What: A focus group is an organised and guided group discussion involving 6 to 12 potential users and a moderator. The group dynamics sometimes prompt the emergence of much deeper insights than in a one-to-one consultation.
When: When starting up projects, focus groups are the most effective way to explain the issue. It can be used for any question: whether aimed at a product, service or application. The success of the focus group depends on the quality of the recruitment and the guidance.
Advantages: It is an easily accessible and inexpensive way to initiate a dialogue with your (potential) user. It requires no special skills from the participants and is therefore suitable for a very wide target audience.
A few comments
Consider the following aspects when using this tool:
- Groups have their own dynamics where interaction influences the behaviour of the participants. Make sure that the “loudest mouth” does not jeopardize the objectivity of the results.
- There is a difference between what people say and what they do. Potential users are not real users. Their feedback is therefore based on assumptions: even though valuable, it should be put into perspective.
- Organised context: Group discussions in conference rooms are not the natural habitat of the subjects, nor are they the environment where the test product/service will be used.
- Moderator: The moderator must compensate for the negative effect of the three previous remarks and be able to steer the process so as to obtain the desired answers, while not influencing the answers themselves.
- Focus groups work best with expert users discussing a concrete issue and with good preparation.
- Define the objective of the discussion. Which information do you want to obtain? To be effective, a focus group should not last longer than 60 to 90 minutes. The goal should therefore be reduced to six basic questions at most, arranged into a well-prepared session planning. The quality of the questions is crucial for the results. Ask the questions as you would for an individual survey or interview. Draft a scenario based on the stated goal.
- Gather the right people for the discussion, depending on the matter at hand. It is interesting to compose several focus groups to discuss the same question in order to ensure more statistic relevance. Compose focus groups by selecting individuals from various groups of stakeholders: the buyers versus the users. Their evaluation criteria are fundamentally different, which creates opportunities.
Practical organisation of a session
Optimum preparation and spatial context are necessary to maximize the efficiency of a 90-minute session. Provide the necessary resources and examples, in terms of organisation and also in relation to the project (prototypes, illustrations/renderings, questionnaires, etc.).
During the focus group
Complete the scenario that you drafted during the preparation.
- Explain why you brought this focus group together and which items are on the session’s agenda.
- Go over the practicalities and describe the resources you are using to capture the session.
- Set the behaviour rules.
2. The questions
- Ask the questions and make sure that everyone understands and interprets correctly each question.
- Moderate and steer the discussion in relation to the objectives, without influencing the outcome.
- Summarise the answers of the discussion and check that YOU did understand what the group formulated in response to your questions.
3. End of the session
- Thank the participants and explain what the next steps will be and why their contribution was relevant. The best reward for a participant is to see the results of his/her contribution.
4. After the session
- Immediately go over the recorded material and write down EVERYTHING that your still remember from the session, anything that is not captured on video or audio. Memories are fleeting; insights fade quickly.
- Generate reports as feedback to participants and/or as a communication tool within your organisation or to your customers. You can present it as a compilation from the video footage, supplemented with your notes as slides, or produce a simple printed report. Match the communication tool with your target audience.
Analysis of the results
The outcome of a focus group is rather qualitative. You can prioritize and use insights as the basis for an improvement plan, a roadmap for developments.