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Oh No, Not Another Survey?!

Author: Emad Elias, MBA, PMP

Have you ever thought about why surveys are not used more often in doing process improvement?  When beginning a process improvement initiative, one of the first things you do is begin gathering information about the “as-is” or how things work now.  This is for the purpose of then recommending how things “should” work, where the weaknesses are, what can be done to fill the gaps, etc.

So it seems obvious that there are several reasons why people do not speak up when you’re asking them why things don’t exactly “work” on their team or in their company.  Employees, even government employees who seemingly should enjoy more job security, are reluctant to say anything bad about their organization, their own work, or their coworkers, for fear of getting fired.

“Why Use a Survey Tool?”

Experience has shown that the use of anonymous surveys can be extremely valuable in several respects.  There are five (5) reasons to use a survey tool in gathering data for a process improvement initiative:

1. Efficiency of Time: Normally, several interviews need to be set up from the Executive level down to the staff level to be able to capture the kind of detailed information needed in order to accurately assess the “as-is” process.  Certainly, face to face meetings cannot be replaced with any other type of information gathering technique, but surveys can serve to quickly and efficiently capture much of what we need to know in terms of how people actually do their jobs and also how satisfied they are with the current method of fulfilling their job duties.

2. Less Resource Intensive: Because of the way a good survey tool captures and reports data, the actual effort to both gather and then consolidate and prepare reports is greatly reduced.  Not only this, if the survey is designed well, it will produce highly quantitative metrics that can be analyzed to produce a powerful story for management to use to effect change.

3. Low Cost: Obviously it costs quite a bit to have consultants come in and talk to staff.  In addition to the actual cost, there is the intangible cost that is incurred as a result of the consultant causing the rumor mill to proliferate and ultimately lower productivity.  Use of surveys can drastically lower the cost of gathering data because consultants will spend less time gathering and more time analyzing data which is a much better use of their time which ultimately results in a better ROI for the customer.

4. Quality of Data: Though you must choose your survey tool carefully, use of anonymous surveys can drastically improve the accuracy of the data and therefore the quality of recommendations to the customer.  People always provide more honest feedback when they know that the survey is anonymous and NO personal information is being gathered.  So one might say, “well they are tracking my IP address or putting a cookie on my machine”.  The survey can be set up not to collect IP addresses and not put a cookie on their machine.  This, of course, must be effectively communicated prior to the survey being available by the sponsor of the process improvement initiative.

5. Security: Again, you must choose a good survey tool, but many will provide an option to conduct the survey and store the data on a secure server, i.e., use of an https connection.  This serves to assure respondents to the survey that their data cannot be hacked or stolen but also the sponsor that the data cannot be accessed from a local machine inside the company by an employee.

“How Do I Use This Thing and How Much Will it Cost?”

Naturally one might say, “Well I don’t know how to use a survey tool and furthermore, I have never designed a survey”.  Survey tools today come with plenty of online help and support.  They also are extremely user friendly both for the end user and the survey designer.  This is essential to the companies that are selling these types of products because if their tools are not easy to use, the benefit that the tool claims to provide is severely compromised because people simply will not answer surveys that are hard to figure out and use.

Another question might be: “What about the cost?” Most companies are always looking to lower costs, not increase them.”  For most professionals, the level of access they need to a survey tool will cost in the range of $50 per month.  This will provide most, if not all, of the features described above.  It will also provide a level of support that should be adequate even for the inexperienced user.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the question is: “What’s the value proposition?” The answer is that if the survey is designed well and the Executive sponsor provides input as well as support it as a part of the overall process initiative, it’s a no brainer!  The reasons are the usual: better, faster, cheaper than other alternatives.  It’s better in that it will provide higher quality data by anonymously gathering honest feedback from the staff.  It’s faster because conducting a survey can take as little as 1-2 weeks rather than a month or two simply due to logistically planning for face to face meetings in between actual work being done.  And, it’s cheaper because the level of effort to gather, consolidate, analyze, and prepare the data for consumption is far less.