"How many focus groups should we run?"

I am asked this question a lot. Often, my clients think the more focus groups we run the better. I don't agree with this (and ultimately this saves them time and money).

Focus groups are usually one of the activities I conduct during the user research phase of any project I work on. I use focus groups, contextual enquiries, usability tests, collaborative design and sometimes card sorting as part of the user-centred design process.

Insights and trends
The purpose of the focus groups I run is nearly always the same: I want to gain insights and identify trends in the needs and goals of the target audience for the product I'm working with (usually an application, website or intranet).

2 - 3 focus groups is ideal
In my experience, conducting 2 - 3 focus groups per user segment is ideal. After the third focus group with a particular user segment, the number of new insights gained and trends identified starts to taper off. That means your return on investment (ROI) drops off really quickly. By focus group number 4 or 5 you are learning less and less new insights and trends. By focus group number 6 there are no additional insights or trends.

Timeline and budget constraints
Most of the projects I work on have a limited budget and timeline, and yours probably do too. Therefore, conducting 2 - 3 focus groups per user segment makes sense. This limits stress on budgets and timelines and still captures the insights and trends you are looking for.

Obviously the number of focus groups you should run always depends on the specifics of your particular situation. However, this rule of thumb is a good starting point.

Have you run focus groups recently? How many did you run? How did you decide how many to run?

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