Here are some guidelines for a successful focus group program as developed by the Facilities Assessment Survey Team at Bristol-Myers.
DO stick to one specific, limited topic
DO prepare specific questions beforehand and stick to discussing only those
DO review focus group ground rules at the beginning of the session
DO use open-ended questions, vary the questions and sequence them to go from the general to the specific
DO ask each participant each question rather than throwing it out generally (typically under that format, one or two participants will tend to dominate the others)
DO keep the format and environment (even the time of day and refreshments) consistent and uniform
DO respond to the findings and share the results with everyone
DON'T moderate it yourself— instead, have a trained outside facilitator
DON'T turn it into a commercial about all the great things you do
DON'T overload the group— 12 is about the maximum number of participants you should have
DON'T get defensive or give in to the urge to jump into the discussion
DON'T let the discussion veer off into unrelated topics or areas (TIP: Use a "parking lot" board to document off-topic concerns for later action."We don't want to dismiss any criticisms people may bring up," McNally says, "but neither do we want to derail the focus of the discussion, so we tell people who bring up outside topics that we will put it in the 'parking lot' and will follow up with them later about it."