The success of process improvement projects is greatly influenced by good planning for gathering requirements or user stories. Part of the planning is identifying which of the analysis techniques will be effective for the elicitation of business needs with stakeholders. One objective for these techniques is to enhance project team collaboration by establishing a common understanding of the business process, thus providing a knowledge basis for developing changes. This article explores using job task instructions as an analysis technique for supporting project team collaboration by providing a platform to keep team members informed with the decisions on workplace changes.
Job Task Instructions
Job task instructions contain the details of how to perform job tasks. Maintaining job task instructions keeps workplace details accessible for use and prevents knowledge from being forgotten and lost. The work details are organized by job tasks, a tangible workplace entity that stakeholders and the rest of the project team can visually see, relate to and understand. Job task instructions are lightweight, easy to use documents for capturing and maintaining the workplace details.
Task instructions provide the hub for connecting the 3 elements that makeup workplace learning: Process, Technology, and People. Using task instructions, the team can review and maintain the information for the 3 workplace learning elements listed below.
- Process: identifies the job tasks details on when and how the workforce performs actions to achieve business goals.
- Technology: identifies and describes the software applications and other business systems to store information used by the workforce to perform the job task.
- People: identifies the workforce individuals that perform the job tasks.
Job task instructions are an efficient vehicle for taking notes on the project team’s decisions on changes and their impact on the workplace learning elements. The project team can rely on these notes to communicate, and stay up-to-date on these decision details throughout the course of the project.
Using Job Task Instructions for Noting Workplace Changes
During project meetings, the team can use job task instructions as a collaboration platform for planning out the workplace changes. As the team is deciding on changes, they can identify which of the job tasks are going to be involved and also note the instructions and system modifications needed to implement the changes. Throughout the progression of the project, the team will continue to add and improve the job task modifications as they work through the details of the workplace changes. At the end of the project meetings, the team will have accumulated a list of the details for the job task changes, system changes and also impacted workforce individuals. By using job task instructions for noting the team decisions, they are also building an observable account of the workplace changes that can be easily reviewed and understood by the team members.
Business Need Identification
During the initial meetings where the stakeholders are presenting their issues to the project team, they can use job task instructions as an effective means for identifying problem areas. Using job tasks to show the issue is more descriptive and efficient than verbally explaining the issue. By presenting the job task instructions associated with the issue, the team can visually see where the issue exists within the process. At the end of these meetings, the team will have an initial list which identifies the job tasks with issues.
Business Need Analysis
In subsequent meetings, the project team will further analyze the issues to gain an in depth and accurate understanding of the business needs. The issues presented initially may only be a symptom of a larger problem and the root cause of the problem may actually exist within another job task in the process. Analysis will examine each issue in order to uncover any additional complexities for addressing business needs. The conclusion of the analysis will be a more complete list of job tasks involved with the issues along with more in depth detail notes describing the business needs.
Planning Solutions with Requirements / User Stories
After the analysis is complete, the project team can start planning out the solutions to address the stakeholder business needs. They can begin developing the requirements or user stories that represent the programming changes needed to fulfill the business needs. Along with developing the requirements/user stories, the project team will continue to capture their decision notes for the solutions to the corresponding job tasks being used to fulfill the business needs. Even if the programming design has not been fully developed, the project team can still provide some general notes on how programming will address the business needs. As the team continues with planning solutions, the job tasks change notes will start reflecting the to-be process. As a result of the planning, the project team will have a list of the requirements or user stories along with the matching notes on the changes to the involved job tasks. These job tasks notes provide the description of the to-be-process and will aid the stakeholders with selecting and approving the requirements or user stories for development.
Selecting and Approving Requirements/User Stories
After eliciting the list of requirements or user stories, the stakeholders will need prioritize and select which requirements/user stories will get programming changes. The process for selecting requirements and user stories follows two different software development methodologies: Waterfall & Agile. The following will describe how job task instructions will be used with these methodologies.
Requirement Selection (Waterfall Approach)
The use of requirements is generally associated with the Waterfall Development methodology. With the waterfall methodology, all of the requirements for development are selected and approved as a set before development starts. The set of requirements defines the scope of the development effort for the project. The waterfall methodology also provides developers comprehensive design documentation to provide guidance on the programming. With the selection of requirements, the project team can start updating the instructions for the job tasks involved by using the notes the corresponding requirements. The updated job task instructions reflect the stakeholder’s decisions and current understanding of the to-be-process. They can then use the instructions as a platform to communicate any additional instruction details needed to address the programming changes.
User Story Selection (Agile Approach)
The use of user stories is associated with the Agile Development methodology. Agile software development is performed on iterative development cycles and the user stories are individually selected and developed during these iterations. Along with incrementally adding user stories, the agile methodology relies on more frequent communication among the stakeholders instead of using a comprehensive design document to decide on design issues. To prepare for the planning meetings for the development iterations, stakeholders can update the job tasks instructions associated with the user stories selected for the upcoming development cycle. During the meeting, the team can use the instructions as a communication platform to capture any additional decisions made during the development meetings.
Updating User Instructions before Programming
Modifying user instructions before the software programming is completed may seem too risky and challenges traditional beliefs. This was true, historically, during early software development. The early programming packages started off with very primitive capabilities. With these early development packages, developing software features was time consuming and required many lines of code. It was difficult to predict how the features were going to look and function. Stakeholders often had to accept the limited functionality developed into features and this would require major documentation changes to compensate for the partial features. The programming packages used now are much more sophisticated. Developers are able to very quickly produce features that contain a wide assortment of functional options using just a few lines of code. Now when a stakeholder is requesting a feature, the developer can offer the stakeholder different options on how the features will function. This improvement in programming enables the plans and decisions about how the feature will function to be captured as user instructions. Now the risk of documentation changes is much less and less severe, although there will still be times when the developer does not deliver the features exactly as planned and the user instructions will need some minor adjustments.
Reporting Project Progress
Throughout the progression of the project, the team has been compiling a list of notes that details the job task changes, system changes and also impacted workforce individuals. This list of changes can provide useful content for project progress reports especially reporting to groups outside of the project team (user community, upper management, investors, etc.). Using the figures on the number of job tasks, systems and employees affected by the project delivers meaningful material for understanding the project scope and impact for the different audience groups receiving the report.
The updated job task instructions reduce the time needed to prepare the additional implementation information. When designing the software testing, the team can use the instructions as a guide for writing the testing scripts. The team can use job task instructions as a direct source to provide faster delivery of training. The task instructions are also an excellent source for developing additional training materials such as videos or courses.
Learning Support for Stakeholders
The job task instructions are lightweight documents that support stakeholders with performing their jobs while they are still learning the job details. For the end users, the job task instructions are a long term information asset that benefits both the new staff with learning their job and existing staff with learning the changes to their job. The end users can rely on their job task instructions to stay up-to-date on the latest workplace changes. This on-the-job support enables the users to quickly get up-to-speed and be productive with using the software changes.
Supporting post project adjustments
After the project is over and the software changes are in production, the stakeholders will still use their job task instruction to make further workplace adjustments. When the stakeholders are addressing the new day to day issues, they will continue to use the job task instructions to plan and implement the solutions to those issues. Similar to their use in software projects, the stakeholders will use the instructions as a collaboration platform to work through the solution details. They will then deliver the instructions to the rest of the business team to keep them informed of the solutions and support their implementation of workplace changes.
This article explored using job task instructions as an analysis technique for supporting project team collaboration. Job task instructions were shown to have more functionality than mere training documentation. They operated as resources that serve the long term purpose of preserving and sharing business decisions. As businesses are deciding on solutions and improvements they can use the job task instructions as a vehicle to work through and capture the decision details. Job task instructions provide an inherent and real-world view of the business process and are a reusable asset that can be continuously applied with future projects.
Author: Michael Sinotte, Founder and President of Tri-J Solutions, Inc.
Michael has over 30 years of experience with developing, implementing and supporting software systems. He has led several software development teams in completing application project initiatives in a wide range of industries including pharmaceutical, manufacturing, logistics and media marketing.
He oversees the company’s flagship product, NotoWare is a web-based application that provides a simple and effective system for mangers and their team to plan and implement workplace changes.