SharePoint Holmes and the Survey Surprise

Survey-Detective_Maxwell_on_his_desk_in_the_movie_Until_DeathMost questions I receive about SharePoint surveys are permission issues (it is not extremely intuitive that you need to give all your audience Contribute permissions) and the error message that tells people you can not enter this survey twice.
But this time the issue was different.

The case

The site owner had created a survey in which each item had to be completed by two people. When the first person had entered their part, they would send the link to their entry to the second person, who was supposed to enter the rest.
However, the second person could not open the link and got an error message.
“Sorry, something went wrong. No item exists at [location]. It may have been deleted or renamed by another user”.
When that second person went to the site and opened the survey, they could see that an item had been entered but when they clicked “Show all responses” they received a message that there were no responses.
Confusion all around!

The investigation

  1. I checked the permissions, of course.
    The second person had Contribute permissions to the survey, so that was OK. Everyone could see and edit all items, which is a bit scary, but as this was a controlled process with a limited audience, that could work.
  2. People could enter multiple responses, so that was also not a limitation that could cause this issue.
  3. I checked the survey itself. It had some branching. I completed the first part of the survey and clicked Save and close. My entry was saved.
  4. I went to the survey and saw the item and could open and edit it.
  5. I looked at the 2nd part of the survey, which had many required responses and that gave me some ideas to test…

As it turns out,

  • You are unable to save a straightforward Survey item (with no branches) if it contains questions where you have to provide an answer. We know that, it is the same as with List items.

    This survey can not be saved when the required fields have not been completed.
  • A survey with branching however, will save answers, even if you have not entered all mandatory fields. You will get a message and the item will be saved as “not complete”.
    With the yellow-marked question the branching occurs, and there are 2 questions which require a response after that.
    This is what the first part of the survey looks like. The first person would “Save and Close”.
    “This website reports the following” – you are learning Dutch as you go along 🙂
    When you Save and Close,  the item will be stored and be visible.

    If you click on “Show all responses” you will see that the item is “not completed”.
  • People can only see the completed items of someone else. As the item is “not complete” because the second part with mandatory questions is not completed,  second person Mystery Guest can not open my item, even though she can see there is an item and she has all the permissions.
    Mystery Guest can see there is an item added…

    …but when she clicks “Show all responses” she gets the above message.
  • When I removed the “requiredness” of the answers of the 2nd part, the survey was marked as “complete” upon saving, and then the 2nd person could open and edit the 2nd part of the survey.

The solution

I discussed my findings with the site owner and suggested to make the answers in the second part of the survey no longer mandatory. I showed him how to create views in a survey to help getting the second part completed.

That worked for him. Case closed!

New experience for Surveys!

I also saw the Survey in Modern SharePoint. I appreciate the new consistency with other lists, but I can imagine that people will be lost without that well-known look-and-feel. But then, I expect that Forms will make the Survey obsolete soon, anyway.
I wanted to share a screenshot, but things are not very stable yet and I kept getting errors and the Classic experience. As soon as I have captured it, I will share!

About SharePoint Holmes:
Part of my role is solving user issues. Sometimes they are so common that I have a standard response, but sometimes I need to do some sleuthing to understand and solve it.
As many of my readers are in a similar position, I thought I’d introduce SharePoint Holmes, SharePoint investigator, who will go through a few cases while working out loud.

Image courtesy of ZaL141TeLq on Wikimedia.


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.

Results of a multiple-choice question in SurveyMonkey

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

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 Screenshots are my own.

Eight and a half ways to collect feedback with SharePoint.

achtAre you interested in what all employees think about your company’s latest product launch, or do you want to know which date would be preferred for that training session? Regardless of your role in the organization, I am sure that you will have asked your team members for feedback or data. How do you usually find out the answers; do you send an email, perhaps even with an Excel file attached? Why not try using your SharePoint intranet? Collecting and managing data is so much easier!There are different ways to enable and collect feedback, depending on your needs and your experience. Are you looking for individual opinions or do you want to know if version A is preferred over version B?

1. Displaying an email address on an intranet page. 

This is often used on web pages on your intranet: “If you have questions or remarks, please contact” When clicked, this will open an email.
For a little more sophistication, you could add the name as a hyperlink. “If you have questions or remarks, contact Firstname Lastname.
Even shorter is a link called “Feedback” with that same hyperlink. Once clicked, the sender will see the addressee of the email  anyway.

Feedback button, leading to email or a survey/list.

If you want to add some visual interest create a hyperlinked button. (In a Content Editor Web part, add an image, then select the image and insert a hyperlink).

You can even pre-populate the email subject to make sure the addressee knows immediately that this is feedback from the website.

This is suitable for receiving ongoing general feedback about intranet pages, team sites or online manuals and policies. And please do not forget to check the name and the link on a regular basis!

2. Commenting to a Blog.

Because the commenting option in a blog is very visible, you may encourage commenting more than with a button or a link. People comment on a specific blog post and generally not on the entire blog. This may be very good for getting feedback about news and blog posts. These comments will help you to understand which post subjects cause strong opinions and which not.
Comments are stored in a separate list in your site. You can treat them just like other list items: add a workflow (e.g. to review) or create views.

3. SharePoint Survey. 

SharePoint has a decent survey functionality, which allows you many question-and-answer types, a graphical representation of results, different routes depending on answers given, exporting results to Excel for further analysis, configuration of a “thank-you page” and what not. It will suit most purposes for qualitative and quantitative feedback.
If you really want to implement SharePoint in your organization, try to educate people in using SharePoint, and avoid external tools like SurveyMonkey. Like all “one-trick-ponies”, SurveyMonkey has more specific functionalities but it also means data are stored elsewhere and you have to log on when creating a survey. SharePoint will suit most needs perfectly well.

The Graphical Summary gives a quick overview of results

4. SharePoint List.
While I personally think a Survey is generally better for a short-time activity burst, a SharePoint list (generally a Custom List or Issue Tracking List) is better for collecting feedback, such as ideas or complaints, over time. A list allows you to add a description to the questions, you can use a workflow to manage responses and you can create different views to group and manage your data over time. It does not create graphs, however. (But you can create a chart if you export your list items to Excel).

5. InfoPath.
An InfoPath form is a beautiful combination of an Excel document (customizable design, printable, calculations and conditional formatting) and a List item (transparency, lightweight). It can be used when a regular List or Survey does not have enough functionality, such as design or many calculations. I would suggest using it only when you really have no other options. It can be quite cumbersome to create, edit and optimize, and I have personally experienced many access issues.

6. Discussion Board.

Discussion Forum

If you are looking for a no-nonsense way to ask questions and generate answers and opinions, the discussion board is a good idea. In general, everyone will be able to start a discussion, so it is more “democratic” than a blog, where questions can only be initiated by the blogger. On the other hand, while a blog can exist without comments, a discussion board with no comments is not viable. Generally, I would use this either as a Question-and-Answer board for specific networks, or when it is actively endorsed and promoted by management. But perhaps my own experiences with a discussion board play a part in that.

7. Poll.
A Poll is not a standard SharePoint Poll functionality, but many web parts are available. (Kwiz, Bamboo), most of which use a SharePoint survey as a basis.
You use a poll when you want to ask one question with a number of pre-defined answers. It is generally very visible and is also very suitable for lighter subjects. It is great for engagement because it is inviting to click it. A Poll is generally anonymous (unlike the other tools) and respondents are rewarded with the results immediately after voting.

8. Star Ratings.

Star Ratings

In SharePoint 2010 and later you can rate an article or a blog post by giving it a number of stars. It is very interactive and makes it very easy for your audience to vote, but it is not always clear what people vote for: do they like the article for the subject, do they think it is well written? It is also not shown how many people have voted. So it is not so clear how you should act on the results.

8 1/2 : Outlook Voting Options
This only counts for a half, since it is not exactly SharePoint, but most organizations that have SharePoint, will have Outlook as their email programme. If you have only one question with predefined answers and your audience is not too large, you can use the “Voting Buttons” that are in Outlook. (When you have a new email open, click Options > Voting Buttons.) This may be easier to set up for yourself, and easier to answer for your audience than a Survey. You will have to count all the responses though! Please note this is not available in Outlook Web Apps.

How have you used SharePoint to collect ideas, opinions and data? Have I missed something? Looking forward to your suggestions! (This Blog has a comments box :-))

You may also like:

What SharePoint can learn from SurveyMonkey (and vice versa)

Playing “Hide and Seek” in SharePoint

The Perils of InfoPath