Designing Questionnaires and Forms to Collect KPI Data

July 28, 2015 by Stacey Barr

The instrument you use to collect data for your performance measures or KPIs really needs to be capable of recording the data you really need. Forms and questionnaires are probably the most common instruments used in business to collect data, but few users realise that there is science and skill at the foundation of every useful form and questionnaire.

diagram for designing forms

The framework for designing forms (of which questionnaires are one type) has 4 specific dimensions:

#1 Decide On The Content

When you know what data you want (or rather, need) then your first step in designing your form or questionnaire is to frame the questions and constructs that will get this data. Take care to focus only on what is useful, not everything that is interesting!

  • Use your measure definitions to identify the data you need – don’t brainstorm the data you might like.
  • For each piece of data you need, make sure you collect it in the format you need it – the units, the value range, the number format.

#2 Make It Understandable

Just because you know what your questions and constructs mean is no guarantee that the respondents or users of the form will too. So aspire to removing all sources of ambiguity and complexity from your questions and constructs.

  • Use the simplest everyday language.
  • Use the fewest words necessary.
  • Include examples to illustrate valid answers to questions.

#3 Make It Useable

Irrespective of who will be filling out your form or questionnaire, they’ll probably be human and therefore prone to human error. So lay out the form in ways that minimise the opportunities for people to tick the wrong things, mark the wrong areas, miss important questions, or respond to parts not applicable to them.

  • Design answer spaces to make answering easy – providing tick boxes or numbers to circle or lines to write on.
  • Align the answer spaces with the questions, to make it obvious where to answer each question.
  • Add some whitespace between each question, to make it easier for the eye to navigate the form.

#4 Test And Refine

Proof of the pudding is in the eating, so the only way you’ll know whether or not your form is half-baked is to put it to the test and see how it goes. Note how your pilot test respondents or users interpret the questions, whether they give the kinds of answers you expected and whether they are properly navigating through the form as you intended. Then go back and make your form work even better!

  • Pilot test your form or questionnaire with 10 to 20 of your target users or respondents.
  • Treat the pilot test like the real thing, so you don’t introduce any bias in how people fill out the form.
  • Modify your forms question wording, answer spaces, and overall layout based on any problems observed in the pilot.

DISCUSSION:

Do you have any ‘war stories’ about data relevance or data quality problems that have resulted from form and questionnaire design in your experience?

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  1. Marty says:

    Hi Stacey,
    I have waged this battle many times. Sometimes in the form of designing an online form/survey for collecting the data. I would add a few litmus tests to your steps:

    1. Decide on the Content – also decide on specifically “how” you will use the data once collected. Who will see it, how often, in what form, and how will it be used to improve performance? Totally agree this should flow back to your measure (and to the information need and to the root need you’re trying to answer)

    2. Make it Understandable – following the rules for good survey design will help here (there’s a lot available). I’ll just highlight a few: Avoid compound statements (you won’t be sure which they are answering), Avoid weasel words, Avoid adjectives (like highly, mostly, etc.) in the question.

    3. Make it Usable – again, good surveying techniques will help. Drop down lists, allowing for adding “other” to most responses, keeping the tool short, and use branching to make it more directed. If you are asking a known set of respondents – you can also highly personalize the tool and avoid asking for any information you already have in another form.

    4. Test and Refine. I spend a good amount of time pre-testing by sending the form/survey to myself with all of the other information matching one or more of my target respondents. “Preview” mode in most tools is not good enough – nothing beats seeing it exactly as the respondent will.

    Nice work!
    Marty

  2. Hi Stacey,

    What we see from the side of Balanced Scorecard software vendor is that people migrate from Excel when their KPI project is growing… I believe the reason is that teams face motivational challenge when its getting too hard to update and maintain their data. That’s the most typical “war story.”

    As for the preparation of the questions and forms, the biggest challenge is not to focus on what CAN be measured, but focusing on what NEED to be measured.

    Just as an example: a hotel offers its guests to fill in questionnaire with 20+ question. Needless to say that most guests simple don’t have time for this! Having just 2-3 simple questions instead would give a hotel a much better understanding…

    • Stacey Barr says:

      A market research once said to me something similar to your comment about ‘can’ versus ‘need’: only include questions in the survey that are useful, not just interesting.

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