success or failure of training largely depends upon the completeness and accuracy of the task analysis on which the training is based. For purpose of training, a task analysis is starts with a definition of the job, the duties associated with that job, and details of the tasks comprising those duties.
Working definitions as viewed in these tips:

A jobconsists of duties (areas of responsibilities) and tasks that are defined and specific.  Tasks can be accomplished, quantified, measured, and rated.

A duty is a distinct, major activity (group of related tasks) involved in performing the job. Typically, five or more duties comprise most jobs. Duties can generally be broken down into 15-20 task statements
A task:

- Is a trainable chunk of work for which an employer is willing to pay
- Has identifiable beginning and end
- Involves several elements (Steps or Sub-Tasks)
- Results in an identifiable product, service, or decision
- Can be performed over a short period of time
- Can be performed independent of other work
- Can be observed and measured

Tip 1: Identify Stakeholders up front.
Tip 2: Consider conducting an SME workshop to gather Task Analysis information.
Tip 3: Define all duties before working on the tasks comprising those duties.
Tip 4: Define the standards of performance of all tasks.
Tip 5: Define any unique conditions.
Tip 6: Determine frequency, difficulty, plus probability and consequence of failure.
Tip 7: For each task identify any unique safety exposures.
Tip 8: Keep the task analysis as simple and succinct as possible.
Tip 9: Consider not making procedural steps, associated with tasks, part of the task
Tip 10: Be rigid in accepting or rejecting task statements
Tip 11: Try to assemble all stakeholders in a workshop setting for review and approval.

Tip 1: Identify Stakeholders up front.
Before launching into a task analysis as an integral part of training design, it is advisable to identify all stake holders, the folks with review and approval rights, before launching into the task analysis process. I would suggest that not only should you know who they are, they should know who you are and what you are doing with respect to the training requirements for the job you’re working on.

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Tip 2: Consider conducting an SME workshop to gather Task Analysis information.
Consider a one to two day workshop with 3 to 6 subject matter experts, plus a supervisor to glean the information comprising a task analysis for training. Such a method is widely used in a process called the DACUM process. DACUM is an acronym derived from “developing a curriculum.” I’ve used the DACUM process (or one of my variations of it) many times to perform a task analysis.  Just do a search on DACUM and you'll find more references and information than you thought possible.

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Tip 3: Define all duties before working on the tasks comprising those duties.
When conducting a task analysis for training, define all of the duty area before launching into defining the tasks comprising each duty. Thoroughly thinking through the duty areas first will eliminate the need for a lot of “do overs” and “back to the drawing boards.”

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Tip 4: Define the standards of performance of all tasks.
For each task define the observable, measurable criteria for successful and acceptable standards of performance. These standards will eventually influence the training objectives and even the nature of the training. One way, and the way I recommend to articulate a standard of performance is to word it so that it is the completion of the sentence that starts, “I will know that this task has been completed satisfactorily when I can observe that…” Be sure that all standards of performance are written in objective, measurable terms. Words and phrases like satisfactorily, in a timely manner, to the satisfaction of the supervisor are all subjective in nature and will be judged differently by different people. Don’t let these words or phrases creep into your task analyses.

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Tip 5: Define any unique conditions..
 For each task, define any unique conditions that exist when the task is performed. This information will later be used in the training process when creating objectives and evaluations for those objectives to keep training and job performance expectations congruent.

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Tip 6: Determine frequency, difficulty, plus probability and consequence of failure.
Record for each task how frequently it is performed, how difficult it is to learn, the probably of performance failure in the absence of quality training, and the consequence of failure to perform directly. This information helps to answer questions like:Do we really need to provide training for this task?Will creation of job aids enhance performance of this task?Do we need to plan for periodic refresher training?For instance, the hiring practice for this job could demand that job applicants for this particular job are required to be able to do a particular task in order to become hired. For situations like this, the probability of failue without additional training would be really low and could be justification for declaring this task “NTR” (No Training Required). If it looks like that the details of a task are difficult to learn (and possibly easy to forget) it could mean that design and creation of job aids will more than pay for themselves. For tasks with an extremely costly consequence of performance failure – especially if the task is not done on a regular basis, scheduled refresher training could be a wise move. One example that comes to mind is cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). BTW, the Task Analysis Toolkit has a built-in, customer modifiable algorithm that recommends training required, job aids, and refresher training based on the four elements of this tip.

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Tip 7: For each task identify any unique safety exposures.
For many jobs the work environment requires wearing safety glasses or other personal protective equipment all the time the worker is on the job. In these cases, be sure that this is noted either in job notes or duty notes but do not repeat the safety glass requirements for each task. If however a task uses a specific procedure or piece of equipment that presents safety exposures for that particular task then including that (those) safety issue(s) in the standards of performance is advised.

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Tip 8: Keep the task analysis as simple and succinct as possible.
In most cases, it is better to keep a task analysis as simple as possible by eliminating the need to articulate sub-tasks, sub-sub-tasks, sub-sub-sub-tasks, etc. by making what could be written as a subtask a criteria for successful task completion. The more words in a task analysis document and the more complex it is, the less likely it is that it will get the scrutinizing review by the stakeholders that it deserves. The end result? Course and training weak points that don’t show up until the training is launched.

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Tip 9: Consider not making procedural steps, associated with tasks, part of the task analysis and training documentation.
Generally speaking it is better to have Production accountable for creation and maintenance of procedural steps and Training to have responsibility to appropriately reference those procedures. As a general rule, training organizations cannot react to production changes as quickly as the needs of production organizations can and do. If training related activities refer to procedural documentation, instead of creating and publishing that documentation, the company can change directions very quickly as the needs arise. In the economic world of today it can mean the difference between profits and bankruptcy.

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Tip 10: Be rigid in accepting or rejecting task statements
Make sure that task statements meet all of the following criteria:Reflects a meaningful unit of work that has
• Definite beginning and end points
• Can be performed over a relative short period of time
• Is performed independently of other work
• Consists of two or more steps
• Can be observed and or measured
• Results in a product, service or decision.
• Contains an action verb and an object that receives that action
• May contain relevant qualifiers but avoids use of words like effectively and efficiently
• Are explicit, precise and stand aloneAvoids reverence to knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes
• Avoids references to tools or equipment that merely support performance

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Tip 11: Try to assemble all stakeholders in a workshop setting for review and approval.
It happens all of the time. You get a report such as a task analysis report done and send it out for review. And then you wait – and wait – and wait - and finally (and sometimes only after pleading phone calls) the marked-up reports come back. But there’s a conflict. Person A requests a change but so does Person B – but the changes requested are 180 degrees out of phase with each other. (That signals the beginning of what can turn out to be an extremely long day!)

One way to prevent this scenario is to get all of the stake holders together for the review immediately after the completion of the task analysis itself. If you decide to go this route, set the time and place for the review meeting before beginning the Task Analysis. If you are getting the information for the task analysis itself in an SME oriented workshop, it can work out well to start the review and approval process as the last phase of the workshop. In this case, you have not only the reviewers of the report you also have the people responsible for the content of the report. That way conflicts are resolved before the meeting ends. If you plan to do this, expect to heavily facilitate the meeting to keep everyone “on the same page” as the report is reviewed.

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© Pete Blair 2005 - 2018

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