Gerry McGovern // New Thinking

Identifying top tasks: an introduction

June 12, 2011 -- Gerry McGovern

How do you measure the value of your website? You identify your customers’ top tasks. Then you measure whether they are able to complete these tasks quickly.

Over the coming issues we’re going to go into the detail of how to identify top tasks and how to measure them. This will be real how-to stuff. Detail. Practical stuff. But first a plug. If you want even more detail, there’s my latest book, The Stranger’s Long Neck. You can read the first chapter for free here

From your customers’ perspective your website is all about tasks. They are there to do and they very much know what they want to do. This may sound obvious but for many people it is not obvious at all. In fact, many people resist the very idea that their website is all about customer tasks.

Some years ago I stood in front of an audience in Chicago extolling the virtues of top task management. A hand was raised in the audience. “I can see how managing tasks might work for some websites but it wouldn’t work for ours,” the lady said. “Because we don’t have tasks. We have information.” “What sort of website do you have?” I asked. “A health website.” “A health website? Okay. Let’s say my child has a rash,” I replied. “When I come to your website, am I looking for information or am I looking to get rid of the rash?”

Nobody cares about information for its own sake; except the creators of said information. The customer has a task they want to complete, a problem they want to solve. Information is only useful in the context of the task.

Information has become an awful, vulgar, terrible, atrocious word. Its usage should be banned within all decent, morally upright organizations. Information is the root of all evil when it comes to the professional management of websites. Information is why we get the long useless tail and dead zone of useless information.Information is why we get content that is unreadable, too long, too complicated, too propagandist.

Information is only useful if it helps customers complete tasks. Websites only deliver value when they are useful. Over the coming issues were are going to see how organizations such as the UK National Health Service (NHS Choices), Microsoft, Innovation Norway, Microsoft, Cisco, OECD and Tetra Pak defined and measured their tasks.

Not alone do the citizens of England have health tasks; there are a small set of top tasks and one overall top task that runs across every single segment of the population. It doesn’t matter if you are in Yorkshire or London, rich or poor, doctor or patient, someone with a long-term illness or a short-term one, a patient or caregiver, you had the same top task. (Oh, there was one group that didn’t have this top task; I’ll tell you about that next issue.)

Get the book on identifying top tasks