What SharePoint can learn from SurveyMonkey (and vice versa)

surveyI have always hated SurveyMonkey. Not that I knew it well, but out of principle: I try to help my colleagues work with SharePoint, and the more SharePoint they see, the faster they will get familiar with it. Using a survey on another platform is downright confusing.
But some time ago I looked at SurveyMonkey, to find out the reason of its popularity. The Basic (free) version will be the largest competitor for SharePoint in organizations, so I have limited my comparison to that version.

What is good about SurveyMonkey?

It is a very nice tool, if only because the larger font and sharper contrast are easier to read for me :-).
There are more options in terms of design (themes, images between the questions), they have a few different question types (a.o. ranking), you can draw from a reservoir of  example surveys and “bias-free questions” and you can randomize the answer options.
That may not be a surprise, since SurveyMonkey is a “one trick pony”, focusing on surveys, while SharePoint is more of an “all-rounder”.

Which functionalities should be in SharePoint?

Still, there are some useful SurveyMonkey functionalities that I would expect in SharePoint:

  • SharePoint knows the date and time, so why does it not have a “cut-off date/time”, after which it is no longer possible to fill in the survey?
  • SharePoint can count, so why is there no option to stop responses when the number of replies exceeds a certain number? How useful that would be for registrations for events or trainings with a limited number of places!
  • Why can’t you add a description to the questions in SharePoint? You can do that in any list or library, so why not in a survey?

One point where SharePoint could make a big step forward is in the multiple-response questions. SurveyMonkey allows you to show the answers in columns, which need less vertical space.

Input for a multiple-choice question in SurveyMonkey

In SharePoint, answers are all in one column.

Input for multiple-choice question in SharePoint.

Now, let’s take a look at the way the results are shown. SurveyMonkey provides you with a nice, clear graphical overview.

SM-MultipleChoice-Result
Results of a multiple-choice question in SurveyMonkey

While SharePoint is a mess, so you always need to do a manual scoring afterwards.

SP-MultipleChoice-Result
Results of a multiple-choice question in SharePoint

Does anyone know if this has improved in SP2013? If not, would someone please forward this post to Microsoft so they know what to work on for SP2016. 🙂

In favour of SharePoint.

SharePoint also wins on a number of points:

  • You can use any number of questions and receive any number of responses. (Not that your audience will be too happy with too many questions). The free account of SurveyMonkey allows you up to 10 questions and 100 responses.
  • You can send respondents to a “Thank you” or “Next steps” page after completion, by configuring the link you send to your audience. (described in this post-scroll to 2f) SurveyMonkey offers that in a paid version only.
  • You don’t have to log in to make a survey or to see the results.
  • You can use a “lookup”(existing content in the site), currency and select “People and Groups” as answer options.
  • SurveyMonkey allows you to export to spreadsheet per question only. Exporting the complete survey needs the paid version.
  • SharePoint allows branching (the next question depends on the answer you gave to the previous question), while SurveyMonkey only provides that in the paid version.
  • Your survey has more context if it is in your own Team Site.
  • The data are stored in your own environment.

If you know other good arguments in favour of the SharePoint survey, please add them below!

What is the verdict?

I understand the attraction of SurveyMonkey. It is easy to use and it has more visual possibilities. (Now that comes as a shock :-)) It also does the multiple-choice questions much better, and it has a ranking question type.

However, for the average in-company survey, SharePoint will do the trick. It will be one step forward in providing employees with their “daily dose of SharePoint”.
And in those cases where I have found that the SharePoint survey was too limited for a certain purpose, the free SurveyMonkey tool was not an option either.
Sometimes the demands of the business required a SharePoint list or an InfoPath form to collect data, or even an Excel file, because there were too many dependencies or people wanted to have too many different slice-and-dices. In those cases, the Basic version of SurveyMonkey provided no solace. We would have needed a paid version or an even more advanced tool.

Does this sound familiar? How do you handle surveys in your SharePoint environment?

Image (top left) courtesy of 89studio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Screenshots are my own.

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The Perils of InfoPath

PerilsInfoPathOur Business Solutions team has not used InfoPath very often. It is really a very cool tool, and I love its transparency, but people often experienced an access denied or other annoying error message that prevented them from working with it. It may have had to do with our customization.
Next to that, some forms can be very complex, especially when you need different views for different people, of  if they take data from other lists or even from other systems.

We have had to refuse support when a customer support form broke down. It had tons of clever functionality built in: conditional notifications, different views and it imported the customer’s name from SAP when the SAP number was entered. The person who had created the form had left the company without any documentation on the setup, so it would have taken a specialist (which we did not have at that time) many hours to figure out how the form worked.

Identical icons.
But there is another danger in InfoPath forms, or rather in the libraries they live in, and especially in SP2003 and SP2007.  Those libraries have  identical icons…and I guess you can tell how this story will unfold. It’s tagged with “Bloopers”…but also with “Lessons”. 🙂

My colleague-who-wanted-to-investigate-the-boundaries-of-Sharepoint (I mentioned him earlier) had a challenging project: creating a quiz in InfoPath format. We could not think of another way to do this 60-question quiz, which had an extensive score calculation built-in that resulted in your preferred Learning Style. The whole Quiz was a manual exercise, and our Learning & Development team could no longer calculate the score by hand because of resource restrictions  They did not want to leave the scoring to the user, so we wanted to see if we could automate it.
All completed forms would be collected in the library, but everyone could only see their own form.
My colleague spent about 10 full days on this form, and after enthusiastic and extensive testing by both parties we could finally mark the project as completed.

A few weeks after sign-off we received an anguished call from the owner. Her intern, who was on a cleaning spree, had deleted the library because it contained no documents. Could we restore it?

Unfortunately we could not, since my colleague had not kept a copy. So he could do it all over again…

What have we learned?
These are the preventive measures we took from that day onwards:

  • We added the text “System List-Do not delete!” or similar text to the description field of every custom-configured or otherwise important list or library we created from that time on.
  • We saved a template of every library or list with complex configuration in the List Template Gallery of the site, and also in our own Team Site
  • At the moment of handover, we created a backup of every site that we  configured (and sometimes also saved the template in our Team Site).

In SharePoint 2010 Microsoft has finally addressed this library icon issue. But if you are working with an older version, be careful!

Form and Document Library with identical icons – SP2007
Forms and Document Library with different icons – SP2010