An Event Apart: “Top Task Management: Making it Easier to Prioritize”

Gerry McGovern speaking at An Event Apart Orlando 2016 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Walt Disney World on October 5, 2016.

In an age of increasing complexity, prioritizing will be a key skill. Anybody can add features or content. In fact, in this age of glut it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. Top Tasks Management helps you identify the top tasks in your projects (what really matters). Just as importantly, you’ll discover the tiny tasks, the low-level tasks that flood designs and content pages, smothering simplicity and confusing your users with an ocean of features and content. Top Tasks Management is a method, developed over ten years of research, that will help you focus on what really matters in your projects, giving you the evidence to remove that which doesn’t. It’s been used to great effect by organizations such as Cisco, Microsoft, Lenovo, Google, and the European Commission. Gerry will teach you how to identify the top and tiny tasks in your projects and you’ll walk away with a strategy, giving you the ability to defend your decisions to your team and to management.


  • Most websites are designed by dogs — Dogs think everything is a good idea
  • Most websites are maintained by cats — Cats want everything to be easy
  • In any data migration, we need crocodiles to get rid of crap content
  • Our gut instinct is incredibly dangerous — We should not trust our gut instinct when designing websites
  • Manage the task, not the format or the channel
  • If you ask a stupid question, people leave immediately — Or the wrong question at the wrong moment
  • The DNA of digital is words — Understanding the exact words can have a huge impact on people
  • When a tiny task goes to sleep at night it dreams of being a large task
  • Most web people are nibbled to death by tiny tasks
  • Organizational ego is tied up in tiny tasks
  • Organizations are fabulous at focusing on themselves
  • The “hippo” is the highest paid person the room
  • A seagull poops on your project and then flies home
  • Hippos and seagulls are killing our projects
  • Tiny tasks affect the performance of large tasks
  • Sources for the task list
  • The first reaction is to always create something rather than look at what you already have
  • User search results don’t always tell you the intent of the users — You have to go broader than just looking at analytics
  • Solve the customer problem and the customer will solve your problem; try to solve your problem and no one will be happy
  • Most hero shots are totally stupid — We like to put images of smiling people regardless of the situation
  • After a user successfully does a task, that’s the best time to ask for something
  • 2 questions to ask:
    • Can they complete the task?
    • How much time was spent on the task?
  • Identify what the top task is, then observe people trying to complete the task
  • All our responsibility is centered around tools and organizational priorities
    • We need to shift to focus on the customer
    • We need to encourage good practice
  • Type ahead (for search) is not good when you just give the same wrong answer faster
  • Evidence not opinion
  • Don’t just trust gut instinct

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