How to do a Training Task Analysis

A task analysis is a process of documenting a task, step-by-step. The ability to do a task analysis is a crucial skill for instructional designers and training developers. After all, training, at its core, is teaching people how to do tasks. To train a learner to complete a specific task, you must first define how the task is done: this is the task analysis. 

Even a seemingly straightforward task, such as making a pot of coffee, can have many steps and decision points.

  1. Fill the reservoir with water
  2. Insert a coffee filter 
  3. Add ground coffee to the removable filter basket
  4. Close the lid
  5. Place the glass decanter on the burner
  6. Press the “On” switch 

There could be even more steps in the process if you were to include how to grind the coffee beans and measure the correct amount. Or, if you were using a fancy coffee-maker with many buttons, bells, and whistles. Needless to say, even the most basic of tasks has more to it than we often realize. 

Task analysis involves working with a Subject Matter Expert to specify the task, its sub-tasks, and the steps within it. Let’s take a closer look at how this is done with an example. Let’s say you’re an Instructional Designer working for a retail business that has several stores. You’ve been asked to build training for new hires on how to do the following task: “Close the store”.  

Step 1: Identify the task 

The first step to the task analysis is to identify the specific task that will be analyzed. A task is defined as “a piece of work to be done”. In this case, closing the store for the day is the task in question. Remember: tasks should always start with an action verb!

Step 2: Identify the sub-tasks 

Once you’ve identified the high-level task, you can start to look at the sub-tasks that are included within it. Sub-tasks are the smaller processes that are included within the larger task, and each sub-task should also start with an action verb. Let’s take a look at some of the sub-tasks involved in closing the store: 

  1. Clean the store
  2. Restock the shelves
  3. Close the register
  4. Lock up the store 

The number of sub-tasks to include will vary depending on the task, as well as how granular and specific you want the training to be. Work with a Subject Matter Expert to identify the sub-tasks to include.

Step 3: Identify the steps 

This is where you get into the details and specifics of how to carry out the sub-tasks identified above. Steps, just like tasks and sub-tasks, should always start with an action verb. Let’s break down our sub-tasks into steps:

Close the store

  1. Clean the store 
    • Mop the floors 
    • Wipe down the countertops
  2. Restock the shelves
    • Re-stock items that are low
    • Face items on shelves
  3. Close the register
    • Shut down the Point of Sale (POS) system
    • Put away the POS equipment
  4. Lock up the store
    • Turn off the lights
    • Lock the front and back doors
    • Activate the alarm system 

One of the challenges of being an instructional designer is deciding how prescriptive you want to be with the steps, and how much detail you want to include. This will largely depend on the specifics of the project and your audience, so don’t forget to complete a thorough audience analysis (read more: 20 Questions to Include in an Audience Analysis). 

Completing a task analysis is a straightforward activity that involves breaking a process down into its step-by-step activities. The ability to complete a task analysis will go a long way in helping you build meaningful and relevant training.

How To Do a Training Needs Analysis

The training needs analysis is one of the most important steps of any training project. After all, delivering training won’t resolve a business problem or improve an organization’s bottom line if the training was never needed to begin with. There is a tendency for leaders to propose training to fix performance problems, but the catch is that training will only fix a business problem if the problem is caused by a lack of knowledge and skills. If a business problem is caused by anything other than a lack of knowledge and skills, for example, if it’s caused by a problem with hardware or equipment, or if it’s caused by a lack of standards or defined processes, training will not resolve the issue. That’s why it’s critical to do an up-front needs analysis when training is requested to identify if there is a performance gap, what is the cause, and what is the appropriate solution. This way you can be sure the training you’re providing will actually resolve the problem at hand.

It’s important to note that there are a few specific situations when you do not need to do a training needs analysis. Those are:

  • when something is brand-new (if it’s new, employees definitely need to be trained on it)
  • when training is legally mandated (if it’s the law, employee’s definitely need to be trained on it)

Remember: the training needs analysis is not the part of the project where you identify the audience, the type of training, amount of hours, the learning objectives, etc. Doing those tasks assumes that the training is needed, and before you even get to the point of asking those questions you need to be able to answer this one: is this training even needed to begin with? Once you complete the following five-step training needs analysis process you’ll be able to confidently answer that question.

Step 1: Identify desired/expected performance

The first step in the training needs analysis process is to identify how employees are expected to perform the task that the training will cover. For example, if the requested training is for how to process sales calls, you want to know employees are expected to process sales calls. Or, if the requested training is to train employees on the company refund process, you want to know how employees are expected to handle refunds. There are a variety of ways you can collect information about desired performance: look at training guides and past training materials, review job-aids, business process docs and standard operating procedures, interview employees and managers to learn more about what they understand expected performance to be.

Step 2: Identify current/actual performance

Once you’ve identified the expected performance, you want to understand how employees are actually performing that very task. For example, if you are looking at the company refund process, you want to have a deep understanding of how employees are currently handling refunds. Or, if the training is on how to process a sales call, you want to know how employees are currently processing those sales calls. You want to see how the task is actually being done at this point in time. There are several ways you can do identify actual performance: review documents or performance records, observe employees doing the task, interview employees and managers to understand how they do the task.

Step 3: Identify if there is a performance gap

Once you have identified both the expected/desired performance and the current/actual performance, you can compare the two to identify if there is indeed a gap, or a difference, between the two.

Step 4: Identify the cause of the performance gap

Once you have identified that there is indeed a performance gap, it’s time to identify the cause of that gap. A performance gap could be caused by many factors. Remember: training provides employees with knowledge and skills. Training will only fix the performance gap if the cause is a lack of knowledge and skills. Learn more about performance factors and how to identify which one is responsible for a performance problem here: Performance Factors and Why They Matter in Training.

Step 5: Identify a solution

Once you understand the performance gap and it’s true cause, you can propose a solution to the problem. You will only be proposing training solutions if the problem is caused by lack of knowledge and skills. Depending on which factor is affecting performance, your recommendations for a solution will vary.

Learn more…

How to Conduct a Training Needs Analysis (E-Learning). This is an interactive e-learning module I created in Articulate Rise 360 which walks learners through the training needs analysis process and a real-life scenario.

How to Conduct an Effective Training Needs Analysis (Article). This is an article I wrote on this same topic, which was published by Training Industry digital magazine.

Performance Factors: What Are They and Why Do They Matter in Training?

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If you work in training, you’ve likely witnessed the following situation before: management spots a performance problem so they immediately request training to fix it. Training requests can sometimes be a knee-jerk reaction to a performance issue, and the problem there is that training won’t fix any and all performance problems.

If a performance problem in a call center is caused by a slow or faulty computer system, will training employees fix the problem? No. Training can only fix performance problems that are caused by a lack of knowledge and skills, which is what training provides.

If a workplace problem is caused by a performance factor other than a lack of knowledge and skills, training is unlikely to resolve that problem. That’s why it’s critical for instructional designers to follow-up on training requests and gain a deeper understanding of the training needs, why the request is being made, and the specific performance problem at hand. As you gather this information, the goal is to identify which performance factor is causing the performance issue.

Key factors that affect how employees perform:

  • Knowledge and skills
  • Incentives and motivation
  • Mental and physical abilities
  • Tools and equipment
  • Standard and processes
  • Feedback and measurement

Every time you identify or suspect a performance problem, run through a list of the following questions while considering the problematic task and the employees who perform it. Any questions you answer “no” to might indicate that that performance factor is contributing to the problem.

Knowledge & Skills

  • Do employees have the knowledge to perform the task?
  • Do employees have the skills to perform the task?
  • Have the employees been trained on how to perform the task?
  • Do the employees perform the task regularly?

Incentives & Motivation

  • Are employees motivated to perform the task?
  • Are incentives in place for employees that perform the task?

Mental & Physical Capacity 

  • Do employees have the mental capacity to perform the task?
  • Do employees have the physical capacity to perform the task?

Tools & Equipment

  • Do employees have the necessary tools and equipment to perform the task?
  • Do employees have access to the appropriate technology to perform the task?

Processes & Standards

  • Do employees have a clear and defined process in place they can follow to complete the task?
  • Do employees know the standards to which the task needs to be completed?

Feedback & Recognition

  • Do employees receive feedback or recognition on how they are completing the task?

Remember: training can only resolve performance problems that are caused by a lack of knowledge and skills. Many unnecessary training programs are created that don’t fix the underlying business problem. As an instructional designer, it’s crucial that that you analyze a performance problem and understand its root issue before you start designing a training solution. This will help you, and your clients, ensure the training you’re creating is valuable and provides a positive Return on Investment.

Have you ever had to build training that was unnecessary? Have you ever identified the performance factors affecting a workplace problem? Let me know in the comments, and follow me on Twitter for more e-learning and training content.

Tips for Successful Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Training

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Imagine this scenario: a company decides they’ve had enough of using systems that are outdated, slow, and inefficient. They embark on a project to implement a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to replace their legacy tools. The company spends months, maybe even years, working with consultants and employees to define new processes and customize the systems. Come launch time, they don’t provide adequate training and the employees don’t know how to use the new systems effectively. This leads to costly mistakes, wasted time, lost revenue, and many stressed out employees.

ERP implementations are typically large-scale projects with many stakeholders and moving parts; creating training for these projects comes with their own set of unique challenges. Planning for these challenges up front can help ensure you have a successful training program that plays a crucial role in the smooth rollout of a new system. Here are some important things to consider before you embark on your next ERP implementation training project.

Plan and prioritize training

Implementing and customizing an ERP system tends to be a huge financial investment, and as such, detailed proposals and plans are created to cover all aspects of the project. However, training for the new system is often listed as a vague deliverable that provides no specifics about how training will be designed or delivered. Not planning for training from the get-go is a costly mistake because the investment in a new system is wasted if the employees can’t properly use it. Include the training team in the project planning phase and allocate the appropriate budget, resources, and timelines for end-user training.

Identify training methods

You’re going to want to think about training methods up-front, during the planning phase. One of the most effective way to give learners a real world experience without risking costly mistakes in a real ERP system is through software simulations. They give employees the power to explore and use all the features of the ERP software they’ll use in the workplace. You’re probably going to want to consider at least some software simulations for ERP systems training. You might mix this with some instructor led training and live Q&A sessions to create a blended learning program.

Create curriculum by role

You’re not going to dump all the lessons on every employee; the employees who work in Engineering don’t need to take Accounting lessons on how to process an invoice. Instead, you’re going to tailor the curriculum by user roles. While you may have some core basic lessons that apply to everyone (logging in and out of the system, setting up your user profile, etc.), there should also be user-specific lessons that are pertinent to each role.

Work with the business

Training teams working on ERP implementations often find they have to work alongside the implementation team. You might find it useful to work with the business process analysts, as they create and test the new system processes (these are often called Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs). Consider using test scripts as a starting point for training development.  

Designate power users

For each role you identify, consider having one or two power users. These are (hopefully) helpful, quality employees who can help with the training and answer employee questions on-the-job. If there are employees who are already involved in the implementation, for example working as subject matter experts, these are great candidates for power users.

Incorporate real-life scenarios

Integrating real world examples and stories into your processes will make the training more practical and relevant. Instead of jumping into a step-by-step process without providing any context, introduce the process with a scenario that has realistic background information and details. Training that incorporates realistic scenarios helps learners know when and how to apply the tasks covered in the training in the real world.

Use change management techniques

  • Incorporating some basic change management techniques will go a long way to getting your learners on board. Be clear in explaining the benefits of the training, why it’s happening, and the impact of not completing it. Don’t assume end users will move seamlessly from one system to another, without detailing the specific reasons and benefits. Learn more about specific change management techniques for instructional designers here.
  • Following these tips will help ensure you have a successful ERP training program in place. Do you have any tips of your own for designing or developing training for ERP implementations? Let me know in the comments, and follow me on Twitter for more training tips and tricks.