Posted by: bbannan | February 23, 2010

Focus Groups – Jesse

Once it is determined that conducting focus groups or usability tests  is the best way to gather the type of data you need, it is imperative  that you have a clear picture of what you are trying to test, know what you are looking for, and know what you want to find out.

According to the article found on the Webcredible Web site [the link is located at the bottom of the page], focus groups should be performed during the early development phases of a project when you are acquiring knowledge about your target audience, looking to develop something new, and want to find out how the target audience will respond and react to your product.

Kuniavsky (p. 207-15) recommends the following steps prior to conducting a focus group:

  • Set a schedule
  • Select and recruit the target audience
  • Determine the scope of your research
  • Identify the topics you want to research
  • Write a discussion guide (script) for the moderator

In chapter 9 (pp.205-7), Kuniavsky explains four types of focus groups that researchers use to gather more specific qualitative data.

1. Exploratory – This type of focus group is conducted to look at the target audience’s general attitude on a topic or product.

2. Feature Prioritization –  This type of focus group is conducted to find out which features are most important and/or attractive to the target audience and why.

3. Competitive Analysis –  This type of focus group is conducted to find out which features the target audience likes and dislikes about a competitor’s product.

4. Trend Explanation – Once a trend is identified, this type of focus group is conducted to help explain the behavior of the target audience by investigating their motivations and expectations.

On page 204, Kuniavsky notes a few things to keep in mind about focus groups.  Focus groups are not a substitute for usability testing or surveys.  Focus groups use a much smaller sample size than surveys, thus data gathered via focus groups are not statistically significant enough to make a generalization about a large population.

Believe it or not, many organizations (not that I have witnessed it personally or anything) make expensive decisions without any data to support those decisions.  In many cases, the final product is not usually that well received by the target audience.  After reading  Kuniavsky’s take on focus groups, I think gathering data in this way (along with usability testing) can be of great benefit to organizations who want to “get a better feel” of what the target audience’s needs, wants, likes, and dislikes are – which will result in delivering a better, user-friendly product.  Gathering data and applying more resources on the front-end can lower the costs associated with the target audience not being able to use the product efficiently – if they use it all.

Webcredible Article –

Here are a few focus group links:



  1. Focus groups of interest to me because my company is currently working on a project to transition a 6 week training course from face-to-face delivery to being completely virtual. We’re currently in a pre-pilot phase and have been holding focus groups with the trainees every Friday. I feel, though, that the focus groups have not been well planned. Though the first two of Kuniavsky’s steps (Set a schedule, select the audience) have been established, I feel that the other three:

    •Determine the scope of your research
    •Identify the topics you want to research
    •Write a discussion guide (script) for the moderator

    Have been sorely neglected. For my company’s next round of testing, I’m thinking that I may suggest that we improve on the three bullets listed above because as of now, I wonder just how much are we really getting out of these groups?

  2. Hello Jesse!

    I am actually going to “focus” my reply on Katrina’s response since, it appears, there is an immediate need for some assistance.

    I will first point to Dr. Bannan’s self-admission of her experiences when she’s audiotaped interviews with individuals or groups (and I’ve learned the very same) for later transcription: you MUST script what you will be asking and stick to it with great fervor.

    Not that some digression should be allowed for AFTER the core of the investigative procedure is over, but any wandering during the course of the protocol and you’ll have to be a master facilitator to get back on track.

    The best class I ever took on the subject was from one of the leading authors on the practice, Dr. Richard A. Krueger. I HIGHLY recommend his co-authored book on the topic:

    Bottomline for Katrina (and any others): Focus Groups are NOT just a time to get a bunch of folks together and ask them what they think. Nobody has any time for that. Focus Groups must be DESIGNED to gather qualitative data and have a qualitative data analysis plan and reporting method in mind in advance. It’s too bad that some groups have already been conducted, but maybe you can “spin it” some way or another to point to those sessions as “pre-analysis data gathering.”

  3. The topic of focus groups is high on my “list.” At work, I work on a team that supports a database tool that is used throughout the company. The problem I have with the development team is that they continue to add new “modules” to the database without considering the impact on the field personnel. Okay, they consider the impact. However, they do not truly take time to investigate/research and determine how the changes impact other modules. Too often, we have to “re-do” changes that were incorrectly developed and resulted in highly negative feedback.

    As Jesse discussed and Kuniavsky stressed, the focus groups should be a small sample. Although you should not use focus groups to make a generalization about a large population, a focus group can provide insight about the target audience’s attitude toward future changes as well as determine how they view the new will be received.

    Also, I appreciate the bullet points about how to properly conduct a focus group. I think an organized effort can provide quality results.

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