Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thoughts about Top-Task Management

Top-task management is a method championed by Gerry McGovern to improve and optimize websites. I’ve been thinking about this method for some time now. I was planning to start by sharing my understanding and experience with the method. But then I bumped into a post about the limitations of the top-task management approach by Philippe Parker. Bottom-line of the post is that top-task management doesn’t work for sites with which you want to achieve engagement.

Top-tasks vs. engagement
I’m sure the top-task approach can work in some cases, but I see too many consultants always applying this method. Top-task management tries to make something simple when it can be simple. But I see it applied to websites when the need is complex as well.  A task is clean and can usually be clearly described. But real work like searching, learning, listening, processing is messy. Parker says: tasks are not the only thing people come to the site for. He goes on to say ‘engagement’ is the other reason why people go to sites and use them. He points to platforms for engagement (not tasks) like Facebook. I find ‘engagement’ a very vague and broad term. If I were a top-task proponent I would say: updating and interacting on Facebook can also be seen as a task. The task to inform your friends and the task to reply to your friends’ update.

Top-tasks, conversation and context
Would it help if we changed the term ‘engagement’ for ‘conversation’ or ‘networking’? Conversation and networking relates to the things we do on Facebook. And I would like to add ‘context’as well, because I think focusing on tasks alone is too limiting. Yes, there are situations people just want to get things done on a site. But most people also want to know what they are doing and why it works in a certain way. For that reason context is important. Context helps people define meaning and make better decisions (and do the right task).

Balance
I agree with Philippe's final statement. The big issue is the barrier between both, making it easy to switch between tasks and engagement. Or in my terms: between tasks, context, and networking.
I’m curious if you think this makes sense.

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