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Front-end Analysis: Blueprint for Success (Part 2)

by Stan Bunson

July 18, 2011

Feature

by Stan Bunson

July 18, 2011

“It is important not to rule out any of the alternative solutions (not only instruction, but also performance support, improved references, changes to practice or process, better selection of persons to assign to critical tasks, and changes to supervisory or managerial practices) before completing the investigation and analysis.”

In Part 1, published last week, I outlined the Front-end Analysis (FEA) process and its many elements, with attention to the information that you will need to collect. This week I describe how to conduct an FEA and how to report the results.

2-parts article on Front End Analysis

Gathering information

Gather information to obtain knowledge from subject matter experts (SMEs), appropriate job-performance personnel, target audience, and other relevant resources. Use this information to create a task list for job performance requirements or instructional goals.

In order to produce a Front-end Analysis (FEA), use any or all of these four methods to gather information: self-completed questionnaires, direct interviews, focus groups, and direct observation. Other techniques are available.

Self-completed (survey) questionnaires

Self-completed questionnaires gather information from a large population sample. Construct each question to require specific information, because specific questions leave less to the respondent’s ability to add subjective interpretation. Design each question with the help of a Subject Matter Expert (SME), because an SME's participation should ensure that the questions are focused and accurate. Test the questionnaire with a sample group of employees or trainees.

Do you want anonymous questionnaires? If so, ensure that responses will remain anonymous. Of course, anonymous responses means there is no way to contact respondents for follow-up questions or to clarify answers. One way to solve this problem is to code the questionnaires so that only designated data personnel can match code numbers to names. Additional surveys, in combination with observation and other techniques, may help the task analyst confirm what was learned.

Direct interviews

Direct interviews are often used to gather information for specific job-related needs. Additionally, direct interviews may provide consensus data about how employees perform a task. Group interviews provide direct questioning of several people at the same time. You may also elect to interview individuals one at a time (see individual interview notes below).

Direct interviews:

  • Provide a direct line to the appropriate people who have the specific information about the problem that you are trying to solve

  • Provide a structure to the necessary planning and scheduling elements such as having specific rules with a guided focus

  • Provide the ability to collect follow-up information

  • Encourage the participants to analyze and discuss problematic or important parts of the job or instruction
  • Determine how collaborative roles contribute to the job performance or the success of the instruction.

Prepare thoroughly for the interviews by studying available handbooks, user guides and other appropriate materials.

Prepare for the interview. Learn about the tasks analyzed. Background reading allows you to use relevant task language. Additionally, it helps you define what you need from the interviewees.

Select the interviewees. Will you need content experts, performance experts, training experts or instructional experts?

Schedule the interview. Contact the interviewee to schedule the interview. First send a letter introducing the interviewer and stating the purpose of the interview. Next, call the interviewee to set up an interview time. Finally, show up on time and fully prepared to conduct the interview.

Listen to the interviewees. Allow the interviewees to talk. Detailed preparation for this interview might include follow-up questions, such as, “Why would a person use process ‘X’?” or “What does term ‘Y’ mean?” Demonstrate interest in the subject by smiling, nodding, or saying, “Excellent point.” Only interrupt an interviewee if he or she goes off-topic.

Take notes. Ask the interviewees for permission to take notes. If you cannot take electronic notes, try to copy the interviewees’ responses verbatim.

Individual interviews

While individual interviews obtain direct, detailed information from the interviewee, they are expensive in terms of time and money. Organizing direct interviews will maximize return on investment (ROI) at a minimum of time and cost. To best utilize time and money:

  • Use questions and statements to start the session and keep it moving effectively

  • Keep the questions highly structured. Whenever possible, open-ended questions work better than “yes/no” questions

  • Pace the interview effectively by using periodic summaries and/or pointing  out time restrictions

Focus groups

Focus groups help develop a job description and a list of prerequisite skills that accurately reflect the position and the jobholder. The end results of these focus group meetings are the knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSA) of the job holder.

Focus groups may consist of current jobholders and supervisors. Usually, seven to ten people is an effective number of participants for a focus group.

Direct observation

Use direct observation when none of the other three information-gathering techniques is available. Select a Subject Matter Expert (SME) or job expert to observe this job performance. Write down every step performed by the SME or job expert.

Before conducting this observation, do the following:

  • Designate team members to conduct the observations

  • Develop observation checklists

  • Provide “train the trainer” (how to conduct the observation) information to the designated team members who will conduct these observations

  • Designate successful job performers for the observations

  • Request permission from appropriate authorities to conduct the observations

  • Provide dates and times for the observations

  • Mark the checklist

  • Share observations with the job performer

Gathering information correctly should give an estimation of the requirements for successful performance for the given job (process).

Conducting a Front-end Analysis

After completing the steps in the information gathering process, you are now ready to conduct an FEA. Job performers, SMEs, ISDs, and other appropriate personnel may conduct each step of the FEA. While there are many different types of FEA templates, I recommend a process that:

 

  • Determines the nature of the opportunity or request
  • Identifies the types of information (data) required
  • Identifies the sources of information for your FEA research
  • Creates the data collection tools
  • Identifies your audience(s)
  • Collects the data
  • Analyzes the data 
  • Produces a FEA report

 

Determine the nature of the opportunity or request

To document and process initial customer requests, gather introductory information, such as the name of the client, the name of the requesting authority, the date of the request or the start date of the FEA research, and the end date of the FEA,. Use this information to collect general information from your client. Assign one or more of your team members and a project identification code to the project. There are three reasons for gathering this preliminary information. The first reason is to determine what type of training or instruction may be needed. (Two examples of types of instruction are policy training and regulation training.) The second reason is to determine what system(s) will need training or instruction. The third reason is to determine the performance gap (the difference between the current job or instructional performance and the ideal or acceptable job or instructional performance.)

Identify the types of information (data) required

Your data should provide appropriate resource information for the following questions:

  • What is the “as of now” performance? How do people perform now?

  • What is the ideal performance at the end of performance support, training, or instruction? What end result is desired following performance improvement or instruction?

  • What is the best solution to achieve the desired performance at the end of training? Do we need “perfect” performance or will a lesser standard (75%) satisfy the performance or instructional requirements for this instruction?

Identify your sources of information for your FEA

Identify sources of information, the materials needed, and where to find this information. Your sources of information may include books, journals, Websites, and job descriptions.

Create the data collection tools

Use the following methods for gathering material:

  • Surveys and questionnaires to specifically question task performers, supervisors and other appropriate personnel. Some question and answer formats include surveys, checklists and Likert Rating Scales

  • Focus groups - use specific questions for seven to ten designated people. You may have one focus group for the FEA data collection or several focus groups to represent different target audiences

  • Lessons learned: ask these questions: “What event went wrong?” “Why did the event go wrong?” and “What is the solution to fix the event?”

  • Direct observation: use direct observations to gather data when formal data is not available

Use SMEs to help create your data collection instruments, so that your survey instruments ask the right questions. Two important questions to ask when collecting the data are, “How many people are needed to satisfy your sample size?” and “How many different audiences are needed to satisfy your sample size?”

Collect the data

In collecting data, the analyst wants to capture the right types of information from enough appropriate people. A good method is as follows:

  • Randomly select employees based on the total number of names on the population list. Divide by twice the number of employees desired for the sample.

  • A solution for a 10% sample of an employee population would be calculated this way:

    • 5000 employees X .1 = 500 employees

    • 500 X 2 = 1000 employees as a random sample size

  • Call or e-mail employees on the list until you have received a commitment from 500 employees.

Analyze the data

You are looking for “triggers” that serve as learning or training requirements. These requirements are potential inputs to the instructional analysis process. When you determine that there is such a requirement, these process steps apply:

  • Identify the required level of proficiency for the skill set

  • Identify the critical tasks, knowledge, skills, tools and resources (based upon importance, consequence of error, and frequency data)

  • Group tasks using the job task analysis data

  • Prioritize main tasks, subtasks and procedures

  • Identify the training characteristics (e.g. how long it takes to learn, coordination of teaming requirements, chain of command, likely performance errors and remediation strategies)

  • Identify the training conditions (e.g. location, environment, time pressure, stress level, changing equipment and tools)

  • Identify the training gaps

  • Identify the desired outcomes (cognitive, psychomotor, verbal and social) for each core task, core subtask or procedure

  • Identify a learning objective statement verb

  • Identify criterion for acceptable performance, such as quality, quantity and speed

  • Generate the learning objective statement (the OUTPUT from the task analysis)

Completing an FEA Report

The purpose of a Front-end Analysis Report (FEAR) is to solidify a plan, collect and analyze information, and integrate with the design and development steps of the ADDIE process. Three areas of concern for the FEAR are to:

  • Identify the major needs, concerns or problem(s)

  • Identify the relevant existing information and its formats

  • Determine the data to collect and sources, methods and potential uses of the data

Use a formal report format for detailed reports. The length of your report depends on the audience receiving the report and their needs. Use slides if the FEAR will present only key points.

A FEAR may consist of a number of sections. I recommend using the structure in Sidebar 1 to organize the information.

 

Sidebar 1 Front-end Analysis Report (FEAR)
Recommended Format

Section

Content

1

Preliminary Information: requestor, requesting authority, date of request, start and end dates of the analysis, reasons for conducting the analysis, brief description of the analysis

2

Current job performance or instructional situation

3

Desired job performance or instructional situation

4

Comparison: current situation vs. desired situation

5

Current materials needed for this project

6

Additional resources for the project

7

Explanation and recommendation of instructional presentation methods (e.g., classroom instruction, on-the-job training (OJT), media-based instruction)

8

Output statements (with explanation for this front-end analysis)

 

Summary

A successful Front-end Analysis ensures a thorough investigation of a performance or instruction problem and identifies possible alternative ways to correct it, before the design team begins to create instructional content. This saves time, money, and resources, and gives better assurance that the action taken will correct the problem.

A number of elements that may be part of a Front-end Analysis, and a systematic procedure such as the one I have outlined in the two parts of this article is essential in order to cover them all. It is important not to rule out any of the alternative solutions (not only instruction, but also performance support, improved references, changes to practice or process, better selection of persons to assign to critical tasks, and changes to supervisory or managerial practices) before completing the investigation and analysis.


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Thanks for the article. I would like to make several points:

1
Other than your note at the end not to rule out alternative solutions (performance support, selection, job redesign), I would consider this a training needs assessment and not a front-end analysis. Your emphasis appears to be on identifying the skills/knowledge (training) gaps through the use of the methods mentioned above. Your analysis, too, assumes a training solution. All fine and good, but I usually find the need to explore other "causes" of the performance gap with the SMEs and include those causes and recommended solutions in the report. I usually find training alone will not solve the problem. There usually needs to be management involvement, coaching, incentives, job redesign, etc. coupled with the training to make the change stick.

2
I often delve down into the job/task analysis, training outcomes, objectives, conditions AFTER submitting at least a preliminary report to the client showing the causes of the performance gap. Often, I find, the client wants to know the problem first, and details later.

3
Lastly, as a lesson learned, I find it important to follow up with at least a few non-respondents to questionnaires or no-shows to focus groups. They often have a reason for not participating that can bear light on the underlying feelings, fears, hopes, or even disengagement of some of the job performers that must also be taken into account when designing the solution set.

Thanks for the article and letting me add my two cents.



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