When to build a job aid: go / no-go

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series When to Build a Job Aid.

If you’re wondering whether you should build a job aid to support some task, this is the first of a three-part guide to help you figure things out.

Should you, or shouldn't you (part 1)?

That first consideration (“Is a job aid required?”) isn’t as daft as it might seem.  If your organization mandates a job aid for some task, then you’re stuck.  You want to do the best job you can with it (or maybe you don’t), but unless you convince the right people to reverse the policy, somebody’s going to be building a job aid.

Which means you can skip the rest of the “should I build?” stuff that will appear in Parts 2 and 3.

Assuming that a job aid isn’t mandatory, the next question is whether speed or rate is a critical factor in performing whatever the task is.  The short answer is that if speed matters, a job aid isn’t going to work.

Wing tips up, feet down, watch for that wave...First, when it comes to routinely high-volume work like factory production or air-traffic control, that normal high-volume state doesn’t allow the performer time to consult a job aid.  Successful results depend on learning–on committing skill and knowledge to memory, and on retrieving and applying those things appropriately.

I’m a pretty fast typist (65 – 80 words per minute if I’ve been writing a lot), but the moment I glance down at the keyboard my rate drops, because the visual signal interferes with the virtually automatic, high-rate process I normally use at a keyboard.

That’s rate.  As for speed, many jobs call for you to apply knowledge and skill  in an unscheduled fashion, but quickly.  Think about safely driving a car through a tricky situation, much less an emergency.  You don’t have the opportunity to consult a job aid.  If a kid on a bike suddenly pulls out in front of you, you can’t look up what to do.

Anyone who’s helped train a new driver knows what it’s like when the novice is trying to decide if it’s safe to turn into traffic.  We experienced drivers have internalized all sorts of data to help us decide without thinking, “Yes, there’s plenty of time before that bus gets here; I can make the left turn.” In the moment, the newcomer doesn’t have that fluency but has to be guided toward it–just not via a job aid.

What’s next?

Once you’ve determined that you’re not required to build a job aid, and that there’s no obstacle posed by a need for high speed or high rate, you’ll look at the nature of the performance for clues that suggest job aids.  That’ll be the next post: Ask the Task.

CC-licensed image of seabirds by Paul Scott.

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