Task Analysis

Task Analysis is a method of observing participants in action performing their tasks. Task Analysis helps to figure out how users perform tasks and how a system, product or service should be designed for users so that they can achieve their intended goals.

Task Analysis also helps determine what user goals are i.e. what designers must design for; how do users determine or measure the completion of tasks, what sort of personal, social as well as cultural attributes influence the user’s performance, etc. This implies that Task Analysis can be used in a number of situations such as when we are designing a website when we want to test a prototype and Task Analysis can also be part of user testing/validation. It is important that Task Analysis is performed during or before the design phase so that the insights obtained can be easily incorporated into the product, service or system which is being designed.

Task Analysis can be performed one on one or online depending on the project under consideration. In order to analyze the way, a user performs tasks, complicated and time-consuming tasks can be broken down into subtasks, which can be analyzed as well as observed individually.

Task Analysis is of two types depending on the end-goal and composition. If the Task Analysis involves analyzing qualitative end-goals such as decision-making, emotions, problem-solving skills, recall, then it is termed as Cognitive Task Analysis. Whereas, if the Task Analysis involves breaking down a complex task into subtasks, analyzing the subparts and deducing the nature of the whole based on its composite parts, then such analysis is termed as Hierarchical Task Analysis.

MethodPurposeAdvantagesDisadvantages
CognitiveTo analyze qualitative end-goals such as decision-making, emotions, problem-solving skills, recall, etc.
  • Allows understanding user motivations
  • Helps determine end-goals for participants from a task
Qualitative nature of this type of Task Analysis may not give accurate findings or rather clear findings. The results may be vague.
HierarchicalTo understand the performing of subtasks and analyze the complex tasks based on the participants performing the subtasks.If undertaken at an earlier stage, the results can help to identify crisp improvement areas in terms of user experienceDepending on the degree of decomposition, the data obtained will be detailed or basic. There could be different researchers involved in decomposing the task, the one observing the participants performing the tasks and the one analyzing findings.

 

Advantages of Task Analysis

01 Great understanding of users and their end-goals

Task Analysis allows the researcher to not only understand the participants end goals but also their competence in performing the task, the triggers that lead to the task, the triggers that disrupt the user’s flow during the task as well as the tools the user employs to perform the task.

02 High-level understanding of user environments

Task Analysis also gives an indication of the user’s environment and whether or not the environment is conducive to perform the task.

03 Relevant at every stage of the project

Task Analysis can be conducted at any stage of the product or service development but the earlier it is conducted, the better.

04 Practical

Task Analysis helps to highlight the practical aspects that come into play when a user is performing a task.

05 Determine gaps between set processes and actual steps in performing a task

This method also helps figure whether there is a difference between the way the user actually performs the task and the way the user says they perform the task.

 

Disadvantages of Task Analysis

01 Time-consuming

If the task analysis were performed with a large sample of participants, the activity would be time-consuming. Online tools may help in recording data but actual observation will happen when the researcher is present at the time the task is being performed.

02 Complex findings

Depending on whether the task analysis method is cognitive or hierarchical, the findings may be complex and not that easily analyzable.

03 Discrepancy in the pace of performing the task

If the users do not give sufficient time for performing a task during the exercise, then the system or product can be off from what the user requirement is. This may be due to the users rushing through a task during the exercise which they otherwise perform at a relaxed pace. This would be true even when the user performs a task hastily otherwise but during the exercise, performs it in a relaxed manner.

04 Diverse Viewpoints

If the scope of the project is large, then user testing may result in a large amount of diverse data which may be difficult to collate and analyze.

Think Design recommendation

Task Analysis goes a long way in enhancing the usability of your product/ organization if done correctly. Use this as a method if your objective is to assist users in performing their tasks or if you are intending to improve organizational efficiency by understanding the tasks and then optimizing them. 

Consider the following recommendations to improve the impact of your task analysis exercise:

  • Understanding linkages and hierarchy of tasks is important to get a bird’s eye perspective. Map your understanding in a hierarchical flow-chart and then use that to analyze.
  • More often than not, there are handoffs involved during tasks. Understand those handoffs and mapping people to tasks will improve your understanding of the kind of organization you are working for. More importantly, this will give you the linkages among people, tasks and systems/tools which are much needed while redefining a product/ organization.
  • The purpose of this exercise is to understand the current state and how this could become a baseline for the future state. Hence, Task Analysis should be done as an analysis than a documentation of what is existing. Always question why the tasks are being done the way they are being done and find out how the situation can be improved.
  • As a UX practitioner, you are dealing with emotions of the user and you want to make amends in the areas where users are frustrated. When you map out tasks, it might greatly help if you also cue to use emotions while performing those tasks.
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