The focus group technique is a great tool for a project manager. It helps groups make decisions as a team in an efficient and positive manner. However, there's more to it than meets the eye.
What Is It?
The focus group technique is a form of qualitative research to help a team reach its goals and come to its decisions. In addition to asking what, where and when for making a group decision, it also seeks to establish the why and how of it. Within the focus group technique, the project manager heads a group decision. The individuals with the group then work towards solving problems and making decisions that will ultimately lead to the achievement of the goals of the group. In the case of project management, it would lead to a completed project.
During the focus group technique, the project manager will sometimes question all members of the working team what their opinions are on the matter at hand. It can be a sort of round-robin discussion after the opinions are drafted. From the opinions expressed, a common ground usually emerges. While it's impossible to get unanimous voting in most groups, members of the team often concede when strong points are made that are for the overall good of the group.
While the nominal group technique is more of a variation on a democratic process, the focus group technique involves more of an open-ended discussion to get to the final decision. Individuals participating in the focus group technique often feel heard and understood throughout the decision-making process.
Pros and Cons
The focus group technique works best when it's used by a group who've worked together for a long time and have a great deal of mutual respect and ambition. Individuals must be open-minded and willing to concede points when others have ideas on a project that are for the overall good of the team. Unfortunately, the focus group technique can stagnate a group that feels unsafe or unwilling to express themselves openly in a group setting. The focus group technique seeks feedback from all the individuals that form it, and that's an important part of making it work. If people are uncomfortable with it, it will not be effective for the group as a whole.
The focus group technique is preferred by many project managers, although somewhat more of the burden is placed on their shoulders during this technique. For example, if a group had gathered to discuss a decision about the overall design for a project, the project manager can start by asking all the members of the team his opinion on it, from the beginning workers to the senior staff. A project manager can weight opinions, but it's important for group morale that all be included in this initial process. This is best done in a group setting, and most members of the group will see that clear common ground emerges. A project manager who's well practiced in this will try to lead the group towards making a strong decision that most will be happy with, one that's best for the project as a whole as well.