We’ve talked about when establishing a focus group makes sense (should-you-establish-a-focus-group) and how to make focus groups work for you (making-focus-groups-work-for-you), but it’s also important to understand the limitations of focus groups. There are things they can’t do, and your efforts will be wasted if you’re hoping for something unrealistic. We’ve put together an overview of some of the problems focus groups just don’t solve.

Resolve the objectives-vs-budget dilemma. If you don’t have enough money to meet all of your project’s objectives, a focus group will not magically make additional funds appear. They might be able to help you prioritize objectives for subsequent review by the project’s stakeholder group, who can then choose to pare down the project or boost the budget, but don’t rely on your focus group’s recommendations to be a silver bullet.

Gain consensus where none exists now. Unless you’re dealing with an amenable crowd that has identified some common ground, a focus group is likely to provide nothing more than a forum for disagreements. There may be a chance you can zero in on a particular aspect of your project that isn’t in dispute—perhaps selecting individual equipment—but often you’ll need an edict from above to keep the conversation on target and away from matters that are still being contested.

Make the project move faster. The use of focus groups is preferred over simply plowing ahead and hoping your Project Team has sufficient user input to succeed, but they rarely reduce the time needed to achieve objectives. Instead, they allow your team to proceed more thoughtfully, something that might reduce last-minute problems or post-project complaints, but won’t typically compress a project’s normal schedule. If your team doesn’t have enough time to complete a project or if you’re behind schedule, a focus group probably won’t get you back on track.

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