Staff main activity workshops Web services blog | firez
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Staff main activity workshops | Web services blog

We had a lot of fun last week running workshops to identify the key tasks for staff to complete when they visit the website. These were very helpful sessions that not only allowed us to gather the crucial data we needed, but also gave staff across the University a chance to talk to others who share the same frustrations.

What are the main activities?

Top Task Management is a methodology for getting to the heart of what people want from your website. Essentially, you focus on what your users are trying to do when they access the website, rather than what you want to tell users. The two are not always the same. As a university, we tend to focus on telling people what we want them to know, rather than developing content to support what they want. A List Apart has a great article on managing core tasks for more information.

How did we do?

We organized a series of five seminars for staff across the institution. We had a great response with over 65 attendees from the following areas.

Education and social work
External Relations
Human resources
Library and learning center
Life sciences
Nursing and health sciences
Security services
Science and engineering
social Sciences
Student services
What does it mean?

At each seminar, the goal was simple. Tell us a story. To be specific, tell us a user who illustrates a task that you as the user want to complete. We do this using the following form:

  • As <>>
  • I want <>>
  • So I can <>>

An example could be:

  • As a member of staff
  • I want to find people’s contact details
  • So I can contact the right person

How does it help you?

For us web specialists, what it does is establish who we’re designing for, what they’re trying to do, and what the success criteria are for the business. In the example above, if we simply had a list of everyone’s names, we wouldn’t necessarily help them find the right person as there could be multiple people with the same name or function within a specific area. So user stories help us understand the problem we’re trying to solve.

What kind of response have we received?

Those who attended the workshop really fell in love with this approach and we ended the week with over 600 user stories to work with. While that may seem like a lot, the beauty of top-level task management is that you start to see common problems appearing throughout the institution. These become the main tasks that help us focus our efforts on tackling the big things that most people need the website to do.

What will happen next?

We’ll collect all of these tasks and start removing the duplicates so we can further reduce them into a more manageable list. Once that job is complete, we’ll send it to a list of newsletter subscribers for them to vote on the things they think are the top tasks. If you want to be included on that list, here’s how to join.

Are there any early indications as to what they might be?

There were some very strong initial messages that came out of these sessions from just about everyone who was there.

  1. We want to be able to find people easily
  2. We want to be able to filter the flow of information leaving the University to suit our preferences
  3. We want to be able to easily find information on a wide range of topics
  4. We don’t really care which department provides the information

As you may have guessed, the ideas behind statements 1-3 really could be applied to any website. Statement 4 was by far the most interesting. Workshop participants were extremely frustrated when it came to finding information on the website. Over and over we’ve been told that in the course of their jobs they have to « point » to people in many different places, simply to answer a single question.