Notes on Gerry McGovern’s Top Tasks Identification Method Explained

From a 11/12/10 blog post by Gerry McGovern on his site, link here. Gerry posted on the subject again on 5/21/15, link here.

Gerry has developed a survey technique for finding top user tasks.

  1. Make a list with 100 tasks
  2. Ask survey participants to quickly pick their top 5 tasks
  3. That’s it! Well, actually, compile results etc…
  • By surveying 400 customers, you will find users’ top 10 tasks with reasonable certainty
  • 400 is a good number since the chances of a top task being in the bottom 50, or of a largely unwanted task being in the top 10, is “infinitesimal”
  • The top task will probably emerge after 50-100 answers
  • The top 5 will probably get about 25% of the vote
  • The bottom 50 will also get about 25% of the vote
  • You can ask for less than 5 top tasks, but not more—people struggle to identify more than 5 that are really important to them and results get muddy
  • Participants will only scan the list and the things that jump out at them are the ones they really care about (called “carewords”)

Gerry has given this survey more than 400 times, to more than 400,000 people, so the technique seems really solid!

Check out Gerry’s book, The Stranger’s Long Neck, for implementation details and advice.


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