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Task analysis

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What is it?

Task analysis - which perhaps more accurately should be called task decomposition - is a data capture technique used to break tasks into simpler, more readily understandable subtasks.

For example, getting a train ticket on a website for later collection might be broken down into ordering, paying and collection (which may in turn be broken down into further and simpler sub-tasks of course).

The aim of task analysis is a better appreciation of how a user performs a given task. In other words, task analysis should generate a clear picture of what a user is doing (or is required to do) in terms of actions and/or cognitive processes to achieve some given end (i.e. acquiring a train ticket).

Characteristics

A detailed task analysis should be conducted to decompose a product, system or service into smaller (qua more tractable; more easily grasped) components and the information flows within it. These information flows are important to the maintenance of the existing product, system or service and must be incorporated or substituted in any new offering. A task analysis is often presented as an annotated process flow diagram or entity relation diagram.

What's it for?

Task analysis makes it possible to design and allocate tasks appropriately within a new system. The functions to be included within the system and the user interface can then be accurately specified.

How to do task analysis
The aim of high-level task decomposition is to disassemble user tasks, and render them down into simpler, more readily understandable components and subtasks. Task decomposition is best represented diagrammatically as some variant of entity-relation diagram such as a process flow. This shows the sequencing of activities by ordering them, e.g. from left to right.

In order to break down a task, the question should be asked: "How is this task done?" If a sub-task is identified at a lower level, it is possible to build up the structure by asking "Why is this done?"

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