Focus groups are an excellent way to reach out and connect with potential users and get their feedback or comments. In an organization, focus groups are generally used for planning, evaluation or marketing purposes — usually in order to improve a particular service or product, and also during the development of mission statements or longer term strategic plans.
For teams or organizations working on specific software or hardware products, focus groups are a powerful tool for evaluating a prototype interface’s usability and suitability. The focus group is often able to answer questions which developers can’t resolve, and focus groups often end up generating new ideas.
Here is a simple, 11-step process for successfully conducting focus groups to achieve your team or organization’s objective.
#1. Define the objectives or purpose of the focus group project
Your objective should be specific and crystal clear. The more defined it is, the easier the remaining 10 steps will be. This objective will guide you throughout the process!
#2. Produce an estimated timeline of the project
Focus group projects generally can’t be developed overnight. You should start planning 6 to 8 weeks ahead of the actual focus group session — you will need to leave time for:
- Customer profiling
- Identifying possible participants
- Question development and testing
- Finding a site
- Inviting participants
- Gathering materials
- And more, depending on your objective.
#3. Identify who you would like in your focus group
This step generally starts with customer profiling, depending on the project objective. Regardless, you will need to determine how many participants to invite, what their key attributes should be, secure names and contact information, and invite them to the group.
Plan on at least six and generally fewer than twelve participants in your group. Smaller than six and the group often doesn’t have enough creativity or energy, larger than twelve tends to be unwieldy. Always invite more than you need, as there will be no-shows.
#4. Generate questions
In a one to two hour focus group, you can expect to only have time for 4-7 questions. It’s often a good idea to start with an introductory question or two before moving to the heart of the matter.
Your questions should always be open-ended, and try and move from general concepts to specific ideas. This is more comfortable for the participants.
#5. Develop the script
Once you have questions to ask, develop a more detailed script, laying out the flow of the session. Be careful that it should not go longer than two hours.
The script should have three parts:
- The introduction, where the facilitator will welcome everyone and explain the group,
- The question section, where they ask the questions,
- And the closing section, which will wrap up the session and give participants opportunity for further input.
#6. Choose your facilitator
Key in choosing the facilitator is their ability to deal in a tactful way with outspoken members of the focus group while ensuring every participant has a chance to be heard. They should also be someone who will be able to keep the discussion on track.
While the facilitator should be knowledgeable, be sure there’s nothing about them that would make participants uncomfortable about sharing their opinions.
#7. Pick a focus group location
Think about what message the setting will send about the formal or informal nature of the group, whether it’s suitable for the size of the group, and whether it encourages a conversation. Ensure the location is reserved, if necessary!
#8. Conduct the focus group session
The facilitator should show up before the participants do and arrange the room as appropriate. (All participants should be able to see each other.) The session should be recorded, and this should be clear to the participants.
Once the participants arrive, the facilitator conducts the session according to the script, while allowing some room for spontaneous questions and deeper probing that arises from the discussion.
#9. The facilitator and another person review the focus group session
Soon after the session is finished, the facilitator and another person should review the completed session and capture their impression. Similarly, the facilitator should immediately transcribe the audio files and the notes they took during the session in order to avoid memory lapses — this also often brings new ideas to mind.
#10. Analyze summaries
In one sitting, read through all the available focus group summaries. Keep an eye out for trends or comments which come up over and over again, as well as surprising or unexpected comments which are worth noting down. Be aware that the tone and context can be just as critical as the actual words which are spoken. Note town negative or emotional phrasing, or whether a particular comment produced many more comments.
#11. Write up the focus group report
The final report on the focus group (example) can take a variety of forms, but be sure and include all the background information for the group as well as the intended objective, the session details, the results, and your conclusions.
Conducting a focus group can be a relatively simple and highly effective way to get input from a population on nearly any issue. After you conduct your focus group, it may be useful to schedule a meeting with the rest of your team to go over the report and summaries in order to discuss the results — and in order to decide what actions you should take in regard to the new information you have.
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