Proxies for Work-as-Done: 4. Work-as-Analysed

In any attempt to understand or intervene in the design and conduct of work, we can consider several kinds of ‘work’. We are not usually considering actual purposeful activity – work-as-done. Rather, we use ‘proxies’ for work-as-done as the basis for understanding and intervention. In this series of short posts, I outline briefly some of these proxies. (See here for a fuller introduction to the series.)

Proxies for Work-as-Done | Steven Shorrock | CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
  1. Work-as-Imagined
  2. Work-as-Prescribed
  3. Work-as-Disclosed
  4. Work-as-Analysed (this post)
  5. Work-as-Observed
  6. Work-as-Simulated
  7. Work-as-Instructed
  8. Work-as-Measured
  9. Work-as-Judged


Work-as-analysed is the process and product of examination and representation of work

Function and Purpose: Work-as-analysed involves the use of analysis to understand and represent work, especially in terms of the elements or structure of work. Attempts at synthesis may follow analysis, either in terms of simply combining the elements to form a whole, or representing interactions. Both analysis and synthesis are considered here. Work-as-analysed is always based on one or more of the other proxies (typically, work-as-imagined, work-as-prescribed, work-as-observed, work-as-disclosed). Work-as-analysed is intended to describe how work is done to achieve certain goals (descriptive), or how work should be done (normative). Work-as-analysed may therefore share similarities with – and inform – work-as-prescribed. In fact, it may inform any other proxy, with various purposes concerning work design (e.g., interaction design), artefact design (e.g., interface and sign design, tool design), facility design (e.g., room layout), job design (e.g., job descriptions), competency (e.g., training, performance evaluation), safety and quality (e.g., error analysis, safety assessment, safety investigation, safety improvement), and justice (e.g., investigations and trials).

Form: Work-as-analysed is usually documented, typically as diagrams or tables, or both. The output is produced via a number of methods for activity, task and work analysis (e.g., hierarchical task analysis, link analysis, timeline analysis, cognitive task analysis [various methods]), job analysis (e.g., F-JAS, KSAO), systems analysis (e.g., influence diagrams, AcciMaps, FRAM). These vary in scope and resolution (micro, meso, macro; task, scenario, job, team, system). They also vary in their description or representation of goals, operations, sequence, timing, conditionality, and interactivity. Some industries, such as nuclear, rail, aviation, chemical manufacturing, rely heavy on work-as-analysed for a variety of purposes, especially related to safety and the design of training and artefacts, while others do not, often due to lack of understanding of the need, or a lack of capability. 

Agency: Work is often analysed by specialists in professions or functions such as human factors/ergonomics, psychology, design, engineering, training and development, selection, safety, quality, and operational support roles (such as procedure writers).

Variety: Work-as-analysed is limited in its variety, with each task or job typically having one or a small number of representations (perhaps at different levels of granularity), if any at all. The same work, analysed by different analysts even using the same method, will however tend to result in different representations.

Stability: Representations of work-as-analysed may be updated periodically as required, though the effort required can be significant. However, it can quickly become out of date, even when it adequately reflects work-as-done at the time of analysis.

Fidelity: Work-as-analysed is meant to reflect and depict work-as-done. When there are significant gaps between the two, there can be consequences (for safety or usability, for example). However, it is difficult to describe work-as-done fully in the way that it really is done – even work that is well-understood. As with work-as-prescribed, it is just not possible to represent the precise way that much work is really done, except for observable aspects of very simple tasks. This is because of: a) the variable and dynamic nature of work-as-done (between different individuals and by the same individuals over time and in different situations); b) the interdependencies and conditions influencing work-as-done, including the interactions between people, contexts, and tools; c) the dynamic and covert nature of work-in-the-head (e.g., task switching, risk assessment, planning, judgement); d) limitations in terms of methods and the competencies required; e) the holistic nature of work-as-done, which often cannot be represented in a way that seems natural via analysis and synthesis. The atomistic nature of many forms of work-as-analysed loses the richness and subtlety of work-as-done, as well as much of the context. Meanwhile, in our attempts at synthesis (e.g., abstraction hierarchies, influence diagrams) we often “realise that everything connects to everything else” (as noted by Leonardo da Vinci), but representation results in a mass of indecipherable lines and arrows. This is often a sign of unfocused synthesis and is rarely helpful for practical purposes. So it is often impossible to describe work-as-done in a way that will align fully even with observable work, let alone individuals’ thinking and experience. Work-as-analysed – while valuable and even vital for certain purposes – can therefore seem artificial and contrived to those who do the work and have field expertise. 

Completeness: Work-as-analysed may form a partial or complete description of overt activity, depending on the boundary of analysis, but at different levels of granularity. As noted above, not all aspects of work-as-done can be analysed and described, and so work-as-analysed will never be ‘complete’. Again, this especially applies to work-in-the-head. Using a variety of methods for work-as-analysed helps to provide different perspectives on the work, and thus forms a more complete representation.

Granularity: Work is analysed at different levels of granularity for different purposes and in different contexts. At a macro level of granularity, there may be systems analyses. At a meso level, there may be team or job analyses. At the micro level, there may be various forms of task, activity and error analyses. Depending on a range of factors (e.g., criticality to quality or safety) certain aspects of work-as-done will be described in greater resolution. In some cases, each task step may be analysed and described in detail, down to cognitive aspects and physical interactions (e.g., monitoring, scanning, detection, identification, recall, recognition, judgement, planning, decision making, physical actions, speech). In other cases, analysis will be at a higher level, focusing more on higher level functions and interactions. Often, the more granular the analysis, the less focus on interactions, since the analysis becomes too unwieldy. 

Work-as-Observed and Work-as-Done | Steven Shorrock | CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Author: stevenshorrock

This blog is written by Dr Steven Shorrock. I am interdisciplinary humanistic, systems and design practitioner interested in human work from multiple perspectives. My main interest is human and system behaviour, mostly in the context of safety-related organisations. I am a Chartered Ergonomist and Human Factors Specialist with the CIEHF and a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society. I currently work as a human factors and safety specialist in air traffic control in Europe. I am also Adjunct Associate Professor at University of the Sunshine Coast, Centre for Human Factors & Sociotechnical Systems. I blog in a personal capacity. Views expressed here are mine and not those of any affiliated organisation, unless stated otherwise. You can find me on twitter at @stevenshorrock or email contact[at]humanisticsystems[dot]com.

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