In my consulting projects, I am not a fan of focus groups. Here are some of my concerns about them.
- They waste many people’s time. Members sit for stretches of time and have little to contribute. The moments of value to others sometimes represent a small portion of their blocks of time.
- They do not make candid, full comments. People do not want to bring up sensitive topics or appear critical of others. Subordinates lapse into silence. Members may not say what they think nearly as openly as when they are in a confidential, one-on-one interview or on an anonymous survey.
- They end up being too scripted. Often junior consultants conduct focus groups. They stick to the set of questions given them, come hell or high water.
- Groups need a skilled facilitator as well as guidelines and quite possibly training of the members. A focus group that makes progress rarely blossoms on its own.
- They can be hard to keep on track, with a progressive tempo, if the sessions take place weeks apart. Scheduling difficulties can extend the elapsed time and cause people to miss sessions.
- They can under-perform because whoever sets them up makes a poor choice of group members.
- They can flounder because they have an unclear purpose or detour off track.
- They can be afflicted with dysfunctional group dynamics.
For other posts from this blog about focus groups (See my post of April 6, 2009: brainwriting as a tool for focus groups; Jan. 7, 2010: tool to assess employee engagement; and Jan. 23, 2012: one of the important management concepts.).