Problem Analysis: 3 Job Aids to Find Root Causes

My Human Performance Improvement Toolbox

HPI Image for blog

Beresford and Stolovich (2012) defined human performance improvement (HPI) as three perspectives: vision, concept, and end. Vision is for individuals to succeed in areas that are valued by their organization’s stakeholders. Concept is to use the vision to accomplish the organization’s goals through successful interactions with not only the organization’s stakeholders, but also with the customers, regulatory agencies, and society. End refers to terminal behaviors, products, and other outcomes that provide a return on investment (ROI).  I’ll use Beresford and Stolovich’s perspectives on HPI in my toolbox to address the needs of an organization.

Gilbert (2007) provided HPI with a formula for worthy performances (Pw), which is Pw = Av/Bc, where Av refers to valued accomplishments and Bc refers to costly behaviors. The term “costly” can have positive and negative connotation; it references the costs involved with each performance (e.g., salaries, resources, and trainings). Gilbert’s formula is a powerful tool for better determining worthy performances.

The first step in improving a particular performance is to conduct a needs assessment (NA) to better understand the current performance in relation to the desired outcomes such as industry standards (benchmarking) coupled with the vision of an organization. A NA helps organizations identify the gap (need) between the actual and optimal performance levels of an organization. I would rely on the Aultschuld’s (2010) three-phase NA model (preassessment, NA, postassessment), as a guide for interacting with a NA team and NA committee of stakeholders. In the preassessment, my team would gather data on the topic from key informants, literature, and extant resources.

The NA team would follow up on emergent themes describing the perceived need and gather specific information via interviews, questionnaires, and focus groups on what the respondents value as possible solutions. The NA postassessment process identifies the problem succinctly. Is the gap due to a lack of incentives, knowledge, skills, or institutional support?  Training is not always the answer.  Interactions and behaviors can be improved via instructional and/or noninstructional interventions. For instance, HPI can be as simplistic as buying a better writing instrument (e.g., Dr. Grip pen) to expedite note-taking on the job. This would be a noninstructional intervention.

I’d utilize the various job aids provided in Aultschuld’s series of books to identify and address the problem in light of the organizations concepts. For example, I favor Ishikawa’s Fishbone Diagram with the bones representing the various issues within labeled categories of performance. Moreover, I’d collect solutions from stakeholders and conduct a Sork feasibility study to determine the appropriate solutions.  Given the complexity of a NA, the Aultschuld series would serve as another item in my HPI toolbox.

I created a manual of methods for problem analysis (PA) for novice instructional designers that can be used on a daily basis when a full NA is impossible.  I studied Jonassen’s typology of problems to determine the type and possible actions required.  I learned if the problem is well-structured, then a quick solution can be found because it is easily solved.  If it is ill-structured, then I should conduct a PA to get to the root of the problem. I would use Harless’ (1974) list of 14 questions for PA. I recognize his first one as being very important: Is there a problem? After a problem(s) is identified, I would use Toyoda’s Why Tree for root cause analysis; this technique keeps asking why for each response given until the root(s) is identified. Then I would use Sanders and Thiagarajan’s 6-box model to see which areas of an organization are affected by these performance problems: knowledge, information, motives, process, resources, wellness. I also learned from Jonassen’s (2004) work that we should collect our problems in a fault database.  This is something I have been doing to improve our turnaround in resolving learning management system (LMS) issues at my workplace to increase our ROI for cost, labor, and learning outcomes.

For interventions at my workplace, I use job aids, embedded performance systems, and the aforementioned idea for a fault database. I purchased Rossett and Gautier-Down’s (1991) HPI resource book, A Handbook of Job Aids.  This book provides matrices (Frames Type II) for the user to discern which job aid should be used with which type of task. I also create job aids for the workplace to facilitate teaching and learning.  For example, I create how-to guides for instructional technology software (e.g., Camtasia Studio) for instructors who are unable to attend trainings and must learn on their own.  Job aids are useful HPI tools for infrequent tasks like the occasional instructional video one might need to create for class. I have also been focusing on providing performance support mechanisms for right-time needs for students and instructors.  I noticed an overreliance on the instructional designer to answer all LMS related questions.  To provide an embedded support system, I added a webpage on our LMS to answer frequently asked questions. This has greatly reduced my cue of email requests, all the while improving the performance of those affected. In closing, for my HPI general framework, I rely on Beresford and Stolovich’s HPI perspectives of vision, concept, and end.  To put my framework into action, I rely on the works of Gilbert, Autschuld, Jonassen, Harless, Ishikawa, Sanders, Thiagarajan, and Toyoda.


Altschuld, J. W., & Kumar, D. D. (2010). Needs assessment. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Beresford B., & Stolovitch, H. D. (2012). The development and evolution of human performance improvement. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.) Trends and issues in instructional design & technology (3rd ed.) (pp. 135-146). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon Pearson Education.

Harless, J. H. (1974). An analysis of front-end analysis. Improving Human Performance, 2(4), 229-244.

Jonassen, D. H. (2004). Learning to solve problems: An instructional design guide. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Rossett, A., & Gautier-Downes, J. (1991). A handbook of job aids. San Francisco: CA. Pfeiffer & Company.