Deep Needs Assessments: Task Analysis

In order to complete the diagnosis of some business processes, it is sometimes necessary to drill down to the task analysis level, the granular level at which processes are broken up into their smallest constituent parts and examined. This is not for the faint of heart, for the process of reduction or "decomposition" of processes into tasks can be arduous and complex. Luckily, however, there exist two superb texts on the procedure: Ron Zemke's classic book, Figuring Things Out: A Trainer's Guide to Needs and Task Analysis (1982), and Jeroen van Merrienboer's study, Training Complex Cognitive Skills (1997). Zemke's is accessible to beginners; Merrienboer's is for professionals.



Joe Harless: An Ounce of Analysis Is Worth a Pound of Objectives. Harless, reaching for an assembly-line term from the manufacturing industry, coins the term "front-end" analysis, which means the same thing as a needs assessment. Harless's main contribution was to emphasize that analysis of needs should come before everything else—including the writing of objectives.


Robert Mager and P. Pipe: Analyzing Performance Problems or You Really Oughta Wanna. A classic in the field of performance analysis, updated many times since.


Tom Gilbert: Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. For more on this work, see the section on Human Performance Technology (HPT).


Roger Kaufman and F. English: Needs Assessment.


Ron Zemke and T. Kramlinger: Figuring Things Out: A Trainer's Guide to Needs and Task Analysis. One of the best books ever written on needs assessments and task analyses. Key book for any performance consultant or instructional designer.


Allison Rossett: Training Needs Assessment. An exceptionally clear exposition of the topic.


John Noonan: Elevators: How to Move Training Up from the Basement. Contains a chapter that serves as an excellent introduction to needs assessments for beginners.


Jeroen van Merrienboer: Training Complex Cognitive Skills. The chapters on decomposition (breaking down) of cognitive content are relevant—if task analysis is part of the needs assessment. A book for professionals.


Allison Rossett: First Things Fast: A Handbook for Performance Analysis. A follow-on to her 1987 work.


David Jonassen, et al.: Task Analysis Methods for Instructional Design.

TIP: Four Tips on Needs Assessments

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Tip 1: Use the journalist's five Ws. The performance consultant asks the same questions that the investigative journalist does: "who, what, where, when, why." Generally, the more specific the question, the more useful the data.

Tip 2: Use hunches wisely. No business unit wants to tell you everything that's wrong with it, so the task of the needs assessor is partially one of deduction and inference. In needs analysis one gets to perform detection work, uncovering information through informal conversations, observations, and intuitions. Needs assessments can confirm a hunch about what's going on in a company (although one obviously needs to avoid purely "self-fulfilling prophecies").

Tip 3: Be a sleuth, not a statistician. Needs assessments generally call for good common sense plus some sense of sleuthing rather than the skills of a scientist or an advanced statistician. Don't make the task more difficult than it is.

Tip 4: View a business from four angles. There are four angles to any business, and one way to structure a needs assessment is around these four perspectives:

  1. People

  2. Processes

  3. Strategy

  4. Technology

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The 30-Second Encyclopedia of Learning and Performance. A Trainer's Guide to Theory, Terminology, and Practice
The 30-Second Encyclopedia of Learning and Performance: A Trainers Guide to Theory, Terminology, and Practice
ISBN: 0814471781
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2002
Pages: 110
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