In an earlier post, we mentioned the importance of creating (1) a list of the job roles at your site and (2) a list of the job tasks that people in each of those job roles have to be able to do to perform their job.
In this post, we’re going to start with that list of tasks, and we’ll show you how to perform a task analysis for each task on the list. The idea is that you’ll “break down” each task into the smaller steps or sub-tasks that a person would have to perform to finish the task.
The point in doing this is that once you’ve identified the steps or sub-tasks that make up a task, you’ll know what you need to teach employees who will have to perform the task properly on the job.
This is an “instructional design” basic. To see how the task analysis fits into the general flow of training development, you can want to check out 8 Steps to Great Training article and/or download the guide to effective training at the bottom of this article.
Example Task Analysis
Let’s look at a quick example of a task analysis from my own job.
One of the tasks I have to perform every day at work–this may be true of you, too–is to start up my computer.
It’s easy to think of this as a single step, but really there are several. For example:
- Push power button on computer
- Wait for prompt
- Hold down the Ctrl-, Alt-, and Delete keys on keyboard at the same time when prompted
- Enter password
So that one task–turn on computer–has at least three sub-tasks. In a nutshell, that’s all there is to a task analysis.
How to Break Down a Job Task Into Smaller Steps
You might be thinking to yourself, “I’m the trainer, how do I know the smaller steps that make up a job task?”
Good question. And we’ve got a few answers for you.
First, you don’t need to know everything. One good place to start is by talking to department managers and/or supervisors. In many cases, they can tell you the steps or they may have it documented already.
Another good source is to go to an experienced worker who is known for doing the task well and ask him or her how it’s done.
A word of caution, though, if you’re asking managers, supervisors, or very experienced workers. Many times they have the information in an “automatic” status and they may accidentally leave out steps because it comes so naturally to them as a result of repetition and experience.
As a result, it may also be a good idea to go out into the field and observe people who do the job well. You might want to take pencil and paper or even a video camera out with you when you do this.
Tasks, Sub-Tasks, and Smaller Steps
When you’re analyzing a task, and you break it down into different sub-tasks, you may still find that a sub-task includes two or more smaller steps. That’s OK–include each of the smaller steps so that you fully document the procedure for completing the task.
Exactly how much detail to include and how much to leave out is as much an art as a science. You want to include enough detail so you know you can teach a novice, but not so much as to make it ridiculous.
How to Write Your Tasks and Sub-Tasks
Here are a few style tips for writing your tasks and sub-tasks:
- Start each task with a verb (an action word), not a noun. The emphasis is on people doing things.
- Write clearly and avoid confusion
- Be concrete and objective; don’t be vague and subjective
Next Steps: The Task Analysis and the Learning Objectives of Your Training Materials
Once you’ve got your job tasks identified (as discussed in the earlier post), and you’ve broken tasks down into a series of smaller steps using the task analysis (as discussed earlier in this article), now you can move on to create your learning objectives and your training materials.
You will use your list of job tasks to create learning objectives for various training activities. For example, if you were going to create some training to teach me to turn on my computer, the learning objective would be something like “by the end of this training, you should be able to turn on your computer.”
Likewise, you’ll use the task analysis to help you identify exactly what you need to train your workers to do. During the task analysis, you identified the various steps involved in turning on a computer (to return to our example), so now you know what exactly you need to teach when teaching someone to turn on a computer (or perform another job task).