Observation (also called “job shadowing”) is used to elicit information and to understand the activities as well as their context. It forms a basis for the identification of the needs and the opportunities, the understanding of business processes, the setting of performance standards, the evaluation of solutions or the support of training and development.

This method includes a personal examination of the performing of a work activity.Observation usually takes place in natural work environment, but it can also be conducted in specially constructed laboratory conditions.

Two approaches

The observer asks the questions which come to their mind. Although this slightly interrupts the work pace, the observer understands the reasons and the processes (implicit and explicit) underlying the activities more quickly.
Variation : The interventions are stronger. The observer encourages the stakeholders to conduct specific tasks.

This variation is focused on the objectives of the observer. In this way, the session is shorter.

Passive / Unnoticable

The observer interrupts the activity under no circumstances. Questions and remarks are raised after the session. This allows observation of a natural flow of events, as well as the measurement of the time and quality of work.

Variation: The activity is video recorded. The observer can thereby review the activity with the person being observed  so that detailed information and explanations can be provided if necessary.

Other variation: Contextual Inquiry. This variation investigates the work environment of a person. It allows for discovering tools and information resources that can be useful for the performance of the activity.

+ It offers a more detailed understanding of the activity. This variation is particularly helpful to identify the needs and opportunities.

Why to conduct an observation session?

  • Monitor or improve a process.

  • Illustrate the activities or requirements of the stakeholders.

  • Question or validate information obtained thank to another method.

  • Collect quantitative and objective proofs which support the avenues for improvement.

  • Provide a realistic and practical insight of the activities and tasks within a more comprehensive process.

  • Identify the needs and the requirements not only of the participant but also of the business.

  • Study the work environment (attendance, equipment, ergonomics, noise, etc…).

  • Identify the tasks that have been completed on an informal basis and find a solution.

  • Compare productivity against the established performance standards or metrics.

Obtain information while using few financial resources


    • Observation might disturb the performance of the participant and the overall organisation.

    • It may be perceived as threatening and intrusive by the person being observed.

    • A participant is likely to alter their work practices while being observed.

    • Knowledge-based tasks cannot be assessed.  Other evaluation techniques are required to investigate them.

How to conduct an Observation Session

How to conduct an Observation Session

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