How to Create an Effective Survey Project Plan
Why do I want to plan a survey?
A survey usually originates when an individual or institution is confronted with
a business problem and the existing data are insufficient. At this point, it is
important to consider if the required information can be collected by a survey.
If you need input from a number of people, must get results quickly, and need
specific information to support business decisions, then a survey is the most
Many studies start with a general hope that something interesting will emerge,
and often end in frustration. A careful survey plan will help you focus your
project, while guiding your implementation and analysis so the survey research
is finished quicker. You can then concentrate on implementing well-supported
A well-designed plan answers the following questions:
|What will be learned?
||Generate data that answers the business questions you have
|How long will it take?
||Keep the survey project focused and on schedule
|How much will it cost?
||Anticipate direct and indirect project costs
You can only answer these questions if you draft a plan prior to implementing
your survey. Hence, an integral part of a well executed and a successful survey
is the "planning quality."
Creating Effective Survey Plans
Depending on the scope of your survey, there could be many interrelated issues.
Every survey plan should include consideration of the following six areas:
Defining the Project
Defining the Audience
Defining the Project Team
The first step in defining your survey project is to understand its scope and
importance to your organization and how the information you gather can
realistically benefit your work. Survey value depends on three main factors.
A clear definition of the decisions you need to make
The relative cost of making an error in those decisions
The amount of uncertainty the survey will reduce
To illustrate how these points work together consider Coca-Cola's decision to
introduce New Coke in 1984. After conducting blind taste-tests, Coke decided to
change its formula because they believed that consumers preferred
sweeter-tasting Pepsi. To support this decision, they conducted several focus
groups, who said that the company should not change its formula.
||Do we change the Coke formula?
|Cost of making an error
||High (Coke lost market share and brand loyalty after making this decision)
|Amount of uncertainty
||High (Blind taste-tests could not evaluate brand loyalty or consumer reaction
to the change)
To resolve the contradictions posed by these two qualitative studies, Coke
should have conducted a quantitative survey. Instead, they ignored the focus
group results. Numeric results from a survey could not have been manipulated or
mis-interpreted the way that their qualitative research was. They believed that
the level of uncertainty that their second study would clarify was low, when
actually it caused more uncertainty. New Coke turned out to be a disaster with
consumers and was a very expensive blunder.
Looking at this example, we can see how important it is to identify the
information you need and define the decision that you must make for this survey
project to be successful. Objectively identify, before the survey, how high the
cost will be to make an error in your decision. Knowing this cost, identify the
amount of uncertainty the survey is likely to reduce, and include a follow up
survey in your plan if there are additional issues to be clarified once your
initial survey is complete.
This stage of planning will assist you in framing the importance of your
project, and justifying costs to colleagues or clients.
Next, estimate the total survey cost. You want to make sure that you don't
exceed your budget and realize, only after the survey is complete, that you
spent more than what you intended.
A good survey does not come "cheap", although some methods are far more
economical than others. Apart from human resources time, three significant
costs that you incur are:
Actual cost of creating the survey instrument
Cost of inviting your respondents and encouraging them to participate
Cost for data entry and analysis
Web-based surveys are considerably less expensive to conduct than traditional
mail and telephone surveys because they do not include costs for design,
printing, postage, mail house, telephone, call personnel, or data entry.
|Cost per Response
* Online response rates vary, however a conservative estimate of 10% was used
for this analysis.
Given the same project specifications for telephone, mail and online surveys,
you can achieve a much lower cost per response by using eSurveysPro.
Defining the Project
At this point, you need to plan the elements of the survey process and define
the project. By setting a measurable objective, you can learn the effectiveness
of your survey and it will help you in reinvesting the information you learned
for future surveys.
A good example of an Objective Statement would be:
Measure site visitor demographics daily for the next eight weeks to see
how effective our online advertising campaign is at drawing our target
Calculate how long the survey will take, including time to invite the
respondents, gather data, enter and analyze results. How you conduct your
survey affects how long each of these steps will take. For instance, when
compared to traditional survey techniques using mail and telephone, Internet
surveys provide the ideal solution for information gathering because of their
fast turnaround. An entire web survey project can be completed in a couple of
days, where printing alone will take a week for the mail survey.
The next thing you identify is how you are going to invite your respondents to
take the survey. Several ways that are commonly used are emails, website links,
or online advertising. By identifying at least one tangible or intangible
benefit that you are offering to your respondents for answering the survey will
help you compose an invitation that helps respondents to click through. A
tangible benefit could be in the form of money or a gift; whereas an intangible
benefit is the chance to voice opinions or contribute to research they view as
Defining the Audience
Who is going to respond to your survey? Your target audience could include your
customers, prospects, employees, or members. A survey panel is mainly dependent
on your objective since it will help you identify your target audience.
Next, focus on the sample size, or number of respondents you would need for your
analysis to be valid and accurate. Based on the population about which you are
drawing conclusions, the greater the level of accuracy desired and the more
certain you would like to be about the inferences to be made from the sample to
the entire population, the larger the number of respondents must be.
Bear in mind that all the people who you invite might not respond to the survey.
Hence you also need to estimate the percentage of those invited whom you want
to respond. With the mail-based surveys the response rate is traditionally low,
hovering in the 2 to 3 percent range. Telephone surveys allow for retries when
the contact isn't available, so can yield results at the ten percent level.
Most web-based surveys however are announced with an e-mail message that
contains a link to the survey page. This format allows users to respond at
their convenience and results in significantly higher response rates.
Defining the Project Team
You need to identify the internal resources you may need to complete this survey
process. This is dependent on your company and also on the kind of survey you
are conducting. A few internal resources you might need are:
Human Resources: Necessary for employee satisfaction surveys
IT: Customized interactivity or additional templates
Market Research: Data analysis and reporting
Defining the Project Timeline
What are the tasks and is there a specific order in which they need to be
completed? Defining a project timeline will help list the entire set of tasks
that are to be conducted for the survey and assign them to specific people in
your company. By setting a timeline that includes each of these tasks, you can
keep track of their commencement and end, and maintain control over the survey
process. In the Survey Development Worksheet, we have identified a set of tasks
associated with most survey projects and are presented to give you a starting
point for developing your own timeline in creating an effective survey plan.
We have reviewed why you need to create a plan and the benefits that you can get
by planning your survey. We have looked at the activities that are involved in
planning a survey which include the survey value, the survey cost, defining the
project, defining the audience, defining the project team and defining the
It is important for you to create a survey plan since it will guide, direct, and
coordinate the tasks required to initiate and complete your survey
successfully. Although each project is unique, using a standardized planning
tool will help you get the results you want from every research project.