The first step in top task management is carrying out a task situation analysis in order to understand the whole range of customer tasks that exist. I call this list of customer tasks the 'Longlist.'
The following longlist sources are specifically for a public website, but the basic approach to building a longlist works just as well for an intranet. (However, you can't really look at 'competitor' intranets, and using public web search statistics is not relevant from an intranet perspective.)
Start with organization strategy. Analyze corporate philosophy, vision and strategy statements. What does the organization want to achieve over the next 5 years and how much of that does it want to achieve on the Web? It is very important that you link your website strategy to the organization's overall strategy. This seems obvious but you wouldn't believe how many websites are disconnected from core organizational aims and objectives.
Talk to key stakeholders: Find out what key people within the organization think the website's purpose is. What do they think the customer's top tasks are? What do they think the top tasks should be? Tip: Sometimes we deliberately include stakeholder tasks in the final list that we know won't get a big vote. But then we can say, look, this task didn't get many votes.
Examine the existing website: A good way to gather tasks is to copy level 1 and 2 of the website classification into the longlist. Another good source is the site index.
Collect top search terms: Get the top 50-100 search terms over a 12 month period for your search engine. With the English National Health Service (NHS) Choices we used Google Adwords to find out the top health related terms that people were searching for on Google.
Competitor websites: Examine four to six competitor websites, taking tasks from the homepage and second levels of these websites.
Relevant media (including social media): Are there magazines, blogs, specialist industry websites, associations, Twitter feeds, etc. that might have relevant tasks?
Customer feedback and research: What are the most common customer inquiries and complaints? Talk to support, help and sales staff to get this sort of data. Are there surveys or other research that show what tasks customers come to the website to complete?
For a large project, I recommend doing 10-20 customer interviews. These interviews don't usually uncover new tasks outside those already discovered as a result of analyzing the sources above. However, interviews are great for getting a feel for how the customer thinks. Make these interviews very short (about 15 minutes).
Additional Reading: Replacing Your Web CMS May be Exactly the Wrong Thing To Do
It's important that you are as comprehensive and thorough as possible in gathering your tasks. Remember, top task management is an evidence-based approach. You don't want someone saying later that you missed an important task.
Depending on the size of the website the initial list of tasks may range from 300 to 1,000. For example, for the NHS Choices website, we had almost 1,000 initial tasks. In my next article I will describe how to go about cleaning up the tasks and bringing them to a much shorter list.