The term task analysis and variants such as hierarchical task analysis and cognitive task analysis represent a wide range of approaches and methods that reflect both current theories of human performance and the practical demands made on the analyst by the sociotechnical context. The aim of this short introduction is to explore the origins of the ideas that have inspired some of the more popular methods; this is done to gain a perspective on current practice and future possibilities. The historical origins of modern analytical methods are outlined and related to some of the broad theoretical positions that have inspired practice.