Most ABA practitioners are familiar with the idea of task analysis: breaking down a skill into its component steps in order to facilitate learning how to successfully perform. Commonly, we apply task analyses (hereafter, TAs) to our clinical populations, using forward, backward, or total task chaining procedures to increase the odds that the client will contact reinforcement for engaging in the behavior. As ABA leaders, being skilled in writing TAs for clients often comes as part of our training, but modifying how we develop TAs for staff members is often not explicitly taught. However, learning to do this, and do it well, is a secret weapon for successful leaders. Writing a list of simple steps is a good start, but organizational behavior management (OBM) practitioners have a few different tools up their sleeves that can take your average TA and elevate it into an incredibly useful strategy for gaining staff compliance, consistency, and even increasing their satisfaction with their work.
In this blog, I’ll introduce you to a three cool ways you can modify your TAs using OBM and project/process management techniques.
- The Cross-Functional Process Map
If you listened to the Business of Behavior Podcast episode with myself and Dr. Becca Tagg, you heard me list process mapping as one of my top 5 OBM skills every behavior analyst should learn, and for good reason. Every time I teach someone this skill, it is a game changer! They often write me within the week, professing that they are now addicted to mapping processes.
At the most basic level, a process map takes your typical TA and arranges it graphically, but with a twist. Instead of simply arranging the steps in order, you use “swimlanes” to delegate steps to different players within the process, be it different departments or individuals. Each swimlane is labeled with the name of the role or department that completes it, and each step they complete in put into a rectangle in their lane. The rectangles are then connected by arrows, which shows the progression of the task. Cool, huh?
But the big differentiator, in my opinion, is when you have decisions that require different actions depending on the response. Decisions are signified by diamond shapes, and two arrows will emerge from the diamond to show the different paths that result as decisions are made. On a typical TA, this would often be complex and difficult to navigate: “If yes, proceed with step 5b, if no, go to step 7… Ok, now both proceed to step 12 after the decision is resolved…” This is just one of many cool aspects of this tool!
By adopting cross-functional process maps, I’ve observed teams collaborating more seamlessly. No one needs to question or wonder who is doing what, when, and what needs to be done when crucial decisions are on the table. For more information, there is a great chapter on developing these in Rummler and Brache’s Improving the White Space in the Organizational Chart.
- The Gantt Chart
This tool was a favorite of mine in grad school. I had Gantt charts for almost everything I did, because I was obsessed with planning, and had a lot of complex steps to complete by specific deadlines. Businesses are often no different, especially when they’re working on discrete, special projects like training development, performance management projects, etc.
A Gantt chart is your TA, written out on a high level in the first column of a table. You can nest sub-steps beneath big steps if you need to. The top row of the table signifies time at whatever scale best fits the task at hand. It can be days, weeks, months, and even years of you’re charting out your 1-3-5-year business plan!
To use this chart, highlight the boxes of the table during the timeframe that it should be done. Some steps may occur concurrently, so don’t be afraid to highlight multiple steps in a single time frame. Often times I will change the color of the highlight to represent either a phase in a project (pre- vs. post-launch, for example) or a different individual who is responsible for completing the step. I will also use these charts to work backward from a deadline: if I need to have my thesis completed by December, I will highlight the timeframes going backward to determine how much time I can reasonable spend on each step in the process to still meet that deadline.
I find Gantt charts to be my number 1 tool for discrete project planning, especially for short term initiatives. I also use them to communicate timelines for projects across teams; that way, everyone knows when things are happening, and no one feels like they are out of the loop.
- The Responsibility Matrix or RACI
Finally, the last tool for elevating your TA game using OBM is the Responsibility Matrix. For processes in which multiple people or departments are involved, using a Responsibility Matrix can help clarify the roles each person plays in each step of the process. A model I have adopted and encourage people to use is called RACI – Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed.
To create a RACI for your TA, you first want to list the steps in the process down the first column of the spreadsheet. Across the top row, list the people or departments that are involved in the process. Then, for each step, you want to identify who is:
- Responsible – Who is actively participating in the process step? Who are the “doers”? This may be multiple people.
- Accountable – Who will be the primary point of contact for this step? Who will be the one driving the step forward, and will be questioned if things aren’t moving along? (Pro Tip: Only 1 person should be accountable for each step! If too many people are held accountable, then no one is accountable.)
- Consulted – Who will we gather information from to ensure this step is completed appropriately? They will not necessarily have their hands on the process (like the Rs), but will be available for coaching if needed.
- Informed – Who will we keep in the loop about the progress of the step, but doesn’t need to be involved at length? This is usually important for people who will be an A of a later step, to help influence their actions if things change or new factors are introduced.
By identifying and clarifying these basic roles within a team, you can increase the likelihood that steps will be completed, the right communication will take place, and that everyone will know who to go to as the process flows on.
When I’ve used the above tools within organizations, employees and leaders alike have reported higher satisfaction with their jobs and the sub-tasks within the jobs. They also make for handy training and development tools as you onboard new employees, helping to clarify what happens (process map), when (Gantt chart), and by who (RACI). I hope you find these brief overviews helpful, and definitely contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about these tools and techniques!