The Benefits and Drawbacks You Should Know About The Survey Technique

Surveys are a technique that can help identify potential problems or pain points within business processes and operations. With a well-defined objective and solid planning, a Business Analyst can administer a survey that elicits a lot of thoughts and ideas from respondents, provides them with useful insights, and helps pinpoint them to the heart of existing issues. 

But how do you know which type of survey method to go with, and what are some of the fundamentals for survey success? We’ll break this all down together. 

First, let’s consider the types of surveys that can be conducted. 

Digital vs. Traditional Surveys

Digital Survey Methods

Digital, or online, surveys are, by far, the most preferred types of surveys – and for good reason! They bring with them a wealth of beneficial features that increase accuracy and data analysis, are much more cost-efficient, and can be used to elicit information from a large number of people anywhere in the world with ease.

Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo, and ZOHO Survey are three of the many available online survey platforms. If you want to determine which tool is best for your survey, you could do some comparative benchmarking of the platforms on the market. Capturing some data quickly is especially important in the “Identify and Define the Problem” phase when you are gathering information to get an initial idea of some of the underlying issues that are currently occurring.

Traditional Survey Methods

Aside from the online survey methods, there are 3 alternative methods of conducting surveys which include:

    • Paper: Respondents complete the survey on paper with a pen or pencil.
    • Telephonic: Respondents are contacted by phone to answer questions.
    • One-on-One In-Person: Respondents are interviewed in a one-on-one interview format. 

While all methods come with their pros and cons, the functionality, convenience, accuracy, and efficiency that accompanies digital online surveys while collecting responses from a larger number of people often catapults it to being the default method of choice for many projects.

Good Questions = Better Data

Every successful survey endeavor requires the survey to have two characteristics: a good flow, and good questions. Both of these are contingent upon planning and taking the time to think your survey flow and questions through ahead of time. Let’s break down each of them.

Good Survey Flow

While in the planning phase, ensure that you’re thinking through a good flow for your survey questions. When I say that there should be a good flow to your survey, ensure that you are asking somewhat easier-to-answer questions first. This will help ease the respondent into the task at hand. I’ve mentioned this in a previous article I wrote but it’s worth repeating: approach your survey as if you are having a conversation with someone. Typically, conversations begin with lighter questions (such as “hey, how are you?”) and gradually move into deeper topics (maybe “what do you plan to do with your career?”, for example). 

Ask close-ended questions first, then move onto open-ended questions. 

Closed-ended questions, which provide a selection of pre-defined answer choices, can be designed in a couple of ways. You could use multiple-choice questions, or you might use a slide rating. Slide ratings provide feedback in a comparative form. Respondents might answer by choosing a rating between 1 and 10 or between “more likely” and “less likely.” With closed-ended questions you may get a bit less detail, but you can complete analysis on the data much more quickly. 

Open-ended questions, typically answered in paragraph form, can draw out opinions and give you more details, but they also will require manual analysis – and significantly more time – to examine.

If you decide to use both open and closed-ended questions, I recommend that you start the survey with closed-ended questions that can elicit quick, direct answers. Placing thought-provoking, open-ended questions at the beginning can discourage respondents from answering. They may think the survey is too involved and will take too much time to fill out. Place those questions later in the survey. Also, demographic questions should be placed toward the bottom. If these potentially identifying questions start the survey, respondents might be swayed to be less honest in their answers. 

Asking Good Questions

When I refer to “good questions”, I mean questions that are phrased clearly, are written with thoughtful intent, and have been created to deliberately elicit insightful, valuable information. Respondents cannot provide truthful responses that are representative of how they think and feel if they cannot understand your questions. 

Here are some quick tips for good questions:

  • Phrase your questions carefully and clearly.
  • Ensure that you are not making assumptions about what the respondent knows. Ask qualifying questions to ensure clarity and accuracy. 
  • Provide enough answer options so respondents aren’t forced to choose something that closely resembles what they truly want to answer but isn’t really accurate.

You can find more information about how to phrase and structure questions and answers in my previous article “Common Challenges in the Survey Method & How to Overcome Them.”

Benefits vs. Drawbacks

So, What’s Beneficial About a Survey?

As I mentioned earlier, online surveys can be cost-effective. In fact, if you are sending a one-time survey, depending on the number of respondents you will send it to, your survey could potentially be sent using a platform’s free version or trial. 

Beyond saving money, an online survey only needs to be created once. Then it can be sent to a large pool of people, who can provide you the information back at their convenience.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, online surveys, in particular, facilitate the relatively quick analysis of mass amounts of data with little risk of human error. 

Surveys Also Have Some Drawbacks 

Think about the last time you were asked to fill one out and how you reacted. Did you take that survey? While they are a vital tool for business analysis, surveys are generally boring which can cause low response rates. People will often procrastinate completing them or may lose track of them. 

One way to combat this is with incentives. Giving away random prizes or gift cards to respondents is my go-to. These incentives can help provide motivation for respondents to complete your survey. So, if getting high engagement is key, consider offering some. 

Surveys also can put pressure on a Business Analyst. It takes a concentrated effort to develop clear, concise questions. You also don’t want to ask leading questions that encourage respondents to answer in a specific way. 

The best way around this is to get feedback from team members and test respondents and adjust or remove confusing, ambiguous, or leading questions.

Things to Keep in Mind

Define your survey recipients. Once you zero in on your objective, think about who has the relevant information. Is it users of a particular system or middle management in a given department? 

Short and sweet is best. Develop your questions and stick to no more than 20, but my go to is six to 15. The number of questions equates to the time commitment of filling out a survey. 

Clearly define survey availability. How long will you keep the survey open? I recommend nine days. That way, if someone is out of the office, maybe on a week of vacation, they would have two additional days to respond upon their return.

Send a test, then the rest. Send a test survey to a few people and get their feedback. This can help you catch mistakes and confusing questions before you send it to the masses.

As all Business Analysts know, the Survey technique can be an extremely effective method for eliciting information from a small, medium, or large cohort of people. But it’s not perfect (show me an elicitation technique that is!), and it’s ultimately up to you to determine if it’s the right technique for your purposes and project. 

Keep in mind, too, that we use multiple elicitation techniques in various stages of our projects. Perhaps surveys work well when you’re trying to identify and define the problem, but interviews would work better when creating solutions. Any combination or solo technique can be used for your project. Get creative and enjoy the investigative process!

– Written by Jeremy Aschenbrenner, The BA Guide


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