Top Tasks - A how-to guide

Authors: Gerry McGovern

Publisher: Silver Beach

Publication Date: October 08, 2018

Read the first chapter for free


 “The Top Tasks research has shown us that people buy a car the same way throughout Europe, and that the same things matter to them. We learned that people could not find what they were looking for on our website. Due to a very complex product set up, which is common in automotive, we have been struggling for years on how best to present our products to the customers. Through the specific Top Tasks methodology, we finally found a way that allows customers to fulfil their tasks on the Toyota website. A real breakthrough for the industry!”
Tineke Vanmaele, Manager, Digital Experience, Toyota

“We used Top Tasks successfully for three software divisions at IBM. It gave us true insight into what visitors wanted to achieve and, just as importantly, what was of less interest. It helped us bring the voice of the customer to the decision table.”
John Blackmore, Global Content Marketing, IBM Digital Business Group

 “We have used Top Tasks for over 10 years, and the philosophy and set of methods have been vital to our clients’ digital success. The beauty of Top Tasks is that the whole team gets first-hand knowledge about the customers’ needs through prioritized tasks and not the usual vague and misleading hypotheses about what the customer wants.”
Jostein Magnussen, Co-Founder Netlife Design, Norway

“The Top Tasks survey that we undertook with Gerry McGovern revealed interesting insights into what users expect from our website. As a result, we made changes and launched new services to meet our users’ needs. The survey results became a valuable management tool for decisions on the long-term direction of the website, and it helped create a common understanding of what the website should and should not be.”
Andrea Stojanov, Principal Communications Specialist, Asian Development Bank

“We are HUGE advocates of the Top Task methodology at our company and evangelize it to everyone we talk with—both internally and externally. It’s really helped us fight against some of the ‘bright shiny object’ disease and the tendency for everyone to have an opinion of what we put on our web pages.”
Jeanne Quinn, Sr. Mgr., Digital & Social Experience, Global Partner Marketing, Cisco

“Top Tasks Management is a quick, useful method that has proven itself once and again for stakeholders in Google Search. The pattern that emerges every single time is nothing but powerful and amazing.”
Tomer Sharon, Former Senior User Research, Google Search

“What do our customers come to do on our site? Great question. It’s surprising how many different answers/opinions you’ll hear. At Microsoft, I have used Top Tasks with incredible success—often increasing conversion rates by more than 100% while improving customer satisfaction. Use Top Tasks and get real results, fast.”
Peter Horsman, Senior Digital Marketing Lead, Microsoft Cloud + AI

“The Top Tasks methodology delivers an unparalleled glimpse into the minds of customers, even for organizations that are skeptical of user research. Top Tasks combines both quantitative and qualitative insights to provide a holistic view of your audience. The outcomes are clear. And your products improve because of them.”
Nyckie Pineau, Principal Designer, NetApp

“Inspired by Gerry, I’ve been using the Top Tasks technique for over ten years in support of the University of Edinburgh’s web management community. It’s a relatively simple and inexpensive source of user insight, and for me, a valuable route to understanding user priorities.”
Neil Allison, User Experience Manager, The University of Edinburgh

"The sheer scale of managing a large website can be overwhelming. So it's not unusual to see stakeholders become fixated on an issue that turns out to be unimportant. Top tasks management is an indispensable framework that enables you to focus on what really matters, and deprioritise what doesn't."
Duncan Stephen, Editorial Development Officer, University of Edinburgh

“In the first six months since prioritizing top tasks of majors and programs, we've seen an increase in application starts and requests for information.”
Jason Buzzell, Director of Digital Communications, University of Nebraska at Omaha

“The Top Task approach has helped us to understand what is important to our patients and service users and start designing digital services that meet their needs. It provides the data and evidence needed to make informed decisions that benefit users.”
Ben Cloney, HSE, Acting Head of Digital, Health Service Executive (HSE), Ireland

“Top Tasks made it easier for our complex organisations to understand their users’ simple needs. It was an incredible effective method to understand what was important in our communication (and what was absolutely not important!).”
Marianne Braaten, Assistant Program Manager, The National Health Data Programme, Norway

“Organizations will have to be truly customer obsessed to survive. By using Top Tasks, we help our clients to see what really matters the most. With a fact-driven and inclusive approach, Top Tasks management delivers the necessary tools to navigate clearly in this transformative age. It is always amazing to experience how the Top Task process brings people together and gives them the excitement to focus on what is important. And the excitement only increases once the improved business results are coming in.”
David De Block, Managing Partner & Strategist, Internet Architects

“For over a decade, Top Tasks has been my working method to help clients in Sweden with websites, intranets, and extranets. If I were to summarize Top Tasks with one word, that word would be ‘simplicity.’ For a group of people that are important to you, you get a list of the most important things you need to help them do. That’s basically it. Sure, we all dig into the specifics, we elaborate, sketch and come to conclusions. But at the end of the day—it’s a list. And a list is easy to understand. Everyone can relate to it, and even if it sometimes sparks almost existential discussions, it has a better chance of actually affecting decisions than complicated maps or long reports. A thorough process leading to a simple and actionable result: that is, in essence, Top Tasks management.”
Fredrik Wackå, Founder, Webbrådgivaren Sverige AB

“From working with clients in government, industry, and higher education for many years, we’ve found the Top Tasks framework to be a powerful tool that helps managers grow their organization’s empathy for customers, backed up by hard-nosed metrics of customers’ needs and behaviors.”
Mike Atyeo, Co-Founder, Neo Insight

“The logic underpinning Top Tasks management is simple: Get clear evidence of what the priority tasks are for your users, design for achieving those, and measure and improve iteratively. This simplicity is powerful enough to win over the internal agendas, distractions, and barriers that can make a website, intranet, or software far less effective for users and the organization. We’ve had the pleasure of shining the light of Top Tasks logic onto some complex organizations, and the benefit has been significant and greatly appreciated by our clients.”
Chris Rourke, Founder, User Vision

“We’ve successfully used the Top Tasks method to identify what’s important to organizations’ customers, be they a government agency’s citizens, a social housing association’s tenants, a university’s students, a hospital’s patients and medical specialists, or any type of business’s employees. Top Tasks identification more often than not contained a number of surprises regarding what the organization should focus on to really service their customers. And those tasks then proved to be a success when implemented on the organisation’s website, intranet, or other digital platform.”
Christiaan W. Lustig, Lead Consultant & Managing Partner, Brayton House 

“I've found Gerry's Top Task methodology useful both practically and politically. Prioritizing tasks from a customer perspective identifies the best way to spend time and effort. Convincingly communicating customers' priorities to senior stakeholders gets buy-in and removes roadblocks.”
Gerry Gaffney, Director and Senior Consultant, Information and Design

“There's something beautiful about Top Tasks that goes beyond the clear and concise nature of the data. Its superpower is found in its ability to help redefine the vision and realignment of an organization to refocus on delivering what truly matters to the people who use a service.”
Gerry Scullion, Founder and Director of This is HCD

“For me, Top Tasks are a great tool to improve the digital maturity of organizations. They provide a clear and effective method for the continuous optimization of any digital customer- or employee-facing process. The practicality of the method really helps with explaining to both professionals and management what it’s all about and how it can help improve the business.”
Erik M. Hartman, Founder, The Information Management Foundation

“What I find rewarding about Top Tasks management is the energy and insights we gain by collaborating with people in organizations in gathering the longlist. It is the process that counts, and working in this way assures that people understand and accept the results. In Top Tasks management, I see a way of making great websites that work, and that really is the best publicity an organization can get.”
Wiep Hamstra, Owner, De Staat van het Web, The Netherlands

“Few UX methods offer more quick insights than a top tasks analysis. This deceptively simple method should be one of the first things every product team does to know what users want to do with a website, app or product.”
Jeff Sauro, PHD, Founding Principal, MeasuringU

 “We had the privilege of working with Gerry at the OECD. Without the evidence we collected from the Top Tasks process, we would never have been able to get a real grasp of our audience needs.”
Cynthia Coutu, Former Head of Internet Unit, OECD

"Top Tasks are the basis for everything we do in our work on  We adopted the framework early on when developing's IA and navigation so we could optimize findability.  We use Top Tasks to decide which content problems to tackle first, and for benchmarking usability performance. It’s really given us a clear model for how to prioritize where we direct our energy in managing"
Peter Smith, Chief, Product Design, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

“A major Top Tasks survey of the European Commission's online presence was carried out in 2014. The goal of the survey was to find out the main reasons why people want to interact with our organization. It was in 24 languages and ran across 28 countries.”
European Commission

“We’ve been working to formulate a process for government to define Top Tasks alongside Gerry McGovern, an expert on digital user experience and developer of the Top Tasks management model.”
Katie Taylor, User Research Lead, GOV.UK
“Organizing and optimizing our Canada Revenue Agency site by Top Tasks instead of by audience has shown an increase in findability by 93% and task success by 115%.”
Jonathan Rath, Manager, Web Services Section, Canada Revenue Agency

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