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Activity Analysis

Discover what activities operators perform on the job, and how often.

Activity Analysis (AA) can be used to document anything that a person does while performing a task. There are two purposes for AA: to determine the activities that occur in any situation, and how often the activities are performed. AA is of particular help in situations in which operators perform a variety of tasks but the order of those tasks is not determined ahead of time.

Activities must be identifiable by obvious cues such as flipping a switch, pressing a button, talking on the radio, checking a task list, or moving a lever.

A digital watch or smart phone app is essential to note when the activity is observed. Still photo or video recording can be a valuable aid to AA. Use of a camera frees the investigator to pay more attention to other aspects of the method such as activity classification.

Results from AA can identify activities that operator has developed to do better work but are not supported by information displays or training. That provides an opportunity to better support operator attention. 

How to perform an Activity Analysis:

  1. Prepare by making a roster listing things the operator is expected to do (e.g., look down the right of way)
  2. Observe the operator’s work over a long enough time so that it can be considered to be representative of the job.
  3. Set the timer for a particular elapsed time (e.g., 15 seconds). 
  4. Start the timer and note what the subject is doing when the timer reaches that elapsed time. Make a hash mark on the line of the activity that is observed, or write in another activity if it was unexpected. 
  5. After the observations: Add the total number of observations for each task, and figure the percentage how often the activity was observed. 
  6. Create a frequency chart such as a bar graph that demonstrates the activities and can be used to compare how often they were seen. 
  7. Review and assess the results and determine if there are activities were not expected, whether equipment and training provided support the observed activity, or if an opportunity exists to change the operator’s role (e.g., job enrichment)?

For more on Activity Analysis, see:

  • Nemeth. C. (2004). Human Factors Methods for Design. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor and Francis/CRC Press
  • Stanton, N., Salmon, P., Walker, G., Baber, C. & Jenkins, D. (2005). HumanFactors Methods. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing.