Task Analysis is a fundamental part of managing human factors and safety critical tasks. It’s a way of breaking down how someone does something into discrete tasks, which can then be analysed and redesigned to make them easier or faster.
A good Task Analysis diagram will help you think through the problem in front of you, understand what’s involved in achieving your goals, and identify issues early on so they can be fixed before they become costly problems. But building a solid Task Analysis isn’t just about knowing how each component fits together; it’s also about being able to do all those steps yourself!
Here are 5 tips that will help get you started:
1. Who is your audience?
When creating procedures, it is important to consider the audience. Who will be using the document? What do they expect it to be used for? Procedures should be proportional for their intended purpose. For example, a flow sheet or checklist may be more appropriate than a reference manual.
For the first few tasks, just write down what you think is important. Don’t worry about how they are structured or what the steps are. Just get a list of all the tasks you can think of in your head into Task Analysis. You can always go back and add, edit and move task around if they should be complete in a different order.
2. Walk through/Talk through with a colleague
Every task, no matter how small or large, is broken down into its component parts and demonstrated. This includes communicating with other people, retrieving information from computers or display systems and making decisions on the information retrieved. An experience person should demonstrate how the task is performed, additionally, a engineer or safety professional should be involved to assess what could go wrong if each task isn’t carried out in a particular way.
You might want to ask them questions like:
- “How long would it take for someone with no experience in this field?”
- “What are some typical mistakes people make when doing this task?”
- “Do all of these steps have to happen in order, or can they happen at different times?”
3. Draw a diagram
Task Analysis software is design with human factors specialists in mind. You can easily drag & drop new tasks to the diagram, re-arrange them, and add in as much or as little information as needed.
The table has customisable columns for drop down lists (perfect for Performance Influencing Factors), date and free text. Keep your Task Analysis meeting organised with additional attachments that can be added into Task Analysis, giving your attendees more context.
4. Check it’s complete
Once you have completed the task analysis, it is important to check that it is complete. This means checking that every task has been included and that all the steps are clear and unambiguous. It’s also important to check for accuracy, consistency and clarity.
When checking for completeness:
- Are all tasks included? If not, why? Do they need to be added? What would happen if they were omitted?
- Are some steps missing from any tasks or activities? If so, how could this be rectified or better explained so that everyone on the team understands what needs to be done at each point in time (e.g., “As soon as Jim comes back from his meeting with Mary…”).
When checking for clarity:
- Is each step clear enough so that anyone with minimal experience would know exactly what they needed to do next without having had any prior knowledge of what was involved in completing their role within the project (e.g., “Fill out form 799 using your own pen”).
5. Get feedback from users and/or experts
- Use Task Analysis to identify opportunities for improvement!
Task analyses are excellent tools for identifying areas where you can improve your processes, products, or services. For example, if you conduct an analysis during the early stages of designing a new machine or plant and find that users have difficulty completing certain steps in their workflow, then it’s possible that spending more time on those steps would yield better results as well as keeping your team safe.
Including users in this early stage of design pays dividends down the line
Including users in this early stage of design pays dividends down the line. It’s easier for them to understand how their job fits into the bigger picture, and they’re more likely to accept the final design (and therefore get up and running quickly). They may also give feedback on how their role could be improved, which is a lot easier for you if they’ve already signed off on it!
When you’re done, take a look at your diagram and see if it makes sense to you. If there are any gaps in your understanding of the task, write those down too. You might find that you need to go back and revisit some of the steps or even start over again. This is normal! The important thing is not to give up because once you’ve got a good Task Analysis diagram for your project, everything else will be easier to create and understand.