Top Tasks: Creating a better online experience

Published by Gerry McGovern, Guest Blogger



We know that our users do not come to to browse; they come with goals in mind. To achieve a goal, a user must complete a task, or a number of tasks, related to that goal.

A user might come to the site with the goal of improving mental wellbeing. A task for this goal might be to get information about stress reduction or positive mental health.

Top Tasks

Top Tasks is a rigorous, statistical method that has been used more than 500 times by organisations such as Cisco, Toyota, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and the UK NHS.

The largest Top Tasks survey was carried out by the European Union. It was translated into 24 languages and there were 107,000 people voting. By the first 30 voters, the top three tasks had emerged. Yes, even after 107,000 voters, the top three tasks were the exact same as they had been after just 30 voters.

HSE Top Tasks survey

The HSE has just carried out a Top Tasks survey, asking people to rank what was most important to them in dealing with health. To deliver statistically reliable data you need about 400 voters. There were 3,600 votes in the HSE survey.

There were 74 tasks in the survey for people to choose from. These 74 tasks had been selected from a long list of hundreds of tasks based on:

  • Search behaviour
  • Most popular pages people visited on HSE websites
  • Other survey research on health needs
  • Social media

A good representative sample voted; there was lots of internal discussion and feedback from doctors, nurses, managers and various other experts. It was a collaborative, rigorous process to develop the final list.

Every task that got into the final list of 74 was considered to be a top task. Then, we went out and got people to vote. In the following chart, we see the voting broken up into 4 quarters.

Seven top tasks hse digital

Even though we thought all the 74 tasks were top tasks, the top 7 tasks get as much of the vote as the bottom 39.

  • 7 tasks got the first 25% of the vote
  • 39 tasks got the final 25% of the vote

A good representative sample voted, for example:

  • 80% of the voters were from the public
  • 20% were health professionals
  • 28% described themselves as carers

A good representation of age groups voted, too.

Demographic information

The following table shows what sort of analysis we can do by combining top tasks data with the demographic information we collected.

Top Task Demographic Information

(Yellow = top 25% of vote; Green = 25-50% of vote; Turquoise = 50-75%; White = 75-100%)

At a glance, we can see a lot of commonality of tasks for those aged between 18 to 64. Those under 17 and over 65, while having some top tasks in common, do have quite distinct tasks. If we dig into the data, we can see task patterns emerge, such as in the following chart.

Top tasks symptoms

As we can see from the chart, 'check symptoms' is a top task for younger people but then declines in importance as people get older. We also can discern from the data that mental wellbeing is the number one task for young people and that this also declines in importance as people get older.

Next steps

The Top Tasks results gives rich and detailed data on what matters most to the public and professionals when dealing with health. These are not simply insights that can inform digital strategy; they can be very useful in a much broader sense.

The HSE Digital team are now creating a digital design that integrates all online health tasks while reflecting the special importance of people’s top tasks. They will then work to continuously improve the top tasks by focusing on making it easier and faster for people to complete them.

About Gerry McGovern

Gerry has helped the US, Canadian, Norwegian, Dutch and British governments deliver better customer experience. Google, Dropbox, Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, Toyota, among hundreds of others, have used his Top Tasks customer experience methods. He has spoken about digital customer experience in 35 countries and has published six books on the subject. The Irish Times has described him as one of five visionaries who have had a major impact on the development of the Web. He has worked with health-based organizations in the United States, Canada, The UK, Netherlands and Norway.