Don't boil the ocean

We recently completed another of our Task Identification projects. At the end of the process we worked with the team to take their new insights and start creating wireframes that would better support their top tasks.

For one client, over 50% of the votes for the most important tasks went to just 6 tasks. Despite this extremely “long neck” many people on the team quickly lost their focus and started adding all sorts of links onto their home page designs, incorporating customizable page elements or portlets, adding a media library, and on and on.

It’s not easy to get out of this rut. Start by showing the negative impact of adding more links and interfering with access to top tasks.

We also measured the Customer Centric Index. It was relatively low and the messages were very clear. Their customers wanted drastic improvements in Search and Navigation. They felt pretty good about the content IF they could find it. In many cases they could not.

As the discussion progressed, people started talking about getting a new content management system, hiring in some additional skills, creating extensive policies for controlling content, etc. All of a sudden we were into analysis paralysis. We were worried that we’d come back in 6 months and they’d still be trying to restructure themselves while their customers were still suffering.

It is important not to try and boil the ocean. Once the top tasks have been identified, this should provide extreme focus for where to apply resources. Observe the problem areas. Come up with refinements to the existing system to improve performance. Measure the performance and iterate through this cycle again. Typically a few iterations can have a tremendous impact on performance.

For another client, our Task Identification and subsequent refinements improved task completion by 50%. We tested performance on their 8 top tasks before any changes were made. The mean success rate was only 53% and some of the failures were what we call disasters – the person thought they completed the task but they had the wrong answer.

We made relatively small changes to the navigation, restructuring and relabelling some of the key content groupings on the home page and a few of the major landing pages. We also modified some of the key content pages. Then we tested again. The task completion rate increased from 53% to 68%.

Next we tried reducing the number of steps necessary to complete the top tasks. This involved moving the tasks up through the hierarchy, removing distractions, and rewording several link labels. We tested again. With relatively easy-to-make changes, and just two iterations of design changes, we were able to increase the completion rate from 53% to 82% – a performance improvement of over 50% in just 3 weeks.

It is important to have a clear focus and to start small. DO NOT try to redesign the whole website. DO NOT try a major relaunch. Take a lesson from EBay and Amazon. Evolve your website through a series of small refinements so you don’t lose your customers and so it’s easy to back out of a change that did not work as expected.

Don’t boil the ocean. If you’re having difficulty with focus and determining the first small steps to take, we’d be happy to discuss your particular needs.

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