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Mind Mapping

 

Tasks

Jobs can best be understood as a series of tasks. A task is an action designed to contribute a specified end result to the accomplishment of an objective. It has an identifiable beginning and end that is a measurable component of the duties and responsibilities of a specific job.

Although each job has a title, the actually work that is expected of that job can vary widely. Tasks are the means of describing a job in detail. For example, a doctor is a job title. But the tasks performed by each doctor vary - from operating to performing physicals to providing emergency first aid. The following are characteristics of tasks:

Most problems that deal with doing the job right (performance), are related to the ability to define the tasks that concern each job:

Lacking an understanding of the work to be done leads to issues with performance, supervision, selection, pay, training, and goal achievement. This in turn leads to poor morale. And if the morale in your organization is not at its peak, then you will not be able to remain competitive.

Task Analysis

A task analysis defines a job in terms of KSA necessary to perform daily tasks. It is a structured framework that dissects a job and arrives at a reliable method of describing it across time and people by composing a detailed listing of all the tasks. The first product of a task analysis is a task statement for each task on the list.

When writing the task statement, start each task with a verb, indicate how it is performed, and state the objective . For example: “Loads pallets using a forklift.” One way of getting a comprehensive list is to have the employees prepare their own list, starting with the most important tasks. Then, compare these lists with yours. Finally, discuss any differences with the employees, and make changes where appropriate. This helps to ensure that you have accounted for all tasks and that they are accurate. It also gets them involved in the analysis activity.

Task or needs analysis should be performed whenever there are new processes or equipment, when job performance is below standards, or when requests for changes to current training or for new training are received. An analysis helps ensure that training is the appropriate solution, rather than another performance solution.

Once the task statement has been defined, the task analysis will then go into further detail by describing the:

This in turn provides you with the information for identifying the KSA required for successful task performance. The analysis might also go into further detail by describing the task steps required to perform the task.

There are a wide variety of methods for performing a task analysis, such as observations, interviews, and questionnaires. These methods are discussed in more detail in Chapter 2, Analysis and Analysis methods.

Task Statements

As mentioned earlier, a task statement is composed of an action and a result (product). For example, a couple of task statements for a fire person might be:

  • Determines manual ladder type and size needed at incident scene. (“Determine” is the action while “identifying the correct ladder” is the result or product.)
  • Carries manual ladder from apparatus to incident scene. (“Carries” is the action and the “ladder being placed at the scene” is the result of that action.)

Action can be mental such as “determining” or physical such as “carrying.” Some other mental examples would be analyze, calculate, predict, and design. Physical examples might include, paint, dig, move, and pack. Actions can also deal with people such as counsel, mentor, teach, and explain. An example of a fire person doing a people task would be “Calms distressed individuals at emergency scene.”

”Calms” would be the action being performed, while “producing a less stressed person” would be the result or product of that action. It often helps to sort the task actions into People, Data, and Things for clarity. This helps to identify the main characteristics of the job.

Good task statements are not easy to write. They require some in-depth analysis of the job by observing and interviewing Subject Matter Experts (SME). When observing, you should have them slow down so that you can identify what they are performing. One way to do this is to have them speak out loud as they perform the task, explaining what they are doing and why as they perform the task. This is a must when documenting mental actions as you have no idea what the SME is thinking.

Also, unlike learning objectives, tasks can have more than one action word. For example, “Troubleshoot and repair a carburetor” might be an acceptable task statement where as the two action words would make it unacceptable for a learning objective.

Task Steps

Task steps (also known as performance steps) are the step-by-step instructions for performing the process. They describe each step in sequence. You should ask, “ What does the SME do first, second, third, and so on?” Take nothing for granted as experts may do some things so quickly that they are almost invisible. Often, they will not even be aware of the fact that they are performing something because they have done it so many times it just seems second nature to them.

Many task analysis do NOT require the recording of the task steps. Often, just the tasks will be recorded and the required KSA identified. Then, if any of the tasks requires training, rather it be formal, on-the-job, job aids, etc., then a second analysis will be performed to list the task steps. Although identifying and listing the steps can be a big help in defining a job, the cost of performing such a detailed analysis has to be weighed with other factors. Many processes, departments, and organizations are changing rapidly to stay competitive. If the task steps are not going to be used right away, you will need to determine if they will be valid at a later date.

However, the task steps for a learning program are almost always included, as the correct performance procedure needs to be documented. An example of a task for a Buyer with its steps might look like:
Orders manufacturing parts when the system flags a part as being low in stock.

  1. Look up usage for the item for the previous 12 month period.
  2. Find the average monthly use (total the 12 months of usage and divide by 12).
  3. Add the planned growth rate for the product line.
  4. Check parts catalogs or call the source for best buy rates.
  5. Check with planned usage tables or the business unit to ensure that the part will not go out of specifications for the best calculated buy period.
  6. Place purchase order.

There are four main methods for determining the steps in a task analysis:

Hierarchical Task Analysis

Most task analyses follow this method. Steps are arranged in the order they are performed. For example, a production worker might have the following task steps:
Package goods as they come off the production line.

  1. Place good in shrink-wrap.
  2. Run good through heat-shrink.
  3. Place good in package.
  4. Glue ends of package together.
  5. Place label on front of package.
  6. Place on finished line.

It is not always easy to identify what a task step is as experts often group several steps into a larger one. For example, they might list “open the daily receiving spreadsheet file,” instead of 1) start computer, 2) open spreadsheet program, 3) etc. If you are going to use the task steps for training purposes, then you are going to have to identify your target population. This will tell you how detailed the steps need to be. For example, if your target population is computer literate, then the expert's combined step might be appropriate, otherwise, you might have to break it into several smaller steps. There is no one right way to list steps as each circumstance will differ. This is why the first part of an analysis is crucial - to determine what type of information is needed and who your target population is.

If possible, steps should include the signs of success. This is how experts know when they've done something right. Carpenters look for edges to be aligned while plumbers ensure there are no leaks. When you know this kind of event, you can assure the learners that they are doing things correctly.

If/Then Analysis

Often, the task performer's action depends upon a condition being satisfied. For example, think of using the delete function on a word processing program:

  • IF text is a word THEN:
    1. move cursor to middle of word
    2. double-click mouse button
  • IF text is a section of words or letters THEN:
    1. move cursor to beginning of text
    2. press mouse button down
    3. move cursor to end of text
    4. release mouse button
  • Press [Ctrl-C] or click on the cut icon.

An example for a supervisor's coaching task steps with certain conditions being met might look like this:
Coach employees to gain greater competence and to improve job performance.

Model Based Analysis

This method is often used for professional tasks as the steps for performing certain tasks can be extremely vague to define. Although performance is based on methodologies, there might not be any clear and cut guidelines for performing the task. For example, in going back to the task that has the supervisor coaching an employee, we might have this task and steps: Uses one or more accelerated learning techniques to promote learning. Acceptable techniques include, but are not limited to:

  • use examples of others
  • have them form a picture in their minds of what they are trying to learn
  • help them gain and understand necessary information
  • apply the task to their job
  • present information using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic methods
  • practice the task

This method relies upon the task performer to determine what task steps are needed and then sequence those steps in order to accomplish the task in an efficient and effective manner.

Cognitive Task Analysis

Due to the rapid changes that are the major workings of many of today's organizations, a number of organizations are changing from task-based work to process-based. That is, they are becoming more knowledge-based. These jobs are no longer defined by a number of tasks, but by focusing on troubleshooting activities. In these cases, a cognitive task analysis may be more appropriate for identifying strategies involved in effective performance.

A Cognitive Task Analysis is directed at the psychological processes underlying the performance and the subtle cues that may depend on context and experience. The main goal of a cognitive task analysis is to define the actual decision requirements of the task by:

  • Mapping out the task using task analysis (traditional task analysis).
  • Identifying the critical decision points.
  • Clustering and linking the decision points.
  • Prioritizing the decision points.
  • Diagnosing and characterizing the decisions as to the strategies used, cues signaling the decision points, and the inferences made regarding cues and decision points.

There is a key differences between a task analysis and cognitive task analysis. Task analysis focuses mainly on observable behavior and does not offer information on overall organization of knowledge. While a cognitive task analysis is directed at the psychological processes underlying the behavior. Cognitive task analysis concentrates on the critical decisions and cognitive processes that separate the expert from the novice.

An example for an instructional designer might be (this example does not go into great detail due to space limitations):
Uses one or more accelerated learning techniques to promote learning.

  1. Map out the task using task analysis (traditional task analysis):
    • use examples of others
    • have them form a picture in their minds of what they are trying to learn
    • help them gain and understand necessary information
    • apply the task to their job
    • present information using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic methods
    • practice the task
  2. Identify the critical decision points (what do experts ask themselves when deciding on what learning technique to use):
    • What is the experience level of the learners?
    • What methods are available to present the information in visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (VAK) styles?
  3. Cluster and link the decision points (Note: only the first decision point, “What is the experience level of the learners?” is shown):
    • Ask learners for their experience level to gain a background.
    • Ask questions that provide clues.
    • Observe how they react to new and difficult information.
  4. Prioritize the decision points:
    • Main decision point is asking for their experience level. Asking questions is then used to ensure that the trainer and the learner both understand each other and know where each other is coming from.
  5. Diagnose and characterize the decisions as to the strategies used, cues signaling the decision points, and the inferences made regarding cues and decision points.
    • Asking the learners for their experience level builds a level of trust and rapport between them and the trainer. But, to prevent any form of misunderstanding, questioning techniques are used to verify their answers. With experience learners, the trainer can get right to the point. While less experienced learners need the material presented in a variety of formats.

Also see, Task Analysis Tools: Various Approaches for Analyzing Tasks and Needs and Cognitive Task Analysis.

Duties

Duties are a combination of related or like tasks. For example, an inventory control specialist might have two duties:

  1. Perform shipping duties:
    • Pull items using a letdown. (task)
    • Prepare items for shipment. (task)
  2. Perform receiving duties:
    • Unload trailers using a forklift. (task)
    • Receive the items into the computer database. (task)

As mentioned earlier, tasks should have a definite beginning and end and explain a process. This is the main clue for separating tasks from duties. For example, is the following a task or duty for a Fire person?

Stands watch to receive incoming alarms and information, answers phones, and monitors access to the station house.

This would be a duty as it would be extremely hard for someone to identify the process and note when it has started and when it has stopped. Clues that give this off as a duty are the multiple action verbs: stands, receive answer, and monitor. Also, if this was a task, then you would have to see all the actions performed when observing the task, e.g. when an alarm is received then the phone would have to be answered. Remember, a task stands alone as it has a definite start and an end.

The tasks performed while carrying out this duty might include:

Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes (KSA)

Knowing the tasks that have to be performed helps you to identify the KSA that the jobholder must possess in order to perform to standards. In some cases you will train some of the required KSA. But even then, you must determine the required entry behaviors (KSA required to be able to learn the new tasks). Some prerequisite skills may be difficult to recognize because they are too obscure, others may be too obvious. For example, forklift operators need hand and eye coordination before they can be trained. A shipping and receiving specialist might need keyboarding skills, while a planner needs good math and organization skills. On the other end of the scale, you would expect an accountant to have math skills, receptionists to know that a ringing phone needs to be answered and that someone might not be on the other end of the when they pick up the phone.

To help you extract the KSA from a task, you should be familiar with Bloom's Taxonomy or Learning Domains. The three learning domains used in Bloom's Taxonomy - cognitive, psychomotor, and affective; correspond to knowledge, skills, and attitude respectively.

For example, the task “Create web pages” has the action word “create. The chart showing the three learning domains has the word create as one of the key words in the cognitive domain under the category of synthesis. This is the next to highest category, so it tells you that it is high on the scale of knowledge skills. Some of the KSA required are “Builds a structure or pattern from diverse elements. Put parts together to form a whole, with emphasis on creating a new meaning or structure.“ Using this information, and with the input of SMEs, you might come up with something like:
“Create pages for the e-commerce web site.”

Team Task Analysis

A team task analysis includes teamwork and individual task-work. Teamwork consists of individuals interacting or coordinating tasks that are important to the team's goals, while task-work consists of individuals performing tasks. Like a job analysis, a team task analysis is important because it forms the foundation for team design, team performance measurement, and team training. The purpose of the team task analysis will dictate if the focus is to be upon team tasks, team processes, individual task-work, or some combination of the three.

A team can be defined as a group of individuals working together toward a common goal, product, or solution that requires the sharing of expertise, knowledge, and ideas in a cooperative and interdependent fashion. Some of the goals that they might be trying to achieve are:

Individual tasks, are analyzed using the same methods as discussed earlier. They should, however, be reviewed by the other team-members in order to gauge their full impact. Teamwork, on the other hand, requires a slightly different approach. For example, some of the tasks that might be in teamwork are:

Teamwork becomes more difficult to analyze as it is performed collectively by the team. For example, how do you determine the amount of participation of the individuals in accomplishing a goal? Also, most of the team tasks include soft skills. A hard skill can easily be measured, such as “Paint a door,” while a soft skill is more difficult to measure, such as “Share in the decision making process.”

Team tasks can best be analyzed by extracting task information from the team as a whole. It is only after getting agreement by the team on the task's frequency, criticality, difficulty, importance, and KSA that the complete significance of the teamwork task can be defined. Just as a team is responsible for achieving its goals, it should also have the major responsibility of defining the teamwork (team tasks) that empowers it. Although this requires that you become more of a facilitator than a task analyst, the payoff will be a team that has built and therefore will implement its defining structure.

Task Example Quiz

Listed below are 12 jobs. Below each job are three statements. Next to each statement, write if it a task, duty, or task step.

EXAMPLE - Truck Driver

1. Administrative Assistant

2. Supervisor

3. Company Driver

4. Power Plant Operator

5. Manager

6. Bulldozer Operator

7. Search and Rescue Team Member

8. Accountant

9. Life Guard

10. Painter

11. Barista

12. Trainer

Answer Guide

1. Administrative Assistant

2. Supervisor

3. Company Driver

4. Power Plant Operator

5. Manager

6. Bulldozer Operator

7. Search and Rescue Team Member

8. Accountant

9. Life Guard

10. Painter

11. Barista

12. Trainer

Next Steps

Return to Capture the Performance

Task Analysis Tools: Various Approaches for Analyzing Tasks and Needs

Cognitive Task Analysis.