Earlier we talked about how your Project Team can make the most of focus groups (making-focus-groups-work-for-you) and (What Focus Groups Can’t Do), but it’s important to remember that a focus group may not be right for every project. Situations will vary, but below are some guidelines to help you determine if a focus group is likely to help or hinder your progress.
The budget is tighter than usual. You might still be able to put together a lean, mean, cost-cutting focus group machine, but beware: if you’re counting every single penny, you’re unlikely to have the resources needed to meet more than 1 or 2 of the objectives your group identifies. Because focus groups quickly lose their steam when they realize their efforts can’t possibly supported, it’s better to either forego the focus group approach entirely, or present them with very tight boundaries in which to work.
End users are too geographically dispersed to bring everyone together. While video or teleconferencing might do the trick in some instances, remember that time zone differences could make ongoing focus sessions difficult for everyone to accommodate. It’s better to reduce the size of the group to only those you know can attend every meeting, or even to eliminate the focus group altogether, than hold numerous unproductive sessions. As an alternative, consider sending out surveys—they might be a better vehicle to help you gather the information you need.
Bringing disparate groups together is likely to spark animosity. This is especially true when a project’s objectives have been honed down from their original scope and some groups will no longer reap the benefits they initially hoped for, or when you’re managing one executive’s pet project. Talking individually with end users may be a better solution than establishing a full focus group, but be careful you aren’t playing into users’ fears about favoritism.