How A Task-Analysis Mindset Improves the Design Process

Defining tasks when you are evaluating and planning a project can help you:

  • Understand the scope of the project
  • Determine the component parts of the solution
  • Organize the development process

Whether you a contractor or permanent designer, we all need to be able to present the scope of a project and the resources needed to stakeholders and being an expert at task analysis will help you achieve that.

Let’s start by the review of what a task is. A task is a piece of work that needs to be accomplished as a part of a job. Tasks are made up of steps that need to be taken to complete the task. Sometimes these steps are a task themselves, often referred to as a subtask. The idea is to break down job tasks to their smallest components to fully understand what a person needs to understand or accomplish in order to do the job.

Understanding the Scope of the Project

One of the great things about being task-analysis minded is that it helps you to develop questions to ask to define the project. In order to be able to break down the goals of the project into specific tasks you need to understand:

  • The processes or attitudes that learners need to adopt
  • Who the learners are and what their background knowledge is
  • What the measure of success will be

Considering these as you interview the SME or clients for the project and listening for the answers in terms of the tasks will help make sure you probe for the information you to fully understand the scope of the project. This may not all happen in in one conversation but over time.

When you are task-minded, you start by looking for an understanding of each task. This means breaking down the goals of the project to the task steps that fit the audience. By doing this you outline the full scope of the project, which helps you determine necessary resources, and helps you present this to the stakeholder or client.

Determining the Component Parts of the Solution

When you are thinking from a task perspective, it is easy to take the scope of the project and group it into like chunks that will go together. Understanding these tasks or groups of tasks, you can easily evaluate which ones are best resolved as training, what is best served with a job aid, or what can be resolved with an environmental change or other performance improvement solution. The task-analysis mindset helps you to quickly see the pieces and start to see how the solution can go together to best leverage the advantages of different types of solutions.

Organize the Development Process

Once you have identified the tasks and the solutions to be used, it is easy to prioritize the development process and allocate resources appropriately. If you are the sole person doing the project, you can easily determine the order that development needs to happen for the different tasks and make sure that it lays out efficiently and those pieces that could get stalled later are done first or those things that might change as the project progresses are done later so as not to do them.

Build a Team for Success

Whether you are building a project team, a department, or starting a new business venture, building the right team is essential to success. Ultimately, you are building a team that will be able to create and influence opportunities, a team that will have a global view and yet be able to focus on details. The beauty of a team is that you don’t have to have all of these things in one person, but in the combination of people you bring together.

So what are you looking for in a team?

  • Shared Passion – You need to bring together people who share a passion for the goal to be accomplished. This might be a project team that will be visioning and developing a company enterprise system and you want to bring together people who have a passion for connecting people, developing culture, and bringing together resources to increase productivity. This might be building a Talent Development department and you want to bring together people who are passionate about helping people improve their performance. Regardless of the purpose of the team, you want to find people who have a passion for the goals.
  • Strengths – You need to find people who have honed their strengths. If the goal is to move things forward, you need people who have identified their strength(s) and are honing them. These people bring not only that strength to the table but experience and commitment to developing expertise. If you want to create an opportunity, you need people who have a demonstrated ability to set goals and achieve them. Ideally, the strengths people bring will relate to the goals to be achieved or the perceived tasks that will be necessary but don’t discount a person with strengths in a different area. You may find that the unrelated strength becomes the seed for innovation.
  • Differences – You need to bring together people who are different. Bringing together different people will help the team to better identify patterns and see the systems that are relevant to the goals of the team. On a project team, you need to include stakeholders in addition to team members that are expected to drive implementation.

Why is this important?

When you build you team based on passion, strengths and differences, you are setting yourself up to identify the different systems you will encounter, the roadblocks to the goals, and the solutions to drive success.

Developing a team that can see the forest and the individual trees is developing a team that will be able to both vision and implement. This team will be able to see the interconnectedness of the company and who will be impacted by a project and how that impact will play out. A team that represents differences will more successfully identify the fundamental issues and forces that come into play and how they relate to one another. If you can identify these and represent them together, you will be able to see the system(s) at work and identify roadblocks to your goals and identify the places of influence.

Launching a new program such as a new induction training program to a company is going to face roadblocks. You need to be able to understand all the ways this new program will interact with the company. This may interact with how employees spend their time, what goals it helps them achieve, company culture, just to name a few. With that understanding of where it connects, you can identify the roadblocks, whether they are environmental or attitudinal. Looking at the system of implementation and roadblocks, you then are able to identify points of influence and see how you can strategically manage those to optimize success.

Bringing together a team with passion is a team that will have the dedication to persist to success. Bringing together a team of people with strengths means that those people will have credibility and can be influences. Bringing together a team of differences means that the team will be able to identify the fundamental parts of the systems involved, the potential roadblocks, see where the points of influences and have the foundation for innovation.

In addition to my experiences this post was inspired by two recent talks I heard. One was given by Dr. Carol Ann Sharicz on Systems Thinking 101 given at a local chapter ISPI meeting and the other is a TED Talk called Be an Opportunity Maker given by Kare Anderson.

Why the Former Teacher May be Your Next Star Employee – Part II

In last week’s Part One post, we started looking at how the skills of former school teachers transfers to the Core Competency Model™ put forth by ATD and common job description skills. In that vein let’s continue to look at those.

Managing Learning Programs

  • Provide vision and strategies for learning program design
  • Provide project management for learning projects
  • Manage outside resources
Public school teachers are given a framework for what learners need to accomplish by the end of the year, but from their, they provide the vision and work out the strategies to achieve those goals and make their vision come to fruition. On top of this, teachers are working with a diverse population and manageing the learning programs for each learner they work with. They manage other school resources, parents and school volunteers, and other outside learning resources such as field trips, SMEs that they bring into their classroom, and learning competitions that their students compete in. Just putting together a field trip is an example of their project management skills. They deal with volunteer resources, budgeting for the trip, managing transportation and determining the content that will be delivered and how it will be structured. This can also involve the creation of other materials to supplement or extend the learning from the field trip experience.

 

Coaching

  • Coach employees to improve job performance
Teachers are involved in coaching students, parents, and future teachers. Teachers constantly work with students to engage them in examining their learning progress and establish goals. They review these goals and provide accountability for the student. Many parents are looking to teachers for ways to help and support their children and teachers coach them through this and help them understand their child and their child’s needs and work with them so that parents can determine the best strategies for helping their child. This can be coaching parents in how to help with homework, or how to question their child while reading together or how to oversee their child’s project. Additionally, many teacher have taken on the role of being a mentor teacher to a colleague or a student teacher. This is a very formal coaching experience that the teacher provides and is formally assessed by the school district or a local college.

 

Knowledge Management

  • Develop a culture of learning
  • Facilitate collaboration and social learning
A classroom community has a culture of learning and the teacher is right in the middle of it. The utilize strategies to bring together learners to work on projects and learn from one another. Teachers leverage a variety of resources, identifying the sources of knowledge and bringing students together with the necessary knowledge. They foster curiosity and a love of knowledge by engaging learners and helping them see the benefits of growing and learning together. Teachers act as facilitators, moderators, and social directors for their classroom and understand how to leverage these to promote optimal learning success.

 

Performance Improvement

  • Evaluate training needs
  • Design and develop training materials
  • Implement performance solutions
These days every teacher has at least one student with special needs, whether they are gifted or receiving educational support services. These are the students where a teacher applies more than just instruction, but brings their performance improvement skills into play. They need to take the extra time to understand the special learning needs for this student and determine what solution will best help them to excel. This might be a technology aid solution, involving them in a mentorship program, or modifying their environment to increase success. Teachers are not just designing instruction and facilitating it, but they are working with the whole learner and determining and implementing performance solutions that go beyond training the learner.

 

Because teachers are in charge of a small community, they end up involving themselves with all aspects of training and development. In addition to being the instructional designer and trainer, they also serve as the project manager for classroom events and project (and sometimes school-wide initiatives), the coach for anyone they bring into the learning community, and the person who looks at all aspects of a skill deficit and not only reaches out to training, but utilizes a toolbox of performance improvement techniques. While the teacher may less familiar with corporate culture, that is easily learned and the wealth of skills they bring to the table mean that the former teacher is primed to be a superstar in the learning and development world. Instead of hesitating, companies should embrace the former teacher and leverage the wealth of abilities they have to offer.

Some Advice for Teachers Looking to Transition

Like I said in the beginning of last week’s post, the key for the transitioning teacher is to effectively communicate their skills in corporate language. The Core Competency Model is a great place to start to understand how the corporate world talks about learning and development. Adopt the terms and framing when marketing yourself through your resume, cover letter, and during interviews. Being able to talk like a corporate instructional designer will demonstrate that you have done your research on the field you are transitioning to and allow you to communicate the vast array of skills you have to offer that will enhance the potential employers company and improve their bottom line. You can make the transition and you will find the employer that has the vision and insight to hire you, their next superstar!

Looking for more information about becoming an instructional designer, check out these other posts:

How to Become an Instructional Designer

Getting into Instructional Design

 

 

Are You Ready to Move Forward

  • Do you have a plan?
  • Does everyone know the plan and their role in the plan?
  • Can [team member] explain the plan to me?

These are three great questions to lay-out before your team as they finish up the planning process, before they start to implement a project. While they are simple, each questions helps make sure that the team is ready to move into implementation.

 

Do you have a plan?

This first question is designed to make sure that the team is ready to move from planning to implementation. To often, teams of people decide to start developing and implementing a solution without laying out a full plan. People want to believe that the rest of the plan will become clear once they take the first steps. While it may be true that things will become clearer, it is still necessary to start with a plan. Just because you have outlined a plan, doesn’t mean that you will not evolve your plan as more information becomes clear or unforseen issues arise. Flexibility is essential as I wrote about in a previous post, Have a Plan…Have Felxibility. Having goals of the end results of an initiative or what deliverable you will create is essential to understanding what you need to do in order to achieve it. It is also essential to determine the metrics you will use to judge success and implement a proper assessment through knowing the end result and the path to getting there.

 

Does everyone know the plan and their role in the plan?

This question is the glue of a team. Having one person who understands the goals and the plan and is directing others is having a puppet master with puppets, it is not a team. Asking this question does two things, first, it makes sure that everyone is included and involved and secondly, it ensures that each person knows and understands their role is the success of the project. Too often, there is a need to know attitude. The problem with this is that if a person is unclear on their role, they are unlikely to meet project expectations. They will not properly allocate their time or resources and ultimately, their contribution may not represent their best work because it is done last minute. It is also importasnt for people to understand how their piece of the project fits into the whole. Two things happen when a team member understands the entire project, first they feel valued because they are fully a part of the team, secondly, they are able to provide work that is cohesive with others work and with the project timeline. Further, if the project leader is removed from the team, the project will suffer less of a setback if the rest of the team understands the entire project.

 

Can [team member] explain the plan to me?

This question is the meat of determining if the team is ready to end the planning phase. The key here is to ask a team member to explain the plan and outline the different steps and responsibilities. A good team will make sure that each member understands the entire project and can provide at least overview information about the different steps and the contributions of other team members. It is best to ask a team member who has not the team leader, but a contributor. This increases the likelyhood that all team members do understand and provides an overview given through a different voice than the team leader and providing a different perspective. When a team member can provide this information, they are more likely to collaborate with others when issues arise and direct questions to the appropriate team members.

 

While the implementation phase of a project is where the bulk of the time and energy is spent, the planning phase is the most important because it prepares the team for success. You want to make sure that you do not move from the planning phase too soon. These questions help you determine if the project is ready to move forward successfully.

Have a Plan…Have Flexibility

KnotsLike most training specialists, there are standard areas that I am engaged in on a regular basis, but recently I got to go back to something I haven’t done in a few years, team-building facilitation. In my early twenties, I had been trained in team-building and low ropes and through my connection with a camp, had done team-building sessions for teen and adult groups. Recently I had the opportunity to do that with some folks as a part of an all-day retreat. As a part of most challenges that I facilitate, I have participants take time to put together a plan and have them explain it to me. When they a ready, I ask them three questions:

  1. Do you have a plan?
  2. Does everyone know the plan?
  3. What is the plan? (asked of one participant)

Part of why I ask these questions is so that I can understand what the participants will be doing so that I can make sure it is a safe experience for everyone, make sure the participants have understood the goals, and also so that I can provide the correct support as necessary.

While I use these questions when I facilitate team-building challenges, these are important questions to ask any team that you are managing. As a good manager, it is important to know the approach the team is planning so that you can understand the direction, make sure it lines up with the goals, and be able to provide the necessary support.

In this recent experience, the participants were asked to cross a “rushing river” that was about 25 feet wide with the help of four magic turtles. The turtles would help them by allowing them to step on their backs and prevent them from being washed away in the current. The stipulation was that the turtles would only help if they felt needed, which the turtles judged by physical contact. As i as they were in physical contact with someone, they would stay and allow their backs to be stepped on, but if that physical contact was absent, they would swim away. After developing a plan and getting the green light from me, the group started to cross the river and they were immediately challenged when one of the turtles lost physical contact and swam away. As they made their way across the “river” the flaws in their plan became apparent and with some on the fly changes involving passing one person back and forth between the backs of two others, the first three people made it across. It had worked for these three but it became clear this was not going to work for the whole group. The participants then spent some time revising the plan and determining a new method to cross the river and plan two was born. This plan involved people working in pairs of two in very close proximity and the group got four more people across and there were only three people left to cross. Well this presented a new challenge because their system needed pairs…and plan three was born and the last of the group made it across.

While the group had a plan to start, it was their ability to adjust and develop new plans to meet changing circumstances that made them a success. This is also true of project teams in the workplace. A good team will be able to develop a working plan but also be able to react to changing circumstances and challenges. This became one on the points discussed when we debriefed this exercise.

It is essential that we create a plan based on the information we know but we must also be ready to react to issues that arise and changing circumstances. If we lack the agility to evolve that plan, success will rely on a perfect initial plan, something which rarely happens.