End User Survey

Ok, so you have some users and you want to find out what they think, huh?  Boy-oh-boy are you brave!   .. but smart!

Polling your users is a well-known best-practice when it comes to building corporate intranet portals.   However, experts have varying opinions as to how you should go about doing this.   With this post, I will cover a few of the most controversial points of polling users through surveys.

How to survey?

There are many ways you can deliver a survey to the end users.  Email, web forms, existing SharePoint portals, and snail-mail are all viable options.   While some experts have strong opinions as to which method you use, I usually go by one, simple rule:

What’s the easiest way for YOUR company to poll the users and collect responses?

In other words, screw the “experts”!   Do what works for you!   Running a survey isn’t Rocket Science.   Building a portal is tough and there will be plenty of areas that will make you spin your wheels along the way.   Don’t make the survey one of them.  This is well within your control, so exercise that control and get your survey out the door and into the hands of your users.   Just get the feedback in whatever way it will work for you.

That said: In future posts we will talk about how we sort and rank this feedback, so you may want to read up on that before you choose your survey type.

Length of survey

If you’re researched this topic, undoubtedly, you have read that keeping the survey short and sweet is the way to go.  Otherwise, you risk not getting a response.   While I subscribe to the theory that the survey should be “manageable” and a minor inconvenience to the user base, we still want to get results in the end.

There’s no standard rule as to how long the End User Survey should be.   In my opinion, it depends on how much you are taking on in Phase 1 (we’ll talk about Scope later).   In general, try to use multiple choice questions (no more than 5 choices), rating systems (1-5 for ratings), True/False, and a few open-ended questions.

Some say that the survey should take no more than 5-10 minutes to complete.   I strongly disagree with this.  This is your corporate intranet portal!   If executed well (and why do it otherwise?), it will be the platform on which your entire company runs.  Again, give this project the respect it deserves! If it takes 30 minutes – fine.   If it takes an hour, that may be brutal, but we must do it!   How many people in your organization truly can’t afford to spend up to an hour over the course of a work week to complete this survey for the greater good?   (case and point)

Try telling one of your BA’s that you’ll give them 5 minutes to scope their next project.   See how well that goes over!   :-)  (ok… tread lightly on this one – I’m just venting!  You got me all worked up! )

Types of questions to ask

Another common controversy encountered when deciding how to poll users, is what questions to ask.  I agree that it’s generally a good idea to ask “Structured” questions.  In other words, ask questions related to one’s job role, such as “I frequently use reports to make decisions (rate 1-5)”.  If you want to ask specific questions about the portal, you should remove technical or feature questions, and ask things like, “On a scale of 1-5, rate your overall experience with the portal.

I also feel that it can be prudent to ask open ended questions.   Your feedback on these is more difficult to sort and rank, however, you’ll be surprised at how specific some users will be.  Additionally, you’ll be surprised at some of the requests.

So, while I agree with the general recommendation to use “Structured” questions, I also see value in allowing them to answer “open-ended questions”, such as, “What features would you like to see on the home page?”  You will see some of these questions on my example survey in the Downloads area of my blog.

Should it be voluntary?

Now, I may be more “militant” in some ways, but this is where I leverage my Executive Sponsor.   I recommend having this sponsor convey the message (via town hall, memo, or whatever) of how important it is to gather this feedback.   After all, you’re very likely making a significant investment of time and money to build this portal.  We may as well treat this project with the respect it deserves and do it well.  Simply put, I recommend that you ask your Executive Sponsor to make it a mandatory exercise and have it due by a certain date.

My current company has a very relaxed culture.  This is generally a good thing, however it can be difficult to get others to do something they aren’t “passionate” about, or that’s not in their job descriptions.   We had our Executive Sponsors “strongly encourage” participation.   Because of this, we had PLENTY of feedback to go on, and it was returned to our Portal Committee in a reasonable amount of time.

I’m not saying, “Go out and FORCE users to fill out the survey!”, rather I’m suggesting that we use the power of Executive Sponsorship and “strongly encourage” participation, along with a feel-good message about all the good things that a Portal can do for your business.  Good news for you, since you already have this prepared for your Executive Sponsor, in advance!  J   (See my previous post about identifying business drivers)

What are we looking for from this poll?

Simple.  We are looking for ANYTHING that we can use to build our new portal better!   Learn about what the users like and don’t like about the current portal (if you have one).   Find out what “gadgets” they like or wish were available.   My current company uses clocks, stock tickers (we’re a financial firm), calendars, and other visual “widgets”  to make the user experience better and more “web-like” for our users.

Find out how many clicks users will tolerate.   I made a promise to my users that I would get them to their department within ONE click from the home page.   Then, I realized we had 66 departments and several “operational” groups (like HR, Operations, MIS, etc).    But… a promise is a promise.   We researched this one for a while and came up with a great solution.   (Ask me about it and I’ll share the story).   In the end, we did it – and the users LOVE it!

Determine what people want on the landing page of the portal, how often it should be updated, and whether or not the content requires audience targeting.   Also, look for the same kind of information about team sites.   You’ll get more ideas after you see my extended Sample End User Survey.

Example User Survey?

Whatever approach you prefer, everyone agrees that polling your users is a best-practice.  So, get crackin’!  Put together a few questions.  Have the entire Committee contribute.  If your list is huge, fine.   Filter it down if you need to.  Vote on questions to include or whatever your committee needs to do to accomplish a good end-result.

Go to the Downloads section to see my sample end-user survey.

Now, I’m not recommending that you do a survey that is as lengthy as the one I’ve posted.   FYI:  This is the one I used (in it’s entirety) and we had great results with it.  However, if you need to slice it down or add to it, the choice is yours.   Go for it!  In the end, you have to do what you think is right for your company.

I would love to hear what you think!

Parting Shots:

Some of my “Dude Code” rules:

  1. Don’t let others tell you what’s right/wrong to ask in a survey.  If you think it’s relevant – ASK IT!
  2. Get your Executive Sponsor to champion this through as a “highly recommended” exercise to complete.  If you have budget, make it fun!  Give out a little gift to those who complete the entire survey.
  3. Don’t get offended!  Users will get brutal when you ask open ended questions like, “what don’t you like about the portal.”  Let them get it off of their chests.  Then let them know that their voice was heard!
  4. DO what they ask! You don’t have to do 100% of everything but make a commitment to your users that you’ll implement the top 10 features (for example).   And DO IT!

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