Friday, April 2, 2010

How to Develop Survey Questions That Help You Make Good Decisions

I've been involved in a back and forth with a client around creating survey questions that measure the effectiveness of a team. I was most concerned about the nature and the quality of the questions that we would ask.  We all know the old saying "Garbage in. Garbage out."  And this is certainly true as it relates to constructing good survey questions.

QuestionPro already gives us many options and question types to choose from.  But if you're not asking the right questions, you're not going to get actionable results.

The most basic reason we conduct surveys is to help us make decisions.   In fact, surveys aren't just used for marketing decisions.  They are often most useful for making improvements in our operations.

How to Know If Your Question Will Yield Actionable Results?

The best way to test your questions for good results is to literally run your survey internally as a test and ask people to answer the questions.  Then look at your results.

Gather a small team in the room and set your objective as reviewing the test results for specific action items.

For example:

"We received a score of 6.7 out of 10 as a response to "Overall, how would you rate the training you received?"  Our objective is to raise this score to an 8 out of 10.  What are some specific action items we could do to improve this score?"

Chances are your team may take in this information and come up with more questions such as:

  • Which aspects of the training were rated low?

  • Which aspects were rated high?

  • What specific parts of the training drive the respondents' experience?  Is it the trainer, the materials, the exercises, the venue?


If your group is tasked with coming up with specific changes to drive improvement, and they are asking these kinds of questions -- then the original survey question is too broad.

The good news is that the questions you're asking yourselves in order to come up with actions that will drive your score up are the key to creating more specific questions that will help you take action.

Focus on What Decision You're Making And The Objectives

What is the objective of your survey and what decisions will you make with the results?  Are you looking for ways to improve your training process and system so that your trainees retain more information?   In that case, you can focus the question on your respondents' ability to actually do a specific task.

With that in mind, you can create a more focused question such as:

"After completing the training, I can process an online order easily"

This question is focused on the area of online order processing.  If you get a low rating, your team will know to focus on that specific area for improvement.

Managing Survey Length

The downside of focused questions is that they tend to proliferate and make your survey too long.   This is why it's critical to be clear about how you will use the survey to help you make decisions.  It's worth the time and effort to discuss and come to agreement on what decision you are making and what information you will need to make that decision.  That alone, will eliminate those "nice to know" questions that yield interesting results, but really don't help you make improvements.

Developing a Survey Strategy

If you're using your survey results to make decisions, and you don't want to overwhelm your respondents with a long survey.  The best thing to do is develop a survey plan.

  1. Identify the decision that you are making

  2. Identify the data you will need to support your decision

  3. Develop survey objectives around your decision

  4. Create ALL the questions that will give you the information that you need.

  5. Break those questions out into separate surveys that your respondents can take at different stages of the process.


Focusing your surveys on decisions and actionable steps that you can take will not only yield better results, it will make your team more efficient and your respondents more responsive because they can see their feedback in action.

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