My Love Affair with Task Analysis

My name is Roberta and I have a confession to make. I LOVE doing task analyses. I’m not even sure exactly when this love affair started. It makes sense when I really stop to think about it.  I’ve always loved processes, procedures, and organizing things. What better way to get my perfectionist tendencies out by writing laundry lists of instructions?

In fact, if you stop by my desk at any given time of the day, you’ll be sure to find a giant note to-do list written in order of how I plan to get things done. Now, I’m not advocating for my Type A tendencies by any means. My perfectionism can get me into a lot of trouble – it slows me down and makes me hyper focus on things that don’t matter. It’s also one of the many reasons why I’ve gained such an expertise with task analysis that have proven to be pivotal in my role as an instructional designer and now as a user experience designer.

What exactly is a task analysis?

A task analysis is exactly what it sounds like! It’s when you analyze a task in order to document step by step how it’s completed.

It might seem straight forward but even the simplest of things are very complex. I find that as soon as I start breaking things down into steps, there’s way more involved in a process or procedure than I originally thought.

A Multipurpose Tool

Task Analysis have become a mainstay in the instructional designers toolbox. Why? Instructional designers create training on how to do something and task analysis tell you the steps to do it.

I created a ton of task analysis when I was writing help articles for The Predictive Index help center a few years ago. Since I’ve moved into user experience, I’ve noticed task analysis popping up again but in a slightly different way.

User Experience Design is all about creating products. UX Designers will perform task analysis to gain an understanding of how users are performing tasks within their products, websites, or apps. This then enables a UX Designer to figure out where help might be needed or allow them to improve an existing feature or functionality. Since becoming a Learning Experience Designer, I find myself doing task analysis the most during requirements gathering. I’ll also use them when creating prototypes, wireframes, and performing usability tests.

A Simple Equation

Writing task analysis are super simple! Let’s look at some easy steps to help get you started.

Identify the task – The first thing you’ll want to do is identify the task you want to analyze. Tasks could include a process or procedure that someone does in order to perform. This could be anything from sending an email to tying your shoes. When picking a task to analyze you’ll want to be sure you describe it with an action verb.

Break down the task into subtasks – Next you’ll want to break your main task down into smaller chunks of the main task. These should be short, and again start with an action verb.

Identify steps in the subtasks – Finally, you’ll want to identify and list the steps for each of your subtasks. You can do this by breaking down the actions of the subtasks and placing them in chronological order. You’ll want to find a balance between providing users with just the right amount of information – not too much and not too little. Again, begin each subtask step with an action verb.

Below is an example of a task analysis from the University of Strathclyde. The analysis walks through the process of warming up a furnace. As you can see, when you begin to write out the steps you can see that there is more involved than one might think. It’s important to note that the university also did their task analysis in a flow diagram format. This format can be helpful to visually display a users flow to the audience.

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University of Strathclyde, Management Science Dept., Wikimedia. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Overall, task analysis are one of the most powerful tools in a learning and user experience designers toolbox.  Keep in mind when creating a task analysis, they should always be performed from the users perspective. It’s so easy to get started using a task analysis in your practice and once you do, you might find yourself in a love affair of your own!

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