Research & understanding

Task analysis

Colton Schweitzer
October 14, 2020

Have you ever seriously thought about the many steps required to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

You probably haven’t because the process of doing something so simple comes second nature to you. There are far more steps than you think when you break it down on paper.

That’s all a task analysis is. It’s a method you use to understand all of the steps it takes to complete a task. In doing so, it will help you identify problems in the user experience so you know what to improve.

Pick a task that your users go through, and then list out all of the steps that it takes to get there. Be super nit-picky. 

Here is an example of a task analysis on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich:

1. Open the cupboard.

2. Grab a plate.

3. Walk back over to the other counter.

4. Put the plate down on the counter.

5. Open another cupboard in front of you.

6. Grab the bread.

7. Put it down on the counter.

8. Grab the peanut butter.

9. Put it down on the counter.

10. Close the cupboard.

And the list goes on and on.

In fact, in my kitchen, there are 54 steps. There could be even more. Holy smokes, right? That’s a ton of steps! You’d never expect something so basic to take so many actions. That's why we conduct a task analysis. It can help you identify places where you can improve efficiency and see where errors are happening. 

There’s almost always some way to improve a process. What if, in that scenario, there was not enough peanut butter left? That would have changed everything. That’s the type of thing you’ll see in your task analyses, especially if you’re solving a problem that the current product doesn’t address. 

Another thing to keep in mind is who is completing the task. Many products have different kinds of users, beginners, and experts, as well as different user types in general. For example, Lyft has drivers, riders who book the ride, and riders who are helping a friend pay for the ride. Their goals are different, which is why they use the Lyft app differently. Analyze each task depending on the type of person (or persona, if you create them) using it. Make sure you do the analysis from the users’ perspective, not your own. 

Tasks analyses are about forgetting your preconceived notions about how a product works and seeing what it actually takes to complete a task.

Use a task analysis to:

Document each step a user takes to accomplish a specific task. 

Understand what it takes to complete a task.

Identify usability issues and find places where the user experience breaks down. 

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