Accelerating Workforce Training: Introducing the CTA in E/Affect Initiative

CTA in Effect: Case studies demonstrating the benefits of Cognitive Task Analysis

Accelerating On-Time Delivery in Biotechnology Manufacturing and Shipping

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man looking through a microscope

Primary Submitter:

Lia DiBello,


Front-line workers in biotechnology manufacturing and shipping

Generic description of sponsoring organization or customer:

This is a customer. When we were engaged, they were a $300 million company. They are now valued at $13.6 Billion. They manufacture biological materials that are the ingredients used for in vitro drug testing during early-stage pharma development (e.g., using genetically engineered E. coli).

When we worked with them, they were struggling with integrating a number of smaller acquisitions and getting the front-line workforce to mesh manufacturing methods and processes. The outcome was poor on-time delivery and excessive backorders ($800,000 per day). The workers and managers believed the problem could not be solved because “biological material grows at its own pace.”

Cognitive Task Analysis Method(s):

Cognitive Task Analysis among teams (Klein 2000), Critical Decision Method and Applied Concept Mapping (Crandall, et al., 2006; Moon et al., 2011). Workplace ethnographic study: tracking how is the product made now and what is the trajectory from order to shipping (DiBello, 2020; DiBello et al 2009).

We also used FutureView™ Dynamic Strategic Modeler for Organizations (DSMO), which places the company in the competitive market space among its peers. (DiBello 2020; DiBello, Struttmann and Missildine 2009).

This is a kind of CTA/CDM at the level of the corporation and marketplace, examining indicators that reveal management thinking as evidenced in key indicators in the financial reports from the company. Placing the company in the larger context of its market and competitors helps identify the upside potential (financially). Finding key indicators of problems in the detailed financials (e.g., profits per employee too low; failed capital initiatives etc.) helps identify the constraint to success for that potential. This method was first originated by our team based on funded research examining companies’ financial data as behavioral indicators of workplace practices and underwent refinements with use (DiBello 2020).

In this case, the analysis revealed that On-Time Delivery is a minimum requirement for being competitive in the drug discovery support-products market. This is because products pace the process of drug discovery and testing in vitro. Quality and price are secondary differentiators.

In this company’s case, they were price competitive and did not have a quality problem. Once that analysis was done, we focused CDM, CTA and Concept Mapping in the critical constraint areas, targeting Front Line production workers as the critical SME’s for solving this problem.

Number of Participants:

Total Number = 120; Total Number of Proficient Performers = 20;

Method for determining proficiency: placing people along the Dreyfus five-stage scale with “expertise” being defined as being able to manipulate conditions in order to control the pace of the product growth and deliver on-time. This required a deep understanding of the biology of each product.


Four calendar months, including the “intervention” which resulted from our research


We designed a FutureView™ Rehearsal exercise for 120 Front line lab workers in manufacturing based on the results of the Cognitive Task Analysis. This rehearsal involved a reality analogous exercise involving routing, storing, and shipping the product in a simulated factory with the normal enterprise resource planning technologies (DiBello 2009) using the FutureView™ tools, which are technological game design automation tools that are the cumulative result of our NDM research with dozens of companies and organizations.

Images of the teams working in the simulation are shown in supplemental images attached to this summary.

Teams of 30 people each rehearsed 4 quarters of business in compressed time (over one 8-hour day). Each team did this twice. The “non-negotiable goal” for each team was On-Time shipping and the improvement in the financials of the company that would result. Their first attempt was not counted toward “winning;” the second round was considered the final strategy for each team.

The team that designed a method of overcoming the constraints to the business’s growth would be the “winner” and each team member would get a cash prize. The “design” had to be a product manufacturing-to-shipment flow that could be implemented in real life, and which must produce
the same designed financial benefit as in the rehearsal/simulation.

All teams landed on the same solution. One team did better than others in actual production, tripling the output and eliminating backorder entirely. We used our FutureView™ metrics engine to calculate the relationship between manufacturing-to-shipment process and stock price, profit, and market capitalization. This feedback was given every 15 minutes and guided the team’s activities. In order to “win”, the teams had to reach a stock price and profit margin similar to or better than what the DSMO Financial Analysis had revealed would be both possible in the current market and competition.

All teams failed the first time replicating the extreme backorder problem and the financial impact. This led to each team having an insight into the work practices and decisions that were leading to the company’s problems. All teams were given an opportunity to course-correct in a second simulation. In the second round, all teams achieved or exceeded the desired financial goal and did so by landing on a similar solution (centralizing vialing and packaging without product cross-contamination).

We conducted further CDM analysis to see what was common in the teams’ collective solution. Exhibit One in the supplemental material shows the result of this mapping and the manufacturing flow that was implemented in real life after the exercise.

Demonstration of value:

Evidence of value
We tracked the progress of manufacturing and shipping via remote monitoring of the company’s
ERP technology. The company had no significant backorder problem within 3 months of doing
the exercise and implementing the solution discovered in the rehearsals. (See chart from ERP
system in the supplemental materials). All employees got a cash prize since they landed on the
same solution. The most profitable team got slightly more. The company was sold within two
years for $13.6 Billion.

Customer-provided perspective:
The customer said: “The teams have continued the mapping, monitoring compliance with the
goals (with large screen displays on the production floor) on their own. The results have been
game-changing, making us a prime acquisition target compared to our competition.”



Used in the case study
Crandall, B., Klein, G. A., & Hoffman, R. R. (2006). Working minds: A practitioner’s guide to
cognitive task analysis. MIT Press.

DiBello, L., Expertise in Business: Evolving with a Changing World, The Oxford Handbook of
Expertise, Edited by Paul Ward, Jan Maarten Schraagen, Julie Gore, and Emilie M. Roth (March

DiBello L., Missildine W., & Struttmann M. (2009). Intuitive expertise and empowerment: The
Long-term impact of simulation training on changing accountabilities in a biotech firm. Mind,
Culture, and Activity, 16(1), 11-31.

Hoffman, R., DiBello, L., Ward, P., Feltovich, P., Fiore, S., & Andrews, D. (2014). Accelerated
expertise: Training for high proficiency in a complex world. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
Klein, G. (2000). Cognitive task analysis of teams. In J. M. Schraagen, S. F. Chipman, & V. L.
Shalin, (Eds.) Cognitive Task Analysis (pp. 417-430). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Moon, B., Hoffman, R. R., Novak, J., & Canas, A. (Eds.). (2011). Applied concept mapping:
Capturing, analyzing, and organizing knowledge. CRC Press.

Prior publication about this work
DiBello L., Missildine W., & Struttmann M. (2009). Intuitive expertise and empowerment: The
Long-term impact of simulation training on changing accountabilities in a biotech firm. Mind,
Culture, and Activity, 16(1), 11-31.

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