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The "Top Tasks" Lesson is part of the full, The Product Design Process course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Paul introduces the concept of top task analysis, which helps identify the most important tasks that users want to complete in an app. He also provides examples and practical tips for conducting top task analysis.


Transcript from the "Top Tasks" Lesson

>> So when we've got this massive functionality and task that a user might want to complete within an application, the most important thing is we need to know which of those matter the most, right? And this is where you get into top tasks, right? The main things that people wanna do.

So why focus on top tasks? Well, it's crucial to make the primary tasks that the user wants to complete as accessible on your website or your web app as possible to ensure that people can use it, especially if it's a thing that they're doing regularly. And it's imperative that the secondary stuff doesn't get in the way, right?

Doesn't overwhelm you. And very broadly, typically 80% of your users will use about 20% of the tasks in your app, right, or features in your app, and they'll just use those again and again. And so the last thing we wanna do is the other 80% of the features to get in the way and make it hard for them to find the stuff.

So once I know all of the things that people can do on an app or might want to do or we could build or whatever, my next aim is to know, well, which of these matter, right? Which of these matter the most? Now, never ever ask stakeholders that because everybody will champion their own idea and their own stuff.

So I carry out something called a top task analysis. And I talk about this on the user research and testing course, but I do wanna touch on it here at least a little bit, and it's a methodology. I use my own homebrew version of it just to speed things up a little bit.

But basically, it's a quick method of finding out what people care about most on your apps. And I'm running two of them right now at the moment with my two projects I'm working on, and it's very simple. I use this app, which is called PollUnit. And essentially all I'm doing is I'm taking that massive big list of tasks that I've identified and I'm creating a poll with all of them listed out, right, all of the different tasks all listed down.

And I allow my target audience to either suggest their own ideas to add to that list in case I miss something or to vote on the ones that they care about the most. So it's a really simple process to setting it up, right? I'm literally gonna talk you through it on PollUnit so that you could do it yourself if you wanted to.

You go and create a new poll, you collect ideas on it, you put in a bit of instructions explaining what people are gonna be doing. So in this particular example, it's saying when you're first joining the University of Florida, ask yourself what tasks you wish to complete and what information you wanted to know.

And then I advise people to search for a keyword relating to that task. If they find that somebody had already added that or I'd added that, then they can just press the heart button that votes it up. If it's not there, they can add It themselves. And so basically then, you enter all that advice in and then there's a few settings that you set depending on your preference, whether you want people to be able to comment on it and all of that kind of stuff.

And then you basically end up with this thing where people can submit ideas and you can just add all of the ideas to get it started of different tasks that somebody might wanna complete. And then the users can go in, they see the instructions, they find the one they're interested in, they say yes I want that task.

Makes sense, very broadly, get the idea? You can basically vote up and down tasks. So once that's been done, once you've got a load of users looking at that and voting on tasks that you want you need to do a little bit of cleaning up afterwards cuz it tends to be a little bit messy.

So there'll be duplications where people didn't bother searching, but just added the same idea again, or maybe they worded it in a different way, or whatever. So you have to remove those duplications because there'll be overlap. And then you need to simplify the wording a little bit because sometimes people say things in very long convoluted ways, and you can just reduce it down to two or three words.

And as I go through this in more detail in the user research and testing course, you can actually even use ChatGPT to help clean this up for you so that you don't spend hours going through a big old list. But once you've got that list, what you'll find is that, say if you had a list of 100 tasks that someone might want to do, probably most of the votes will sit in the top 30 of those, right?

And then there'll be a long tail of other stuff. Yeah, we got a question.
>> What's your thoughts on platforms that allow users to vote on features?
>> Well, that's exactly what this is, basically, is just we're doing it up front rather than for new features later on down the line.

But yeah, I mean, that's a great idea. In fact, I actually suggested it to you yesterday when we were chatting, wouldn't I, that it's a way that you can do it. I'm a great fan of it because it means that you can see what people really care about.

And that's primarily what PollUnit was set up for. I'm just using it in a slightly different way to kind of preempt this before I actually start building stuff. But yeah, the principle is great,.
>> But there is a double edged sword there where it could be used against you where, say, a particular feature has all the upvotes, but it's not implemented because, say, yeah, it's not a priority for the company or something.

>> Yeah, and I would say there is an obligation that falls onto the company to clearly articulate why you're not doing that feature, right? There's often good reasons if a feature is too complicated to implement or is not in line with the vision of the app or whatever else.

And I think you're better off having that conversation with your userbase than you are just ignoring the problem, personally. You were gonna ask, I saw a hand over here somewhere. Yeah, go for it.
>> Is this essentially the same as a Kano analysis?
>> Yeah, it's not dissimilar.

The trouble is people throw a lot of different names around for things. But top task, I don't know a huge amount about a Kano analysis, so it's a little bit hard for me to say definitively. But top task analysis was created by a guy called Gerry McGovern. It's been around for years.

No doubt other people have taken it and changed it and done their own things with it as have I. I'm not doing it exactly like he does. I'm a great believer in making something as lightweight and quick to do as possible. And I was saying this when we were recording the other course as well, was that oftentimes we talk a lot about best practice and there are all these official ways of doing things.

And it puts this pressure on people that they have to do it the right way. I mean, I know you guys have just been doing a course, right? And you've been taught the right way to do things. But in the real world, when you're actually working on projects, sometimes you have to do it the quick way [LAUGH].

And so doing just a quick poll where people vote is probably quicker than what you were talking about, but I might be wrong. You had a question as well, did you?
>> Yeah, and one thing on the line of the Kano survey is that it can find tasks and features that users don't know that they will want.

How do you discover those in that top task analysis?
>> You don't, it's not a part of what it's doing. And that's actually a great example then of how sometimes you just want to pare it down and get it done. I would argue let's not worry about what users don't know that they need and let's just sort out what they know they need, right?

And a lot of organizations are so, Don't do the basics. Do you know? Don't meet people's fundamental needs. I'm going off on a rant now. The number of times you go, yes, we want to personalize the experience on the website. Well, hang on a minute, it's not even usable yet and you're worrying about personalization.

So I would argue, look, first of all, you deliver what they know they need and they are asking for and then worry about the other stuff later. But I might just be turning into a grumpy old man, so take it or leave it, yeah?
>> Yeah, rather than doing polls, I actually was privileged at my last client to listen in on to disputes, it was a bank.

They allowed me to listen to disputes that customers would call in as well as customer service calls. And then I also had the ability to partner with legal to figure out the latest and greatest laws that are being implemented to make sure that our app is abiding by that law.

But when I was gathering the top tasks, I would use those as a justification to say, hey, one of the problems that banking mobile apps have is that hackers would call in and say, hey share your screen and I'll show you how to make a better investment.
>> Yeah, yeah.

>> And the problem with that is that if you're starting to share your mobile app onto a screen so someone else can see it visibly, that's a whole big problem. So what we've done in our app is we can detect if you're sharing, we block it, you can't even share at all.

You can't see anything on the mobile device and also on the [COUGH] screen itself. But those things are justifiable.
>> Yeah, now that's very interesting, mind, because there is an example going back to what you were saying that users wouldn't realize they needed that feature, but they did need it.

So perhaps I'm talking rubbish then [LAUGH]. So that's a very good use case. That's very true. Yeah, interesting.
>> Yeah, I liked the polling thing but sometimes you just got to see the sources inside of [INAUDIBLE].
>> You do, as I was saying on the course about user research and testing, you do what you can, right?

If you get to do all that stuff, power to you, I think that's amazing, and I think it's a great opportunity you had. If you don't have that opportunity, run in a poll, right? And to be honest, I would argue that even if you did have that opportunity, I would still run the poll, right?

So I would take all the things that you learned from that opportunity, where all these different places of potential tasks, everything you did was a place to learn about potential tasks. And once you know those tasks, then you can kind of feed them into the, now it's gonna make me go through this animation.

Then you can feed it back into the actual survey into the top task analysis.

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