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Using task observation to discover user issues

by Martyn Green on June 13, 2011

Understanding the roles of users and identifying the difficulties they encounter in your processes is vital to the planning phase of an intranet.

A useful way of doing this is by task observation.

Task observation involves shadowing a user and noting down the tasks that they carry out regularly during the working day.

There are two types of observation, obtrusive where questions are asked of the user, and non obtrusive where the user will only be observed.

What would you be looking for?

  • Which tasks are conducted on a regular basis
  • What information they need to complete their daily work
  • Are there certain tasks that are particularly time consuming or frustrating
  • Identify possible solutions to streamline processes

For example, a telesales employee makes phone calls and needs to log the information from these phone calls. The system used to log information has a two minute time out function. Each time they start to log the information from a call, they have to take another call. If the employee is on the phone for longer than two minutes, the system times out and they need to re-enter the information from scratch. If this happens over several phone calls, it can get very frustrating and means that it takes the employee far longer to complete their tasks.

When this has been observed by a third party, they can make a note of these issues and look at ways to make improvements. For example, they may suggest a longer auto log out time or no auto log out time at all.

Essentially, task observations help you to identify the issues your users encounter regularly and actively look at ways to make it easier for them to undertake their duties. By understanding your user needs you will be better equipped to know what information needs to be easily accessed on your intranet.

Topics: 2. Plan

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