Project Reality Check #23: Gather the Wisdom – Cognitive Task Analysis

by Gary Monti on May 24, 2011

Capturing the wisdom of trusted experts pays huge dividends. Its results form a basis for a lessons-learned library that can institutionalize effective and efficient methods for getting work done. An associate of mine, Deb Peluso uses Cognitive Task Analysis (CTA) to capture the wisdom and experience of seasoned people. The method is absolutely fascinating both in terms of setting a frame of mind and in capturing specific information that can become part of an organization’s DNA.

Imagine having a method where you can think out loud with the team to determine how best to attack a problem! This blog provides a small piece of CTA showing how to mine some of the nuggets that may be obvious to the expert but are potentially invisible to others.

Job Dimensions

One of the trickiest parts of solving a problem is trying to determine which solution domain is appropriate. Following is information from Harvesting the Wisdom of Top Performers showing how CTA can help break down how experts go about tackling a problem into various components:

  1. Time Orientation. Understanding how a situation got to where it is now and where it looks to be going in the future;
  2. Systems Thinking. Being able to see the whole as well as the parts and understand the interplay between the parts;
  3. Paying Attention. Seeing the triggers for pending opportunities or threats;
  4. Tricks of the Trade. This is about knowing where the balance point lies between following policies and procedures and taking short cuts;
  5. Innovating. Understanding where improvising is essential;
  6. Self-Awareness. This is akin to self-actualization, i.e., feeding back on oneself and accurately judging one’s performance;
  7. Atypical Situations. Understanding when things are out of the ordinary and deciding what changes are needed based on the degree of variance present;
  8. Misleading Information. This is the 6th sense experts have. The dials, gauges, and reports are all pointing in one direction but the expert senses something is wrong and there’s a need to go in a different direction.

Acknowledgement Revisited

The previous two blogs covered Acknowledgement and the Wealth that can be developed by doing it routinely. It was asked, “Who would you pick to acknowledge and why?” The 8 points listed above may provide some guidance. How far would your team go if there were routine feedback and brainstorming sessions guided by the 8 steps listed above? To me, it is a bit mind-boggling!

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