The paradigm: a road map to a job aid

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Figuring Things Out.

An aside: if you need a little Irish diversion to get through the day, try last week’s side-trip post:
No ‘Danny Boy’ and Not Much Guile.

One of the most productive uses of a paradigm (the task-analysis technique this series of posts has dealt with) is to suggest the content and even the form of a job aid for the task in question.

Here’s a paradigm that was part of a large inventory-management system.  The task involved setting a a code to kick off a data extract that in turn would generate an electronic data interchange form.  (You can click the image for a larger version.)


There’s a simple chain, then a discrimination between four possible choices. You chose one code depending on the type of output you want.  Regardless of the code you type, you press enter to put the new status to in effect (which, in the less-than-clear language of this system, meant you’ve finalized the replenishment order).

Here’s the job aid.  Notice how it reflects the analysis in the paradigm.  (Click for a larger version.)


The simple-chain steps become cookbook steps.  The discrimination becomes a decision table (if X, then do Y).

I’m working up a more complex example based on a more complex paradigm.  For the last post in this series, I’ll highlight how different patterns of activity result in different kinds of job-aid steps.

So: if you’ve got a complicated job, could you end up with lots of job aids? Sure.

It’s not a given that you’ll want to build job aids–but it’s pretty likely, and it’s more efficient (as I noted here). Doing the kind of analysis that the paradigm calls for, you learn enough about the task to look for the usual create-a-job-aid suspects:

  • Infrequently performed tasks,
  • Tasks with many steps
  • Tasks with complicated steps
  • Tasks with a high penalty for error
  • Tasks likely to change,
  • Tasks without a significant need for speed.

Job aids don’t necessarily take the cheat-sheet form you see above.  In the real inventory project, yes, they did–a bunch of job aids in a spiral-bound book the inventory manager kept near the computer. They could just as easily come in digital form, like embedded, context-sensitive help.

The real point is that you can’t decide whether to teach the task (try and have people memorize the steps) or to support performance with a job aid until you know what the steps are, including discriminations and generalizations. One way to capture those is through a process like paradigming.

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3 thoughts on “The paradigm: a road map to a job aid

  1. Thanks Dave – just what I needed to jump start my thinking for a job-aid-related piece of work.

    Stumbled across your site by happenstance, but remember your engaging postings on TRDEV-L or its successors well.

    Regards from Sunny Melbourne,


  2. Greg, I’m glad you found it useful. I believe an awful lot of what gets perpetrated as training could easily appear in job aids. Sometimes that obviates the need for formal training; at other times, you speed up training, since you’re not trying to get people to remember stuff they don’t need to remember.

    I hope you’ll be back. That’ll build up my Australian readership to, I think, two.

    I spent a week in Melbourne, years ago (the week they learned they’d lost the Olympics to Atlanta), and would happily return.

  3. Thanks Dave – it’s a rare day that I can increase someone’s performance figures by 100% in seconds :).

    Agree with the comments about job aids reducing reliance on or reducing the volume of training. However, my challenge appears to involve the client seizing on job aids as a solution to a problem which is really a symptom of something else.

    The two different clients who are seeking some form of job aid (one an international professional services firm; the other a group of medical practitioners whose honorifics include the word “professor”). The former want job aids for a knowledge management system that has no relationship to current business processes (and the organisation inadvertently punishes people for using), and the latter want to improve the speed and quality of diagnosing a particular form of brain injury, for which there is no agreed protocol.

    I think my real value here will be to gently steer each of them them back to address what’s really going on rather than waste money on the wrong solution. However, to paraphrase Chris Argyris, smart people’s resistance to change can be profound.

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