Thursday, November 16, 2006

Process Research via Focus Groups

I don't recommend using focus groups to gather your user research, but I do recommend using them to provide clarification and expansion of the data you have gathered during site visits. After conducting a site visit study at a handful of sites in your target population, hosting a focus group will help you to validate what you observed and be able to define patterns of behaviour across the wider audience.

If you are designing a product for a process that may have a variety of users and protocols when using the product, you will never be able to see the scope of that variation by doing site visits alone. This is when a focus group of subject matter experts may help you validate, while further defining, and describing the processes that will have the most predictable and successful results with the product.

This kind of focus group will generate the best results when you do some upfront planning and make sure you have a support team with you when facilitating.

  • Invite the right people (leaders, practioners, researchers)

  • Provide the proper incentive (status, cash, opportunity to influence and learn)

  • Provide enough information for them to come prepared. (schedules, agendas, notes)

  • Location, facility and materials (near attendees, comfort and AV/whiteboards)

  • Create a facilitation team (product leader/expert, facilitator, notetakers)

  • Roles and responsibility assignments for the facilitation team

  • Record the session objectives. Ensures capturing data needed to make design decisions

  • Structure the agenda of the session around meeting the objectives

  • Remember that we are human and need frequent breaks to stay engaged

  • Make sure the group understands what you hope to learn during the session

  • Always start the session by introducing everyone and their role

  • Begin with what you currently know about the process and product

  • Ask them to challenge any of these assumption and clarify anything that isn't quite right or may be different in their experience

  • Next ask them to help you fill in the blanks of your knowledge. What don't we know about the process, what are we missing?

  • Lastly, allow them to describe their likes and dislikes of the product.

  • If you already have some early concepts, you might want to share them and ask the team to help you fix or refine these concepts, now that you have a deeper and more accurate understanding of the complexity of the project

  • The most important factor in getting good data from a focus group is having a facilitator the understands and acheives the objectives of the session. The facilitator must also be very good at introducing the agenda segments and facilitating the conversation to keep it moving, keep it on track and to engage all attendeees.

    If the process and product are very complex, I have heard of having multiple notetakers that focus their attention on one or two of attendees. This way none of the conversation is missed. I haven't tried this yet, but I intend to soon.

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