Speeding up the Survey Process: A Guide to Shortening Timelines Without Jeopardizing Quality

Speeding up the Survey Process: A Guide to Shortening Timelines Without Jeopardizing Quality

Our clients want insight—fast. Every survey has a different set of priorities, so some timelines are more sensitive than others. In this post, we will discuss typical timelines for projects and what we can do to speed up the process. 

What is a typical survey timeline? 

A “typical” timeline is hard to define. Our shortest survey ever came in under 24 hours, while our longest survey to date took almost a year to conclude! However, the basic survey process, regardless of length or complexity, almost always boil down to the following: 

Our average (mean) project timeline is 27 days, from initial discussion to final deliverable. However, on average it takes 9-10 days for clients to green-light the project to move into the programming stage. That means we have less than three business weeks for project execution, including programming, fielding, and delivery.

How can we speed up the process?

If a project is pressed for time, we recommend “trimming the fat” from every step of the process, rather than just condensing fieldwork. It’s important to look for potential roadblocks that cause delays. Here’s an overview of major factors that impact project timelines and how to speed up delivery.

Understanding the request

Some clients know what they want on the survey, while others seek assistance. To cut down on this timeline, check out our Survey Quote Checklist if you need help outlining the survey specifications.

Providing a quote

Quoting typically takes less than 24 hours and in some cases can be turned around in a matter of hours. At Coleman, we provide a few options to clients who are weighing competing project priorities.

However, we have seen projects sit in the quoting stage longer than in fielding because of how many iterations the quote undergoes. Especially for clients who have a fixed deadline, these changes and quote updates consolidate the fielding window and, therefore, negatively impact feasibility. Be sure to involve all project stakeholders upfront and decide what is a “must have” versus a “nice to have”.

When the project moves forward, a kick-off to ensure everyone is aligned on background and priorities call can pay dividends later. Timing of the call (before or after programming) may vary.

A simple survey may take less than a day to program, while a questionnaire with heavy logic (e.g., skip, display, loop & merge) can take two or three days and a very complex survey may take even longer. Programming is arguably the most complex part of many survey projects and is often the most delayed. We’ll talk about these nuances in our next post.

Soft launching the survey

Soft launching a survey is like dipping your toe in the water before diving in, just to make sure you’re ready. During this phase, we collect 10% of the desired sample size, pause, and confirm that everything — programming, survey design, fielding metrics — is copacetic. This is the last opportunity to add, remove, or edit questions.

We always recommend a soft launch, even in a time crunch. While it may seem counter intuitive to pause while in a time crunch, just think about the well-known adage “measure twice, cut once.” Better to get things right on the first take than to have to re-do something later.

Full launching the survey

If we have done a thorough job during the programming and soft launch phases, full launching the survey should be the easiest part of the project. During this phase, the two biggest potential obstacles to running on schedule are feasibility (IR) and quotas.

If the incidence rate (IR) comes in lower than anticipated, feasibility drops, and timeline increases. At Coleman, we take care to avoid this pitfall by 1) being conservative in our estimates 2) providing clients with suggestions on how to increase feasibility and 3) having a contingency plan.

Quotas may slow down fielding as they can become a barrier to hitting the overall sample size. While quotas should be considered when evaluating feasibility, any change in quotas can slow down fielding considerably as it means shutting out people who would otherwise qualify for and participate in the study.

Providing deliverables

Coleman offers three deliverables: raw data files, crosstabs, and visual reports. We deliver the raw data the same day fielding concludes, or the day after. Crosstabs may take a few days, and a visual report typically takes a week.

Knowing in advance which deliverables clients want helps us reduce timeline, as we can get a jumpstart on formulating the templates.