By: Francois Aubin.


Human activities occur within a larger organizational framework, where the activities of one person are linked to others. Organizations typically divide into units such as departments or offices. For example, a bank might have units for loan officers who interact with clients, adjudications for decision-making, and operations for processing transactions. Within these units, employees have specific jobs with various tasks. For instance, a loan officer’s job includes tasks such as sales, information collection, and client follow-up. These tasks involve sub-tasks such as entering loan applications, validating information, obtaining client support documents, and checking credit bureaus.

Designing Work Organization, Jobs, and Tasks

The recommendations in this paper primarily focus on paid work but can also apply to household tasks, sports, volunteer work, and traffic management. The design process begins by describing all tasks to be performed.


Nature of human task

A job involves processing information and requires individuals to detect and perceive information through various stimuli (e.g., visual, verbal). This process includes several key steps:

  1. Detecting and Perceiving Information: This involves recognizing and interpreting information from different sources such as visual cues, spoken words, or other sensory inputs.
  2. Analyzing Information: After perceiving the information, the next step is to analyze it. This might involve comparing it to existing knowledge or data to understand its significance.
  3. Decision Making: Based on the analysis, decisions are made about the best course of action. This involves selecting from various options.
  4. Selecting Actions: Once a decision is made, the appropriate actions are selected and carried out.
  5. Getting Feedback: After performing the actions, feedback is received to assess the outcome and make any necessary adjustments.

Jobs can be categorized based on the level of cognitive processing involved:

  • System 1 Level Jobs: These tasks involve routine actions based on recognized patterns. For example, a cashier follows predetermined procedures to handle transactions. The actions are automatic and require little conscious thought.
  • System 2 Level Jobs: These tasks require deeper analysis and the use of long-term memory. For example, a medical diagnosis involves:
    • Detecting and Perceiving Information: Observing a patient’s symptoms.
    • Analyzing Information: Examining the patient, reviewing medical history, and possibly ordering tests.
    • Decision Making: Considering various possible diagnoses and selecting the most likely one.
    • Selecting Actions: Deciding on a treatment plan.
    • Getting Feedback: Monitoring the patient’s progress and adjusting the treatment as needed.


Describing Tasks

Tasks should be described neutrally, not by how they are performed. For instance, the task of processing a bank transaction can be done by a person or a machine, each with different methods.

Task Analysis

Task analysis involves breaking down a task into its component parts to understand its structure and requirements. This process includes:

  1. Identifying Sub-tasks: Determine the specific actions needed to complete the task. For processing a bank transaction, sub-tasks might include verifying account details, processing deposits or withdrawals, and updating account records.
  2. Evaluating Methods: Consider different methods for performing each sub-task. A person might manually verify account details and process transactions at a teller window, while an ATM or online banking system could automate these processes.
  3. Determining Requirements: Identify the skills, tools, and conditions necessary for each method. Manual processing requires human accuracy, customer service skills, and knowledge of banking procedures, while automation requires reliable technology, secure software, and regular maintenance.
  4. Assessing Outcomes: Evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of each method. This includes considering factors such as speed, accuracy, cost, and customer satisfaction. For example, ATMs provide quick and accurate transactions with lower operating costs, while human tellers offer personalized service and can handle complex or unusual requests.

By conducting a thorough task analysis, organizations can make informed decisions about how to allocate tasks between humans and machines, ensuring that each task is performed in the most effective manner possible.


Allocating Tasks Between Humans and Machines

Deciding whether humans or machines should perform tasks depends on their specific qualities:

  • Humans: Better at problem-solving, communication, decision-making, and occasional complex movements.
  • Machines: Better at repetitive tasks, operating in harsh conditions, and economic efficiency.


Creating Interesting Jobs

After tasks are allocated, they should be combined into interesting jobs that meet the following criteria:

  1. Completeness: Jobs should include a variety of preparatory, production, and support tasks.
  2. Control: Workers should have control over their work and avoid repetitive tasks.
  3. Variety: Jobs should alternate between easy and difficult tasks to prevent boredom and overstress.
  4. Autonomy: Workers should have the freedom to determine their work methods, order, and pace.
  5. Contact: Jobs should include opportunities for social interaction and communication.
  6. Information: Workers need sufficient information to control their tasks effectively.


Flexible Work Organization

Organizations should adopt flexible structures, moving away from traditional hierarchies to more collaborative and responsive frameworks. This involves:

  • Flattening: Reducing layers in the organization.
  • Blurring Boundaries: Enhancing cooperation across units.
  • Empowerment: Delegating more tasks and responsibilities to lower-level employees.
  • Manager as Coach: Shifting the managerial role from being a “boss” to a “coach” who supports and facilitates employees’ work.

Autonomous Groups

Autonomous groups, or teams responsible for entire processes, can enhance productivity, quality, innovation, and job satisfaction. Guidelines for effective groups include:

  • Clear Assignments: Groups should have clear, identifiable, and measurable goals.
  • Optimal Size: Teams should consist of 7-12 members to balance involvement, decision-making speed, productivity, and problem-solving ability.

Coaching Management Style

In a flexible organization, the role of the manager evolves into that of a coach who:

  • Shares information promptly.
  • Facilitates problem-solving.
  • Supports employees’ work.
  • Engages in two-way communication.
  • Shows interest in employees and listens to them.
  • Helps prevent mistakes and promotes learning.


Summary Checklist

  1. Are tasks described neutrally?
  2. Is there a clear allocation of tasks to humans or machines?
  3. Does each job include more than one task?
  4. Do employees contribute to problem-solving?
  5. Is the cycle time longer than 1.5 minutes?
  6. Is there a balance between easy and difficult tasks?
  7. Do workers have autonomy in their tasks?
  8. Are there sufficient opportunities for social contact?
  9. Is enough information provided to control tasks?
  10. Are hierarchical structures replaced with flexible ones?
  11. Are working conditions and times flexible?
  12. Is the group assignment clear and the team size optimal?
  13. Is the managerial role focused on coaching rather than commanding?

These guidelines aim to create a more engaging, efficient, and flexible work environment.