Sep 102008

Project managers usually say to me: “No problem, we can give you a list of clients/businesses/providers to use for the survey”. Compared with developing the questions to ask, the survey list sounds like the easy part. In practice it can be a minefield, so I’d like to save you from falling into the three main pitfalls of lists. 

Imagine you’ve been asked to book a restaurant in a strange town for your group’s dinner. And they agreed they would prefer Greek. You trawl through Yellow Pages, but can’t find a Greek restaurant, so you go for Thai instead. How embarrassing when you find a Greek restaurant right next to the Thai one! It turns out you were using an old edition of Yellow Pages.

Similarly for your list, it needs to be robust to give you a representative sample of feedback from your survey.

Three ways to ensure your list is robust

1. Ensure it’s up to date

It’s easy to check the date of Yellow Pages. But what about a list of businesses on a website, or from your organisation’s database?

  • It’s surprising how many lists have no dates. So you may need to do some investigation to check the source of the list.
  • If it’s a year or more old, you will probably need to update it. It’s a good idea to check how the list was collated in the first place, so you can follow the same process.

2. Ensure it’s comprehensive

  • Check your list includes the full range of people you want to consult.
    Suppose you need to contact a sample of people from the construction sector. Your list will need to include builders, joiners, electricians, plumbers etc. If for some reason your list has no plumbers, you will need to add them to the list, or your survey will not represent all the trades.
  • Check your list represents the time period you want feedback from.
    If you seek feedback from your clients during the past two years, you need to be sure your list is complete for two years, so your sample will be a true representation of all your clients. If the first six months of your project are missing, your sample will not represent the past two years.

3. Eliminate any duplicates

When lists are updated, extended, or merged, there’s a real danger of introducing duplicates. If someone on the list is contacted twice they won’t have much faith in your project, and it’s a waste of your resources. Also, if you are drawing a sample from your list, your sample will be distorted by duplicates.

Far better to eliminate any duplicate entries first! Here’s how:

  • Use the ‘Sort’ facility in Word, Excel or other software to put your list into alphabetical order.
  • Scan your list for duplicate entries.

To ensure your list forms a robust basis for your survey, you need to check that it’s up to date, comprehensive and free from duplicates. Then you can be confident your survey has a firm foundation.

© May Johnstone, 2009, Project Please feel free to circulate this article provided it is used in its entirety, including this acknowledgement.

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