As I straddle the line between performance improvement and instructional design, I have been mulling over the use of Front-End Analysis and thinking about whether it would apply to the performance problems that we so often see associated with implementing ERP systems.
Front-end analysis is actually part of the Human Performance Technology (HPT) model, which is a systematic approach to improving productivity and competence. More specifically, it is a process for cost-effectively influencing human behavior and accomplishment.
The Human Performance Technology Model
HPT follows the framework of the ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation) model, but it puts greater emphasis on the front-end analysis phase. HPT can be applied to individuals, small groups, and large organizations.
It is a combination of five fundamental processes:
- Performance analysis
- Cause analysis
- Intervention selection and design
- Intervention implementation and change
This is the International Society for Performance Improvement’s (ISPI’s) Human Performance Technology (HPT) model, with the front-end analysis component highlighted:
CLICK TO ENLARGE
Typically, front-end analysis is used to:
- Define current and desired performance states
- Identify the performance gap.
The performance gap is the difference between where the organization or individual is and where they want to be. Front-end analysis determines the influences on that gap by conducting a series of analyses— performance analysis (which includes organizational and environmental analyses) and cause analysis (which includes the organization’s environmental support and the individual’s behavioral repertory).
The gap is closed by designing the appropriate intervention. The intervention could be training, or it could be something else.
Joe Harless, the father of front-end analysis, has said that the purpose of front-end analysis is to:
- Ask a series of Smart Questions in order to prevent spending money on unnecessary activities
- Come up with the most appropriate solution
- Produce the desired performance outcomes.
These are Harless’s Smart Questions, as annotated by Chester Stevenson in his “Review of Joe Harless – Front End Analysis and the 13 Smart Questions”:
These first five questions could be categorized as Performance Analysis:
- Do we have a problem? (Based on what evidence can you say you have a problem?)
- Do we have a performance problem?
- How will we know when the problem is solved? (When indicators from the first question are the exception.)
- What is the performance problem?
- Should we allocate resources to solve it? (Do the benefits of solving the problem outweigh the costs?)
The next three questions we can categorize as Cause Analysis:
- What are the possible causes of the problem? (Lack of data, tools, incentives, knowledge, capacity, motives?)
- What evidence bears on each possibility?
- What is the probable cause? (Based on Questions 6 and 7, what is the probable cause of the problem?)
The final four questions fall under Intervention Selection, Design, and Development
- What general solution type is indicated?
- What are the alternate subclasses of solution? (What else could you do to solve the problem?)
- What are the costs, effects, and development times of each solution? (Research the costs of each solution)
- What are the constraints? (Research the constraints of each solution)
- What are the overall goals? (What goals would management like to adopt?)
Front-end analysis is all the smart questions that a manager, educator, trainer, and consultant should ask before deciding what specific solution to develop for a performance problem. Asking the smart questions helps organizations (1) spend money on performance problems that are worth solving, (2) thoroughly investigate the causes for the problems, and (3) determine the most cost-effective solutions.
Can Front-End Analysis Apply to ERP Performance Problems?
So my question is: How can front-end analysis be applied to performance problems associated with ERP system implementations?
Implementing a new ERP system is a problem in and of itself. An ERP implementation kicks off with employees at different levels of performance. Some may have had previous experience with the new system or a similar system. Some are quick studies. Some will be changing the way they perform their job based on new processes engendered by the system. And some will have trouble.
Rich Makela, performance consultant, says that Harless doesn’t ask who people are. He focuses on performance as a nebulous thing as opposed to people trying to do specific things under specific conditions.
These are some examples of the types of performance problems that will occur, just, because of the very nature of an ERP system.
- Early in the implementation, it needs to be determined what there is in the new system that provides obstacles to performance and what there is about the screen layout and content that might cause performance problems.
- Not everyone will need to do everything. Even if the entire workforce is dealing with the same system, they will be performing different tasks, resulting in different sub-audiences. And there will be further sub-audiences based on level of skills and experience and job changes.
- Expert users will become Super Users. Part of their jobs will be training their peers on the new system. Their new role will also require new skills—performing stand-up training and user support.
- Data entry personnel’s jobs will change as daily operations are automated. Their jobs will now include troubleshooting and will require different skills—analysis, problem solving, and decision-making.
A performance improvement process involves analyzing the problems after they occur. With an ERP implementation, these problems or sets of problems need to be identified and addressed prior to the go-live. The organization needs to determine what they are looking for to get people ready to serve these new roles. The current workforce needs to be analyzed to determine the skill gaps and then train the individuals or reassign them to a new job.
And obviously, the benefits of solving the problems outweigh the costs of a drop in productivity.
Where the real issues lie, and it is this that bridges the gap between instructional design and performance improvement, is in analyzing the causes of those performance problems (which actually go beyond an individual’s experience or adaptability. Employees’ performance can be influenced by the organizational culture, the work process, the work environment, or the incentive system.
Behavioral Engineering Model
Thomas Gilbert’s behavioral engineering model (BEM) is used in conjunction with Front-End Analysis to distinguish between environmental supports (the work environment factors that encourage or impede performance) and a person’s repertory of behavior (what the individual brings to the table).
This is an updated version of the BEM described by Roger Chevalier (2003) .
- Environmental factors include information, resources, and incentives:
- Information is communicating clear expectations, providing the necessary guides to do the work, and giving timely, behaviorally specific feedback.
- Resources are making certain that the proper materials, tools, time, and processes are present to accomplish the task.
- Incentives ensure that the appropriate financial and non-financial incentives [such as games] are present to encourage performance.
- Personal factors include motives, capacity, and knowledge/skills:
- Individual motives should be aligned with the work environment so that employees have a desire to work and excel.
- Capacity refers to whether the employee is able to learn and do what is necessary to be successful on the job.
- Knowledge/skills refer to whether the individual has the knowledge and skills necessary to do a specific task.
Chevalier says that information, resources, and incentives are usually cheaper to fix than individual factors. Motives, capacity, and knowledge are more costly to address and require greater effort. However, both sets of factors need to be addressed.
In order for a large-scale software implementation to be successful and people to perform at a level of 100% at go-live, addressing all these factors need to become part of the solution.
As I continue to think how to integrate Performance Improvement with Instructional Design, I see a need for a holistic solution involving Human Resources, Organizational Development, Change Management, Communication, and Instructional Design. And by nature of the critical role that training performs in getting employees up to top performance on ERP systems, instruction would need to play a significant role. That role, in turn, needs to incorporate panoply of performance improvement interventions.
According to Rich Makela, using a front-end analysis for new software implementations is no different than a front-end analysis focusing on performance problems within the organization—it addresses what the business is trying to accomplish and what is getting in the way.
Chevalier, Roger. “Updating the Behavior Engineering Model.” Performance Improvement, 42, 5, 8-14. (May/June 2003)
Chyung, Seung Youn. Foundations of Front-end Analysis. Amherst, MA: HRD Press (2008).
Gilbert, Thomas. Human competence: Engineering worthy performance (Tribute edition). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer. (2007)
Makela, Richard. “Focus on Front End Analysis: A Facilitated Discussion.” PowerPoint Presentation. MNISPI, January 17 Chapter Meeting. (January 17, 2012). http://www.mnispi.org.getby.us/Meetings/meeting_info.html.
May, Andrea. “Gamification in Workplace Learning: The Role of Play” (October 20, 2011). http://www.dashe.com/blog/lcbq-2/gamification-in-workplace-learning-the-role-of-play.
Pershing, James (Ed.). Handbook of Human Performance Technology: Principles, Practices, and Potential, 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer (2006)
Stevenson, Chester. “Review of Joe Harless – Front End Analysis and the 13 Smart Questions.” (September 1, 2010). http://onestoptrainer.blogspot.com.