How to Perform a Task Analysis for Job Training


Task Analysis ImageIn an earlier post focusing on identifying job roles and job tasks, 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 perform in order to hold their job.

In this post, we're going to start with the assumption that you've created 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 job task, you'll know exactly what you need to teach employees who will have to perform the task properly on the job. You would then create learning objectives, assessments, and the actual training materials.

This is an "instructional design" basic. To see how the task analysis fits into the general flow of training development, you may want to check out 8 Steps to Great Training article and/or download the guide to writing learning objectives at the bottom of this article.

Conduct Job Tasks Analyses for Specific Job Roles

To be clear, you'll want to conduct a task analysis for every different job task associated with every different job role. Or, since that may be too much, for the most important tasks or the ones that are most difficult to learn.

Let's take an example from sports. In American-style football, most of the players play different positions. There's a quarterback, a running back, different wide receivers, a tight end, different offensive linemen, and so on (that list just covers the offense!). Each of those different positions is basically a different job, just in the same way that your Line Operator has a different job than your Accountant, your HR head, your Safety Manager, and your Marketing copywriter.

For each of those jobs, you need to come up with a list of the different tasks required to perform that job well. Going back to our football example, let's think of just a running back. Tasks that a running back must perform include:

  • Running with the ball
  • Running pass routes and catching the ball
  • Staying in the backfield and blocking
  • Etc.

For each of the job tasks that a running back has to perform, you'd then need to perform a task analysis, breaking that task down into smaller steps. For example, the job task "running with the ball" would include the following steps:

  • Knowing where to line up before the snap
  • Knowing which direction to run based on the play call
  • Smoothly receiving the ball from the quarterback during the "hand-off"
  • Etc.

Although most of us are not professional football players, you can see how this same basic process of beginning with a job role, identifying the job tasks performed by that job role, and breaking down each job tasks into smaller steps would work.

Example Job 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.

Of course, that's the easiest part of my day, and things get rougher from there. That's why I go and get my coffee next 🙂

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 for all of these jobs I don't perform myself?"

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. This kind of examination may show steps others left out because they're subject matter experts. Plus, you may always find that there's a gap between work as expected by managers and/or in a standard operating procedure (SOP) and work as performed by workers in the field.

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.

Style Tips for 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), then 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 and the resulting learning objectives 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).

Conclusion: Performing a Job Task Analysis Before Creating Job Training

We hope this article helped you understand what a job task analysis is, why performing one is valuable, and how to perform one.

Don't forget to carry the information from the job task analysis on when you're creating your learning objectives, creating training materials, delivering training, designing and delivering training assessments/tests, and evaluating training (in particular, observing the application of that training in the field).

Let us know if you have other questions. Otherwise, have a great day. And please feel free to download the free guide to writing learning objectives below!

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