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ISD Concept Map


Task Analysis


Task Analysis Tools: Various Approaches for Analyzing Tasks and Needs

In a traditional needs analysis, the analyst generates a list of tasks to be performed. This list is integrated into a survey to be completed by job incumbents, subject matter experts and supervisory personnel. Respondents are asked to evaluate the frequency, the criticality of each task to the successful performance of the job, and the amount of training required to reach proficiency. The surveys are then compiled and a committee discusses the findings and approves the tasks. The tasks to be trained are then observed and are broken into task steps. For many jobs, this approach works just fine. For others, some different tools might be required. The following are instruments that may be incorporated into the analysis.

People-Data-Things Analysis

Jobs are often characterized by the proportions of time spent on people, data, and things. Performance deficiencies are often the result from a mismatch between the nature of a job, and the employee's preference for focus on people, data, or things. Although most jobs entail that the jobholder work with all three, there is usually one of the three that the job most extensively focuses on. Listing all job responsibilities under one of the three categories will provide the information as to what major role an employee will be expected to fulfill -- a people person, a data person, or a thing person. The following verbs will help you to properly place a responsibility into a category:

  • people duties: advises, administer, briefs, communicates, coordinates, conducts, consults, counsels, critiques, delegates, demonstrates, directs, explains, facilitates, guide discussions, implements, informs, instructs, interviews, manages, mentors, negotiates, notifies, plans, participates, persuades, promotes, provide feedback, organizes, sells, speaks (public), sponsors, supervises, teaches, trains, tutors, welcomes
  • data duties: analyzes, arranges, audits, balances, budgets, calculates, compares, compiles, computes, designs, determines, documents, estimates, forecasts, formulates, identifies, lists, monitors, obtains, predicts, prepares, selects, surveys, tracks
  • thing duties: activates, adjusts, aligns, assembles, calibrates, constructs, controls, cooks, cuts, develops, disassembles, drives, grows, inspects, lifts, loads, maintains, maneuvers, monitors, mixes, operates, paints, packs, repairs, services, transports, writes

A larger and more organized list can be found at People-Data-Things list


Tabletop Analysis

Using a facilitator, a small group of 3 to 10 subject matter experts convene to identify the various tasks to be performed. A minimum of one job incumbent and one supervisor are needed to discuss the tasks. The facilitator conducts the sessions and documents the information. Through brainstorming and consensus building, the team develops a sequential list of tasks. Following this process, the team determines which tasks should be trained. Task selection is based on the frequency, difficulty, criticality and the consequences of error or poor performance. This method is labor intensive for the subject matter experts. The validity of the identified tasks is dependent upon the credibility of the selected subject matter experts. For consistency, the team of experts should remain the same throughout the process. The table-top method of job analysis typically consists of:

  • Orienting the team.
  • Reviewing the job.
  • Identifying the duty areas associated with the job.
  • Identifying the tasks performed in each duty area and write task statements.
  • Sequencing the duty areas and task statements.
  • Selecting tasks for training.

Hybrid Method

This involves both a quantitative analysis and consensus building. Using job task documents, a list of tasks is compiled by an analyst. Through an iterative process involving consensus building, the validity of the task list is assessed by subject matter experts, supervisors and job incumbents. Through discussions, each task's complexity, importance and frequency are numerically rated by members of the consensus group. Once the tasks are identified, the group identifies and validates the knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform each task.

Cognitive Task Analysis

For tasks with a high cognitive component, (i.e., decision making, problem solving, or judgments), a traditional task analysis may fail to identify those cognitive skills required to perform a given task or job. A cognitive task analysis is performed to identify and to describe the cognitive components of a task. There are a variety of methodologies available to help the instructional designer to represent and define the various knowledge structures needed to perform a task or job. These techniques can also be used to define expert systems and the “expert” in Intelligent Tutoring Systems. There are three knowledge structures: declarative, procedural and strategic:

  1. Declarative knowledge tells us why things work the way they do, or that the object or thing has a particular name or location. It includes information about the concepts and elements in the domain and the relationships between them. The type of knowledge found at this level include facts, principles, rules of science and concepts. “Knowing the rules of good database design” is one example. Another is “knows the names, location, and prices of all the SKUs in inventory.” Methods for eliciting declarative knowledge:
    • Card Sorting - The researcher obtains sets of concepts that broadly cover the domain (derived from glossary, texts, or gleaned from introductory tutorial talk), then transfers each concept onto a card. Subject matter experts then sorts the cards into common groups or functions according to similarity. The SMEs then creates the sorting criteria. The groups themselves are grouped until eventually a hierarchy is formed.
    • Data Flow Modeling - An expert is interviewed. The researcher then draws data flow diagram using data gathered from interview. Expert verifies diagram.


  2. Procedural knowledge tells us how to perform a given task. Procedural knowledge contains the discrete steps or actions to be taken and the available alternatives to perform a given task. With practice, procedural knowledge can become an automatic process, thus allowing us to perform a task without conscious awareness. This automatically also allows us to perform more than one complex task at a given time. A couple of examples would be “creates a v-ditch using a motored grader” or “types a letter at 95 words per minute.” Methods for eliciting procedural knowledge:
    • Interviewing - This is a variation of a basic interview. There are several variations. Some of them are: (1) working backwards through the problem, (2) drawing a concept map, (3) showing an expert photographs depicting system in a number of states and asking questions, (4) expert describes procedure to interviewer and then the interviewer teaches it back to the expert.
    • Discourse Analysis (observation) - An expert helps an user while a researcher records the process. The transcript is then analyzed for tasks and elements. The data is then converted into a taxonomy.


  3. Strategic knowledge is comprised of information that is the basis of problem solving, such as action plans to meet specific goals; knowledge of the context in which procedures should be implemented; actions to be taken if a proposed solution fails; and how to respond if necessary information is absent. An example of this would be a production plant manager who formulates a plan to meet the needs of a greatly increased forecast. Methods for eliciting strategic knowledge:
    • Critical Decision Method (Interview) first method - Interview of expert to identify non-routine events that challenged her expertise and events which expertise made a significant difference. A time line of events is then constructed and key points are further probed.
    • Critical Decision Method (Interview) second method - A semi-structured interview is performed utilizing specific probes designed to elicit a particular type of information. The data is then examined for perceptual cues, judgment details, and decision strategy details that are not generally captured with traditional reporting methods.

Also see Cognitive Task Analysis.

Observing the Expert Analysis

This method uses an observer to record an expert performing a task. The observer is a person who aspires to be an expert in a similar job. The trainer's role is to set the analysis in motion by briefing the observer and the expert regarding the intended outcome of the observation. This method works best when three similar experts are observed by three different aspiring observers. After the observations, the observers become a task force who meet with the training analysis who functions as a discussion facilitator.


This technique allows training program products to be determined based on work at other facilities on the same or similar tasks. This process can save significant effort and cost. Communication with, or benchmarking visits to the facilities will enable each facility to take advantage of existing experience and materials. Use of this technique requires the help of SMEs and a trained facilitator. These experts use various lists and documents to decide which tasks apply and to identify the tasks that require modification to reflect job requirements. The verification technique consists of the following steps:

  • Gathering relevant existing training materials and task information from local and external sources.
  • Comparing this information to the facility-specific needs.
  • Modifying the information as needed.
  • Verifying the accuracy of the information by Subject Matter Experts.

Functional Analysis

When a position that performs a large number of tasks (e.g., management or engineering) is being analyzed, a technique called functional analysis can be used. Rather than conducting a job analysis to identify specific tasks, major functions within the position are identified. After the competencies necessary to perform the major functions are identified, those competencies can be analyzed to determine objectives for training. For example, a manager might make many plans such as production planning, personal requirements, facility and equipment requirements, forecasting materials, and formulating budgets. The training objectives needed to perform these actions might read as: Create a Gantt Chart, Build a Capacity Requirement Plan, or Use the Basic Exponential Smoothing Model for forecasting.


Training content can be determined by the careful review and analysis of a template (a list of system facilities, procedures, theory topics, or generic learning objectives). The template technique uses a simplified process for determining content or developing learning objectives associated with the operation or maintenance of a specific system. This technique produces generic and system-specific learning objectives for the training and evaluation of personnel. Some organizations have approached the design of training based on the systems an individual operates or maintains. A template containing generic learning objectives is reviewed by subject matter experts for applicability. This approach directly generates system-specific terminal and enabling learning objectives. It is important that the template be carefully reviewed to determine the applicability of each item to the system. If this review is not accomplished, the result can readily become “know everything about everything.” The template technique includes the following steps:

  • Develop or modify an existing template to meet facility needs.
  • Use of a trainer and a subject matter experts to select applicable objectives and/or complete portions of the template for a given system, component, or process.

Document Analysis

This technique is especially valuable when accurate procedures and other job related documents are available. Document analysis is a simplified technique for determining required knowledge and skills directly from operating procedures, administrative procedures, and other job related documents. A SME and a trainer review each section and step of the procedure or document to determine training program content. Document analysis consists of the following steps:

  • Review the procedure or document and list the knowledge and skills required by a worker.
  • Verify the accuracy of the results.

Next Steps

Return to Needs Assessment

Return to Return to Task Analysis

Also see:

Cognitive Task Analysis


Analysis Templates (contains several analysis templates)