Building a certification program, Step 6: Task analysis
NOTE: This is an ongoing series. To view all articles in the series, click here.
In the previous installment of this series we discussed in-depth the whys and wherefores of conducting an occupational analysis as a key task when you are developing a certification program. As part of the occupational analysis we mentioned that a key activity was identifying the tasks that those in the role perform.
Task Analysis: The Goal
A task was defined as “a work activity that has a definite beginning and ending, is observable, consists of two or more definite steps and leads to a product, service, or decision” (EKU Facilitation Center, 2011, p. 180). Keeping this definition in mind the obvious goal of a task analysis is to break down each task into its requisite steps.
That being said it is clear that a task analysis is not clearly understood even among learning and development professionals. Before we go too far I think it would be wise to explore some of the most common definitions of the phenomenon known as task analysis.
Task analysis: The Definition
Morrison et al. (2013) said that a task analysis defines the required content to address a performance problem or address some performance need. Jonassen, Tessmer, and Hannum (1999) wrote that a task analysis describes what task performers do — in other words, how they perform a task. They go on to state that a task analysis helps by defining which tasks are most important and the correct sequence for performing associated tasks. Finally, they state a task analysis is used to detail what is taught. The content and sequence of instruction is an output from a task analysis.
Dick, Carey, and Carey (2009) called the process of task analysis- instructional analysis. They wrote, “instructional analysis is a set of procedures that, when applied to an instructional goal, results in the identification of the relevant steps for performing the goal” (p.38). According to Dick et al., there are two main steps in the instructional analysis process. The first is called the goal analysis procedure, while the second is called subordinate skills analysis, which helps one identify the skill(s) needed by a learner in order to perform the step(s) required by an identified instructional goal.
Analysis of the learning tasks, is how Smith and Ragan (2005) referred to a task analysis. For them, there were five steps that made up an analysis of learning tasks. The first three are key to understanding this process. After writing a learning goal in Step One, in Step Two you determine the types of learning for the goal. In Step Three you conduct an information processing analysis of the goal, which helps to determine the type of instruction that is needed and to identify the steps a learner must take in order to complete the learning tasks.
Having reviewed these definitions and worked with most of these models, allow me to step out on a limb and offer my practical definition of task analysis. If we look at the outcome of an occupational analysis as documenting what is done by someone in a role, the function of a task analysis is to document how each task is performed by someone in the role.
Please see Table 1 for a side-by-side comparison of these two analyses:
Table 1: Side-by-side comparison of occupational analysis and task analysis
Having looked at the historic definitions and my recent understanding of the function of a task analysis it is now time to examine in detail the process for carrying out this critical step in developing a certification program.
Task Analysis: The Process
The process for carrying out a task analysis that I will share with you is based on the toughest set of circumstances I ever encountered when performing a role-based task analysis. I say that to help you believe in the value of this process.
The process I used was designed not for a single role, but for 29 roles. As anyone who has ever carried out a single role analysis knows, such a task analysis can drag on for up to six months without extra effort from anyone. Well, my team of six process improvement professionals and four instructional designers, one project manager and I were able to successfully carry out and validate the tasks for all 29 roles in 6 weeks, with all of it being done remotely/virtually, with two SMEs per role.
The only meeting that was partially done face-to-face was the initial training session that was facilitated at a corporate training facility with some of my team and two of the SMEs from two roles along with their managers. This gave us a chance to test the process.
Task Analysis: Initial Team Training
The first thing we all had to agree on was the goals of the analysis. These were the goals that we agreed on:
1) Provide a foundation for role-based education and certification.
2) Assist management by defining each role, thereby helping leaders set expectations of what each role does.
3) Validate each role’s primary tasks defined in the project plan (WHAT a role does).
4) Identify secondary tasks and steps which explain HOW a role accomplishes the primary tasks established in the project plan.
5) Develop role-based learning objectives.
6) Develop role-based workflow diagrams/ process maps that are grounded in each role’s tasks.
7) Identify the tools needed by each role to perform their tasks.
You will first of all notice that there was no mention of tasks from an occupational analysis. Rather, what was agreed to with leadership was to use the tasks from the business’ project plan for each of the 29 roles involved in a project. This would help us in two ways: first it would save the time required for 29 DACUMs, and second it would help us validate each role’s participation on a project.
After discussing and reaching consensus on the goals, we next discussed our methodology for accomplishing so much in such a short time frame. When there is a great deal to be done, intense focus is needed. The following is what we agreed to:
● 1 Facilitator for each role
● 2 SMEs for each role
● Virtual sessions using WebEx
● Collaborate for 4-5 days/ 8-10 hours over the course of an agreed upon week
● Weeks of 5/1, 5/8 5/15, 5/22, 5/29
Upon completing the task analysis, it will be handed off to Education and Process Improvement Professionals to develop learning objectives and workflow diagrams/process maps.
After reaching consensus on the methodology, I then shared with the team some key concepts to keep in mind when conducting the SME-based interviews. The following points were stressed:
● Is this Primary Task, defined for your role, one that your role does?
● If yes, then how do you do this task? What are the subtasks or steps?
● What is the first thing you do?
● What is next?
● What is the last thing you do? How do you know you have completed this task?
● Could a new employee complete the primary task following your steps?
Understanding these key points when examining the primary tasks, it was essential to provide some prescriptive guidance for reviewing secondary tasks and steps. Here is the guidance that was provided:
● Will these tasks and steps help to teach, assess and certify the primary tasks?
● Tasks should be developed as a Verb-Noun-Modifier.
● If Primary Tasks are at the 100,000-foot level …
● … Then Secondary Tasks are at the 50,000-foot level.
● Be Careful on this round not to go too low!
● Eventual Goal is to get to Ground Zero. But not in this phase.
● Be careful of going into rabbit holes/
● All you are doing is asking SMEs how they do their job.
● Nothing hard, but as they reflect on this it might get tiring.
● Try to keep sessions no longer than 2 hours per day.
● Week of 5/29 due to Memorial Day sessions may have to go to 2.5 hours per day for four days.
● The last session of each analysis should be used to capture feedback on the process: Lessons Learned.
Having included the last bullet, Lesson Learned, it was necessary to provide guidance on the data required for a productive Lessons Learned session. The following is the guidance offered:
● What were the hits, the positive aspects of the task analysis, for you?
● What were your Aha! Moments, both good and bad?
● What were the misses, the aspects of the task analysis that need work, for you?
● What are your recommendations, opinions, for the next steps: virtual sessions, continuing education and certification?
● Any comments not covered above.
Task Analysis: The Documentation
As you can imagine, the documentation for the PMs could be overwhelming. So what was done was an Excel instrument that was created for K-12 education was modified for these analyses. There are now 19 fields some of which can be populated from your occupational analysis, while others will be very helpful in the next step where we blueprint the learning intervention and the follow-up assessments.
The 19 fields are as follows:
As an example let’s look at one task, field by field, that you might have to do.
Having now shared with you a proven method for conducting a task analysis, which will provide you with a solid foundation for a certification program, our next step will be to assimilate all the data from our earlier analyses along with the task analysis and document a learning and assessment blueprint that everyone can follow. Next stop: blueprinting.
1) Dick, W., Carey, L., & Carey, J. O. (2009). The Systematic Design of Instruction (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill/Pearson.
2) EKU Facilitation Center. (2011). Facilitator’s Resource Guide. Eastern Kentucky University. Training Resource Center.
3) Jonassen, D. H., Hannum, W. H., & Tessmer, M. (1989). Handbook of Task Analysis Procedures. New York: Praeger.
4) Jonassen, D. H., Tessmer, M., & Hannum, W. H. (1999). Task Analysis Methods for Instructional Design. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.
5) Morrison, G. R., Ross, S. M., Kalman, H. K., & Kemp, J. E. (2013). Designing Effective Instruction (7th ed.). Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
6) Smith, P. L., & Ragan, T. J. (2005). Instructional Design (3rd ed.). Hoboken, N.J.: J. Wiley & Sons.