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PHOTO: Firza Pratama

Shortlisting is the process of moving from a long list of often poorly worded statements to a clear list of tasks that might matter to people in a decision-making environment (buying a car, choosing a university, using a piece of software, etc.)

Typically, it takes about three weeks to collect all the potential tasks from competitor environments, analyze search statistics, review previous research, etc. Then it takes about three weeks to get to a final shortlist. Shortlisting works best when it is done in 90-minute to two-hour sessions. Aim to have no more than two to three shortlisting sessions per week.

It sounds counterintuitive but even though a verb such as “find” or “get” might appear like a grammatically good way to describe a task, such verbs are generally unnecessary. Where possible, use a noun to describe a task. For example, avoid writing “Get Pricing” — writing “Pricing” on its own is much better. Keep each task well under 65 characters (eight to 10 words). The fewer words, the easier to scan.

You’re going to have a lot of overlaps because you’ll have collected possible tasks from multiple sources. Here are some examples:

  • Audit committee
  • Audit policy
  • Audit procedures
  • Auditor certificate

The first step is to identify the core task and then use brackets for the subtasks. For example:

  • Auditing (committees, policy, procedures, certificate)

Ultimately, you want to bring the brackets down to two to three items, but this is a start. Remember that “Auditing” might not even survive as a task. It might become part of “Accounting” or some higher-level task. But don’t worry about that for now. Take one step at a time. Don’t make big decisions in the early stages of shortlisting, just change things little by little. It’s all about iteration and developing a consensus.

You need to remove brands, product names, department names, and subject areas from the list:
  • In a university task-list, do not have the names of the courses (English, Computer Science, Law, etc.).
  • In an intranet task-list, do not have a list of the departments (HR, IT, Accounting).
  • In a company task-list, do not have a list of the products.
  • In a healthcare task-list, do not have a list of the diseases/conditions.

You want tasks that are universal — that work across brands, products, diseases and departments. No matter what the product, “pricing” works as a task. No matter what the disease, “check symptoms” works as a task.

What do “Knowledge Base,” “Local Resources” or “Documents” mean? These are vague, meaningless terms — what I call dirty magnets. A dirty magnet is so vague and yet appealing that it can potentially mean anything to anyone. This is dangerous because it can get a big vote and then you won’t know why exactly people voted for it. So remove dirty magnets.

Remove tasks that refer to gender, age, geography or any other demographic or category. Avoid formats such as “reports,” “newsletters,” “documents,” “tools,” “videos,” “forms” and “templates.” Avoid channels such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Always try and get to the tasks that these formats and channels might support.

Consider allowing up to 5% of your task-list for ego tasks. These are tasks that the organization feels very passionate about but break some or all of the above guidelines. They may include such tasks as:

  • Senior management speeches
  • Annual report
  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Videos