How To Conduct A Top-Task Analysis

Jeff Sauro • September 10, 2013

Who are the users and what are they trying to do?

Answering those two questions are essential first steps to measuring and improving the right things on an interface. It’s also one of the first things we’ll cover at the Denver UX Boot Camp.
While there are hundreds to thousands of things users can accomplish on websites and software interfaces, there are a critical few tasks that drive users to visit a website or use the software.
Think of all the features Microsoft Word provides. It supports document editing, mail merging, desktop publishing and a full range of HTML. By one estimate, it has around 1200 features . Now think of the most important features that you need when you create or edit a document—the features you couldn’t live without?  These features likely support your top-tasks.
Prioritizing tasks is not a new concept. Having users rank what’s important is a technique that’s been used extensively in marketing and conjoint analysis. But having users force-rank hundreds or thousands of features individually would be too tedious for even the most diligent of users (or even the most sophisticated, choice-based conjoint).
Gerry McGovern proposed a unique way of having users consider a lot of features in his book The Stranger’s Long Neck.  I was a bit skeptical when I read it a few years ago, but decided to try it. Since then, I’ve used his method of top-task ranking for a number of projects successfully. Here’s how it works. [Article]

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