What Is Task Analysis?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about task analysis and how this process of observation can help people understand how and why someone completes a task to improve the user experience.

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Task analysis helps observers better understand the user experience by breaking a task down and analyzing the steps a user takes to complete the task. Find out how task analysis works and why it’s an important step in the design process in this article.

What Is Task Analysis?

Task analysis is the complete study and breakdown of how a user successfully completes a task, including all physical and cognitive steps needed. It involves observing an individual to learn the knowledge, thought processes, and ability necessary to achieve a set goal.

For example, a website designer may perform a task analysis to see the actions and thinking a customer uses to purchase a product on their site. Performing a task analysis helps the observer understand the procedures and challenges involved in the user experience, including the necessary physical ability or how a person’s previous experiences may impact how they complete a task. 

As an important step in the design thinking process, task analysis allows you to define the user’s problems so you can create a more efficient and effective task flow. Task analysis is helpful when testing a prototype or improving an existing design.

The purpose of task analysis is to better understand the user experience and potential pain points in order to solve problems and improve the overall user experience. Data gleaned from task analysis allows individuals to design a more effective system or better understand a current system.

Read more: Product Designer vs. UX Designer: The Difference Explained

There are several methods of task analysis available. But two main types are:

Cognitive task analysis (CTA)

A methodology aimed at examining the mental knowledge and thought processes involved in completing a task. This type of task analysis is ideal for tasks that require higher-level thinking or more advanced cognitive activity from the user. For example, you would use CTA for tasks that require a user to solve a problem, make a decision, or memorize something.

Hierarchical task analysis (HTA)

HTA helps you understand the needs of a user to complete a task by breaking it into subtasks. Using this type of task analysis provides a clear visual of the various ways a user may complete a task so that you can then better optimize the experience for them.

How to perform a task analysis 

To conduct a task analysis, you’ll first identify the task you want to analyze and choose a technique to complete the task analysis. Take the following steps to perform a task analysis using a hierarchical format:

1. Identify the task and its end goal.

Think about why you’re analyzing this task and what you want to learn from it. You may want to identify a pain point in the task or simply understand the complexity of what the user needs to accomplish. 

2. Break the main task into subtasks.

Figure out how detailed you want your analysis to be and how many steps it may take the user to complete the intended objective. It’s recommended to decompose a task into four to eight subtasks. This is also a good time to figure out how you’re going to get your information, either by observing the user in action, interviewing them, or using data already available.

3. Analyze and visualize your task analysis.

While completing your analysis, draw a layered diagram that outlines the steps and decisions involved in completing the task. This may look like a flowchart that follows the entire objective from start to finish or an activity diagram that is more straightforward on the proper steps. Either way, use it to help observers visualize the process for future use.

4. Add notes or written observations to your findings.

Compliment your diagram with a narrative on your discoveries or any written observations that will help your analysis. For example, add notes on what challenges the user encountered on a specific subtask or describe how a user used their own experiences to navigate a process. Treat this step as a story that describes the reasons behind the steps involved.

5. Review, validate, and share your analysis.

Get feedback on your analysis from team members, especially those who weren’t involved in the initial analysis. Allow them to check for any missteps, inconsistencies, or areas for improvement. This is a good time to observe any variations or irregularities that might skew your observations and subtasks.

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