What Really Matters - Focusing on Top Tasks

🔗️ My notes on researching Gerry McGovern’s Top Tasks article for an upcoming project https://alistapart.com/article/what-really-matters-focusing-on-top-tasks

My notes

The problem

  • The ease of publishing content leads to bloated website and admin systems that eventually require redesigning
  • These redesigns become glossy facade fixes atop of the unchanged mess of information and content

Introducing Top Tasks Management

Top tasks are:

  • Small set of the most important tasks for your customers
  • Numbering between 2-10 tasks

The objective is to get these core tasks working as well as possible otherwise, you run a high risk of losing your customer. Doing this by reducing the complexity by identifying what really matters to the customer.

Additionally involves deemphasising the smaller less important tasks that, over time, contribute to a much bigger drain of resource and value to the customer.

Less important tasks typically generate more content by the organisation.

Identifying Top Tasks

Get the organisation involved gathering tasks

Objective - build empathy with the customer, understand how they think.

Change the mindset - what does the customer want rather than what the organisation want.

Data sources for gathering tasks:

  • Organisational philosophy - strategy, vision and objectives
  • Customer feedback - survey, help inquiries, support team insights
  • Stakeholder insight - considerations for top tasks
  • Competitor or peer websites - review similar tasks across domain
  • Traditional and social media - open discussions on various channels
  • Site behaviour analysis - top visited and interacted pages and assets
  • Search analysis - most popular site and public search engine search terms

Two reasons why most popular pages and search keyword aren’t enough:

  1. They reflect what content you have maybe not what your customers want. These pages might also be a mix of top and tiny tasks.
  2. Search doesn’t give you the bigger picture. Bookmarked top tasks and well-constructed navigations mean tiny tasks are more likely to be searched for.

The gathered lists usually contain duplicates, overlapping areas, internal jargon.

Generate a shortlist with stakeholders

Objective - cut the list down to a maximum shortlist of 100 tasks.

Duration - 4-6 weeks to do the research and generate the shortlist.

Tips on shortlist generation:

  1. Use clear language - avoid jargon and other technological or marketing-centric terminology.
  2. Omit specific references to products or features and avoid using group names - use general terms that can cover all instances of product related tasks.
  3. Merge overlapping tasks - consider combining similar tasks into a single more generic task.
  4. Avoid high-level concepts and goals - try to maintain tasks to a similar level and differentiated from the overall customer goal. Goal = the change, Task = the thing the customer needs to do to help achieve that goal.
  5. Exclude audience and demographic - tasks should be universal.
  6. Use nouns for tasks - avoid using for tasks if possible, scannability is improved by omitting verbs.
  7. Avoid repetition - aim for no more than 4 tasks that have the same first word.
  8. Keep it brief - max of 7 words or 55 characters per task.

Subtasks should include 2-3 examples and added to parentheses e.g. Task (subtask, subtask, subtask)

The objective here is to involving as many teams and gain consensus from as many key stakeholders as possible. There may be a need to bend the rules to prove that one top task isn’t needed or to observe customers reactions.

Get customers to vote and rank

The shortlist is then sent to a representative sample of customers to complete.

They must:

  1. Choose 5 tasks that matter most to them
  2. Rank the chosen 5 tasks - 5 = most important, 1 = least important

The survey design is such for two reasons:

  1. It forces a gut reaction - what customers do vs what they say
  2. It exposes the top tasks and the tiny tasks as a hierarchy of importance

Order tasks by highest/lowest vote

Results of the survey will expose the top, medium, small and tiny tasks.

See article for example results


Top Tasks Management is an evidence-based collaborative approach which can be applied periodically to check customer’s top tasks.

The value is also found for the organisation in cross-team collaboration and shared understanding.