How to use surveys to get project buy-in

Getting everyone to accept a project can be a challenge. Surveys can help build interest and get ideas.

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Helping  company stakeholders buy into your projects can be hit or miss. Surveys are a great tool for increasing buy-in because they help you gain an understanding of your colleagues, how they think and how they might be affected by your project. 

What is buy-in, and why does it matter?

In projects, buy-in is when stakeholders support the goals and activities of the project. Direct support can come from the team or cross-functional group members or sponsors. Indirect support can be executives or external parties.

SEE: Soft skills: A business user's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Project buy-in is an essential element of a project's success. It's necessary to get buy-in at the start and keep it throughout your projects. Colleagues can either support your project or become a roadblock--it all depends on their connection to the goals and how those goals affect them. 

Getting and maintaining buy-in means project managers need to use tools like surveys to help stakeholders become and stay engaged. The data gleaned from surveys is valuable in helping you garner interest and encourage project buy-in. Surveys are not only a smart way for companies to get meaningful feedback informally and anonymously, but they also to make stakeholders feel valued and connected to a project. 

Why surveys are useful for project buy-in

Stakeholders are often concerned about change and how it will affect them. Getting feedback helps companies and stakeholders in the following ways:

Companies: Depending on how the survey is structured and the type of questions being asked, companies gain valuable insight into team members' views and concerns. They can also find out how staff view specific problems, potential solutions, and the overall support for an idea or project before the project starts or moves to the next phase.  By having access to survey responses that many colleagues might otherwise never voice, you can reduce potentially hidden risks. 

Stakeholders: Often surveys are seen by colleagues as a company's way to gain insight for self-serving purposes only, but that's not true. Surveys help team members have direct input that they may not feel they can offer otherwise. They're also able to share their views in a safe environment without feeling pressure to agree with others or be in fear of being judged. Surveys are also a great way to get a heads-up about things that are coming that might affect them down the road or new ideas you may not have thought of. Through surveys, stakeholders can have an opportunity to have a voice before decisions are set in motion. Surveys can result in more engaged stakeholders.

How to structure surveys for useful information and create buy-in

Surveys aimed at creating buy-in should gather stakeholder views on project-specific goals and give staff insight into the benefits of the project to encourage acceptance. It's meant to be a quick and non-intimidating, two-way informational tool that can be used for further discussion in meetings to generate ideas, decrease risks, and improve project performance. 

It's important to structure questions in a way that allows survey takers to share their thoughts in detail instead of merely answering yes or no to questions. Questions should also be developed to stimulate conversation and thought to help stakeholders share higher-value insight. By doing so, they are more likely to feel their input is of value, participate in more discussions, and ultimately buy into the project. 

How to create a survey for team buy-in

Although there are different ways to conduct surveys, here are some necessary steps to help you generate surveys to get or increase buy-in. 

  1. Clearly define all of your goals and timing for the survey 

  2. Identify each stakeholder

  3. Develop relevant and open-ended questions based on groups of stakeholders

  4. Select an online tool like Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or SoGoSurvey

  5. Send out the survey and set a timeline leaving sufficient time for responses

  6. Once all responses are in, review and analyze the survey results 

  7. Share the results with the relevant people (project team, sponsors, etc.)

  8. Engage in additional surveys or discussions

Stakeholder buy-in is a common struggle for project managers and companies in general. By understanding the value of surveys and following these steps, project managers can achieve higher levels of stakeholder buy-in and reduce risks.

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By Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the Founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group, and a project management and digital workplace columnist for various publications. Moira has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large busine...