Skip to content

Avoiding “paralysis by analysis” in survey design

“The maxim, ‘Nothing prevails but perfection,’ may be spelled PARALYSIS.”  – Winston S. Churchill

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

What is paralysis by analysis?

According to Wikipedia: Analysis paralysis (or paralysis by analysis) describes an individual or group process when overanalyzing or overthinking a situation can cause forward motion or decision-making to become “paralyzed”.

When does it happen?

Barring any angst that might have built up over disagreements around colours and fonts amongst your colleagues, this usually happens in two spots; in survey question design, and in analyzing the results.

Though these are very closely linked, we’ll concentrate on the first one for now and leave the second for a later post.

There are a lot of parallels between this issue and Pro Tip 2 – Avoiding survey design by committee, but with the added joys of:

  • perfectionism (leading to procrastination)
  • fears of lost opportunity (in the way of questions you COULD be asking while you have them sitting there)
  • the inability to let go of non-critical or unactionable items

How do you avoid it?

There are a LOT of experts out there that can help you with this in general, but here’s how WE deal with it here:

  1. Try to stick to your core goals, and work backward from the outcome(s) you want to achieve: This should help you figure out which questions you really need, and which you don’t, so that you don’t end up with a 100-question survey.
  2. Set a hard launch date if possible – even if the urgency is artificial: A certain sense of urgency is a good thing, and it might also help you out in your battle against the aforementioned “survey design by committee“.
  3. Don’t waste energy on unactionable questions: Unactionable questions just increases your survey length and the survey fatigue that goes along with it.  This is also true of “demographic” questions by the way. (Do you really need to ask gender for example? You might … but if you don’t have an action plan in mind that will address the differences, why ask?)
  4. If the items you’re having issues with are less critical, can leave them for another time?: To some extent this might be an iterative process where you can fix, add or remove items each time around.
  5. Embrace the 80% solution: Accept that perfection will never happen, but if you can get to 80%, then go for it!

As always, give us a shout if you have any questions or comments on this, and next up: “Employee Survey Pro Tip Series 15 – What pages do I need in my survey?

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in running a survey for your organization, call us at 1-604-219-7876, email us at [email protected], or book a discovery call with our team.

We love to engage in curious conversation! Grab a time on my calendar if you’d like to elaborate more on this topic or anything else
Maureen Simons

Maureen Simons is a senior human resources and communication consultant with over 25 years of experience helping clients achieve their business and organizational objectives through their people. (Linkedin)

Picture of Adam Hunter

Adam Hunter has a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering, an MBA, and 35+ years of technical and programming experience, resulting in a broad mix of analytical, statistical, project-related and business skills. (Linkedin)