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Monica Zaczynski

Monica Zaczynski

Akendi Alumnus

Solving the Right Problem: The Importance of Task Analysis

I had the pleasure of attending this years’ ACM CHI conference on Human Factors. I tore myself away from the excitement at the Akendi booth (yes, we were there if you missed us!) to attend a workshop lead by Don Norman, UX thought leader, design critic and author or The Design of Everyday Things.

One anecdote that stood out to me was when he was describing the UX process amidst tight industry time lines. It featured the back and forth between the product manager asking the UX team what had been accomplished each week after being briefed on the project and task at hand. Product manger eagerly awaits tangible results from his UX team. Two weeks into the project the UX team declares they have determined the problem! to which the product manager angrily responds “ I already told you what the problem was!?”.

The typical mistake most product teams make is to prematurely believe that they already know the user and their problems. So it should be no surprise that, In fact, many projects are not focused on solving the right problem.

So how does one determine the right problem? Task analysis.

What Task Analysis is Not

Use cases, information architecture diagrams, feature requirement lists created by management, a review of the FAQ’s about your product.  While these are some of the processes or tools used in the broad development cycle they are not task analysis.

What Task Analysis is

Task analysis is a step-by-step analysis of the users’ tasks, from their perspective. You can’t solve a users’ problems until you know what they are, right?

Defining  the Actual Problem

Where do you start? Become familiar with your user and their environment. Here at Akendi we often perform, what is called, ethnography studies: an in-field observation of users’ real-world behaviours and interactions with their environment.  We do this so that we can gain insight into the impact of the users context on their task and experience, as a whole.

In some cases, watching users perform the real, technology-free, task will reveal a completely different order of operations or new set of needs that you never thought of. Contextual factors, such as lighting or attention level, can impact the experience of the user and are often overlooked because they may not have an obvious relationship to the outcome of the task. These are things a product team won’t learn talking amongst themselves in a boardroom.

People Watching

A few things to keep note of while observing your users:

  • Start & Finish: What gets users to start their task and how will they know when they’re done?
  • Required Knowledge: What knowledge do they need to have before starting and what information do they need during the process to complete the task?
  • Environment: What tools are used and what environmental factors contribute to completing the task?

The more detail and granularity you can collect in the research stage, the better your understanding will be of the users’ experience when it comes to creating a solution for their woes.

Optimize the Task

When task analyses are done, they typically document the path the user takes through a product to complete said task – missed opportunity. Not you, though! You’ll document the path the user could take.

With the rich collection of data from your ethnographic studies you can better see the real-life hardships of the user. Now you’re in a position to find a better way to complete the task by automating, removing and revising the steps so that they are less impeded by obscure visual triggers, extensive required knowledge and ‘unexpected’ environmental factors.

Problem Resolved

Now you’re armed with the right problem to solve and a new and improved approach to solving it.
If you are looking for more information on how to create a task analysis and how it fits in the whole design process, Akendi offers a course on how to conduct Experience Mapping research and analysis.

Monica Zaczynski

Monica Zaczynski

Akendi Alumnus


Hi Monica,
Thank you for the article!

One thing that worries me when I read about the analysis of current tasks is that the UX design industry seems to be limited to improving current tasks, completely ignoring the design of new (yet non-existent) tasks. What methods would you recommend for a UX designer who has to design a new task and consequently has no way of watching people perform this task.

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Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.