Monday, August 18, 2008

When focus groups don't work...

Towards the latter half of my Microsoft career, I was bombarded by terms like "Focus Group feedback", "Decision via Committee" and "User-centric innovation". Often times, the focus group's feedback would never make it into our products and processes, and I'd wonder why the process failed. Once I got over wondering why the process failed (it's conventional wisdom that focus groups don't work), I began to wonder about why Microsoft wasted time and effort in organizing focus groups. Though my second bout of wondering might take forever, here is some insight into why focus groups might not be right for your organization.
"Some teams of people look to focus groups, consultancies, and research methods to bring in outside ideas, but this rarely improves the quality of thinking in the group itself. Those outside ideas, however bold or original, are at the mercy of the diversity of thought within the group itself. If the group, as a collective, is only capable of approving B level work, it doesn’t matter how many A level ideas you bring to it. Focus groups or other outside sources of information can not give a team, or its leaders, a soul. A bland homogeneous team of people has no real opinions, because it consists of people with same backgrounds, outlooks, and experiences who will only feel comfortable discussing the safe ideas that fit into those constraints."
There are more gems in this essay, which is insightful without being onerous and has a good dose of wry humor hidden between the lines. Enjoy the read...

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