The Power of Multi-select – Multiple Options on Data Entry Forms

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Video: SSW Chief Architect Adam Cogan and Senior Software Architect Piers Sinclair review feedback from the SSW team about allowing multiple options on forms vs choosing a single option.

Every day we enter data into forms, from Uber Eats to online shopping. These forms are created by developers and sometimes, not enough thought has been put into them. For example, have you ever purchased a burger and fries but then couldn’t choose more than one sauce to add? I cannot be the only person in the world who would want tomato sauce and mustard. So why should I choose?

If you wanted both tomato sauce and mustard… but the form is not multi-select, then no mustard for you. 😔

Soup Nazi GIFs | Tenor
Figure: When sitcoms match real life problems – No mustard for you

Bad data in = Bad data out

You can also see this problem arise in reporting. If you force user to choose 1 option from many, you are unlikely to get the full picture. You should care about this problem. Many decisions are based on data analytics, but the problem is bad data = bad decisions.  

As a developer, we don’t always think of the importance of the reporting that the business and marketing professionals will use years down the track. It is so easy to give a data entry form a combo box, when a multi-checked list would have been a better choice…

Data driving Business decisions

At SSW we use our Dynamics 365 CRM (similar to Salesforce) to track things like client data, project technologies, and lead sources. We then use that data later to drive our marketing and business decisions. This would be the same for many other companies.

The technologies being used on a project is one of the most important data points we collect. We use this information to drive our business decisions around recruitment, training, and target audiences etc. So, you can imagine that if the data isn’t high quality, neither are your decisions.

Enterprise applications generally have more than one technology involved in their creation. For example, a project can be built in C#, have a React front end and be hosted on Azure. So, if you only have 1 choice, which technology do you choose to record? We soon realised that choosing one technology was a problem, and it was leading to bad data. Was Angular development dropping, or did the Account Manager choose .NET Core instead because he believed it was the bigger part of the project? I realised we had a problem – how can we see technology change trends without visibility of all the technologies used? This is where multi-select can really shine.

Bad example of a form with no multiselect
❌ Figure: Bad example – Able to select only one Project Type on Dynamics
Good example of a form with multiselect
Figure: Good example – Able to select multiple Skills from a combo box on Dynamics

The Power of Multi-select

Lets look at an example, a project form that has a field called “Skill” (that includes technologies). When users enter their project, the technologies used may include some Angular, heaps of .NET, and a database like Cosmos DB. When you only have one choice, the obvious thing to do, is pick the technology the user presumes will take up the most development time. Maybe they choose .NET and never think of it again.

Later down the track, there is no record of the front end (being Angular) nor the database (being Cosmos DB). Then you have the poor marketing people making uninformed decisions, spending their promotional $$$ based on missing data. If they can’t tell which front end tech is growing or dying, they are spending money like a crapshoot in the casino!

These bad decisions have enormous impacts on the growth of the business! 🔥 With better data, you can build better reports, and therefore make better decisions. Multi-select for the win. ⭐

The Bigger Picture – Great Power BI Reports

When you can see all the technologies used, you can see trends much more clearly. Look at how awesome the technology data can be shown in Power BI now:


Figure: A sexy report showing all the technologies used at SSW driven by our multi-select forms. This is a much better way to see trends!

Would you like to see an example in action? Check out this awesome video from Piers Sinclair who walks through the problem. We customised the Dynamics User Experience using the great PFC controls:

Video: From SSWTV – Dynamics Customization | Allow Multiple Options