BOFH and the pointless questionnaire

It doesn't pay to ask too many questions

Episode 2

BOFH 2004: Episode 2

"Ah... Now I don't think you want to be doing that..." I murmur, watching the Boss authoring an online Client Survey form for the masses about things that don't matter. (i.e. their expectations, How they'd like us to deliver them, etc.)

"Really?" he asks "Why's that?"

"It doesn't pay to ask questions! We already know what people want - everything, yesterday. AND we know that they're used to disappointment. But if you start asking them what they think we should be doing, you'll just ignite a spark of hope"

"A spark is a good thing!"

"Not when I stamp that spark out with the cold hard boot of reality."

"What?! Why? I happen to think that some of the staff may have something valuable to contribute!"

"To the lengthening unemployment queues, yes. But you don't want them mixing stupidity with technology. That's your job. Leave it to them and they'll be recommending that we upgrade to those 'new' voice-operated computers they saw on Bladerunner... ... Oh, and you definitely don't want to be asking for any additional comments they might have about IT, the department, or our ongoing strategy."

"Why not!?"

"Because it's a drift net for stupid ideas. Sure, you'll get one or two people who actually give a sane suggestion, but then you'll hit all the dolphins - the people who, because they've been asked to contribute feel that they have to contribute - like it's an intelligence test or something. Only they've got nothing useful to contribute, so they start off on some innovative tangent, like if we installed a large plasma screen in reception we could use it to have customised messages of the day for staff and visitors, etc, instead of what it would really be used for"

"Which would be?"

"Security would use it to watch porn movies late at night when everyone's left the building."

"Oh I doubt that. Though the screen itself sounds like a good idea!"

"They all sound like good ideas...!"

"So what do you suggest?"

"Lets start with basic concepts. Firstly, the only cavassing of users you should be doing is with a heavy tarpaulin, a stack of bricks and a deep stretch of water"


Completely over his head. Ah well.

"... When composing a questionnaire, you tailor the questions so that the answers can be made to support whatever it is you're after - sort of like the way they rig election popularity figures prior to the elections and before they get rigged at the electronic ballot boxes. "

"How do you mean?"

"What, the elections, the questionairres or the ballot boxes?"


"OK, as a for instance, say you wanted a pay rise."

"You'd ask if they think that we're paid enough?"

"No! No, if you ask that question, everyone would tick yes, with a few respondents writing 'too much' in the margins. No, instead you ask something open ended like 'Should the company be paying market rates to retain the services of key technical staff?' to which most people will respond yes. Then you go find some IT rag that says that market rates have just risen by 20% in the past year, and pass it to the Head of IT to bring up with personnel.."

"I don't think it's tha.."

"Or maybe you ask the question 'Do you feel that IT doing a good job with the people they have?' with only two answers, Yes and No. All the Yes answers will end up supporting pay rises for the staff, while all the No answers support the requirement for more staff."

"That's ridiculous!"

"Oh Pulllllleeeeeeze! Say you wanted a larger office. You don't say 'Do we need a larger office?'. You would ask a question like 'Of the two improvements that we have the money to finance this year, which would be of more benefit to the company - buying the a new espresso machine for the IT Administrators, or enlarging technical office space.'"

"And they'd say enlarging offices because they all hate you?"

"No, they'd say enlarging office spaces because they'd think that if they worked it properly they might qualify as 'technical staff' somehow."

"I see your point. But... No... I don't think I want to do that, it's just sneaky!"

"Of course it is! Look, You tell me the results you want and I'll give you a questionairre that makes it look like the whole building supports it."

"And what's in it for you - You want to take the PR credit for the questionnaire?"

"No - I'm assuming that anything you improve can only be a knock-on improvement for us. I'll put your name as author if it makes you feel better.."

"Yes, I think that's best. Well I suppose what I'd really like to do is...."

Half an hour of rambling later. . .

"OK, Leave it to me!"

Three days and one survey later. . .

"Fantastic!" the Boss burbles, looking over the PFY's shoulder as the results are presented "That question about whether they have confidence in IT Management's ability to deliver service within the constraints of our budget is sure to get us good funding next year."

"Bound to," the PFY responds. "...unless..."

"Unless what?"

"Well unless - and I'm just suggesting this as a possibility - someone misread the question as an indication of a confidence problem instead of an indication of a budget problem".

"Well I don't see how tha... oh."

"Yes, and when you consider that with the question immediately following it 'Do you think that outsourcing IT Staff would improve delivery of services?'"

"And they said No!"

"Yes, which could mean that they're happy with the IT Staff, or it could mean that they think the poor delivery of services is because of IT Management - who should be outsourced."

"Well I... uh.. Do you think I've been set up?!" he gasps.

"I'd have thought that was obvious in question 23"

"Question 23?!"

"On the second webpage."

"What second webpage?"

"Ah well. Perhaps you'd like to take a couple of moments to collect your thoughts. And personal belongings. Question 23 was 'Who is the weakest link?' with your name .vs. the old mailroom guy - who's one year off retirement, wife just died, and who franks people's personal mail for free."

"Well, I..."

"And speaking of mail, Question 27, asking how offended staff would be at you reading their personal emails - that didn't go so well for you.."

"That's slander!"

"It's only slander if the question said you DID it, this just asks how offended they would be IF you did.."

"There'd have to be a good reason for me to read someone's personal email!"

"Toilet paper theft?"


"Question 29. Do you think that cameras in the toilets would prevent toilet paper theft?"

"I.. I.."

"Yes, I know, it's all come as a bit of a shock, but that's how it goes around here. We like our bosses to rollover every couple of months or so - you know, so they don't get stagnant. Why don't I make you a nice cup of tea while you wait for the howling mob?"

. . .

Told you it doesn't pay to ask questions. ®

BOFH is copyright © 1995-2004, Simon Travaglia. Don't mess with his rights.

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