Minimal Viability Via Top Task Analysis

Surveying your target audience by conducting a top task analysis in order to determine the minimal viability of your solution is an excellent way to account for user needs throughout the estimation process and define the scope.

Doing so enables you to clearly prioritize features and engagement opportunities, distinguishing between “nice to have” and that which is essential. Results are to be leveraged in justifying dropping (or at least postponing) implementation of functionality which users indicate as having little to no value.

The process is direct, engaging, requires little effort but produces powerful results. And it may easily be segmented and replicated to find out if and why there are different interpretations of value derived from the tasks you intend to facilitate.

What all do you users really need?

Just in case you are unfamiliar with the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) concept, and all the ways in which it minimizes risks and enhances focus on value, following is an illustrated summation

Minimal Viable Product Concept

Minimal Viable Product Concept

. . . moving on.

Determining what users intend to accomplish with your solution is fairly simple – just ask them. Compose a forced ranked survey listing out all the tasks you are considering to facilitate and send it out to your target audience.

Ask only one question with at least 30-50 features listed, forcing the users to focus and choose the things which matter most – by limiting their selections to 3-5 most important ones.

top task analysis

Example of a forced ranked top task analysis survey

Returned results will provide a priority stacked list of those features, which if sufficiently defined, nine times out of ten will be highly saturated, identifying the top tasks your solution needs to address to satisfy the users.

Granted that the line you draw as “minimally required”, for now at least, without business considerations, may be very well be a dashed line. But nonetheless, you have a strong understand of where the “must have” value lies.

top task analysis used to determine minimal viability for the users

Determining the MVP according to the users Top Task Resuts

To ensure this happens, weigh the answers, by giving more points to user’s “most important” task than to their “2nd most important” one . . . and so on.

That solves for the user’s perception of viability part of the equation. Now the question becomes . . .

What is viable to implement?

If certain features or tasks got no to very little significance, backlog those immediately, and focus on estimating the remaining ones by proceeding with the following steps.

  1. Account for resources, time and efforts required to develop each of the remaining features
  2. Assign the value generated to the business each feature provides
  3. Consolidate and balance the findings against the estimates

Version of the top task analysis that may be used with stakeholders (and is quite fun to do) is the Monetary Method.

version of top task analysis for stakeholders

Designing the User Experience at Autodesk

. . . basically listing out the features or requirements in the same manner and giving the business owners X amount of dollars (budget) to “purchase” features which are to be developed and have been given relative costs based on estimated efforts.

Consolidate the analyses findings and estimates in which ever way you find most appropriate. But always keep in mind and  strive to eliminate as much as possible. That’s the objective.

Minimal viable interfaces and navigation models

In addition to previously discussed method for collecting and utilizing user interaction data to prioritize interfaces, results from a top task analysis also provide highly actionable considerations. Apply the same rigor to the structure of the layouts in your solution by regarding each part of the interface as relevant to a task. Hierarchically associate and stack as well as assign visual significance according to the priority.

Navigation structure and task flows may also significantly benefit from the task analysis results by using the output of the survey as inputs in first click testing, tree mapping etc.

Segmenting Audiences and Solution Variations

If concerned with providing the most relevant experiences to significantly unique audience sets (power users and newbies, males and females etc.), or to simply find out if those segments in fact have different needs, top task analysis provides a highly applicable hypothesis framework.

Avoid modifying the question format or the feature list in any way when collecting responses from different sources or segments as to avoid bias.

Potential drawbacks

  • Conducting a top task analysis requires a large set of users, at minimum around 100 (which equates to ~10% margin of error) as to ensure statistical significance.
    Keep in mind that most survey platforms (e.g. SurveyMonkey) provide for purchasing relatively inexpensive responses from audiences you may define to a high degree.
  • Exposing competitively differentiating features and or trade secrets in open surveys is not such a good idea
  • This method gets far more complex with regards to cross-dependency requirements and enterprise systems integration where certain features are inherit

If identified concerns don’t present high risks for your solution I strongly recommend trying out the top task analysis method to establish your MVP scope.

It will give you the insight on how much value users will derive from individual features and it will also allow you to confidently parcel the development efforts and accordingly plan sustainable release cycles.