A Guide to Using the Delphi Technique in Project Management
A project manager’s ability to plan and attempt to forecast future projects accurately increases their success rate significantly.
Forecasting enables you to set reasonable and measurable project goals based on current and historical data. It also allows you to anticipate setbacks and address them before they occur in future projects. Additionally, having insights into trends and their shift patterns enables you to predict possible changes in your industry.
So how can you forecast the future with any degree of certainty? The Delphi technique can help.
We’ve rounded up the basics of the Delphi Technique, how it applies in project management, the benefits, and the steps to follow when implementing it.
What Is the Delphi Technique?
The Delphi technique is a project management technique used to make complex decisions based on a consensus reached from expert opinions. A facilitator sends several anonymous questions to a group of experts to collect their views. The facilitator then summarizes the individual answers into a report.
The panel of experts holds a group discussion to discuss each question and corresponding answers and provide updated predictions to the facilitator. This process continues until the experts reach a consensus or agreement on the topic. This iterative process aims to get a broad range of opinions from a group of experts. The project manager and senior management use these views to forecast the probability and outcome of future events.
The Rand Corporation developed the Delphi method after World War ll in a bid to keep up with changing technological environments and the impact this had on assessing and forecasting future requirements.
Essential Components of the Delphi Method
These components are necessary to implement the Delphi method in project management:
Structured group: All participants are aware of how they are to participate, provide their answers, deliver feedback and work towards consensus. Proponents of this structured approach suggest this is more effective at coming to an accurate approximation of opinions than unstructured groups that are liable to personal biases.
Anonymity: All individual opinions are kept anonymous. While the experts have a complete record of the forecasts other experts made at each round, they don’t get to know who made which forecast. Anonymity allows the participants to express their opinions and criticize their peers freely without worrying about sabotaging personal or professional relationships.
The facilitator: A facilitator leads the Delphi technique. They prepare the questionnaires and gather responses from the panel of experts. They don’t express their opinions but rather summarize those received from the experts.
Broad reach: The Delphi method is most useful in projects with numerous stakeholders or where team members are operating in different locations and/or time zones. The technique allows all project information to be fed into and disseminated from a central point in such circumstances.
Applications of the Delphi Technique
The Delphi technique is helpful in two settings:
Setting 1: When a project has several subject matter experts available with significantly differing opinions.
You can use the Delphi technique to arrive at a common solution in such a situation. Collect the input of each expert and then evaluate all the information you’ve received and find the similarities. Next, eliminate the inputs that are entirely different from the common ones. Then send these common points back to the experts, asking them to analyze further and re-evaluate their findings. Repeat this process until you finally arrive at a solution with consensus from all experts.
Setting 2: Your experts are distributed in different geographical locations and cannot be in the same physical place to find a standard solution.
In this setting, conduct an anonymous poll, gather advice from experts, and follow the Delphi method to draw conclusions without any issues.
Benefits of Using the Delphi Method
The Delphi technique in project management enables stakeholders and project teams to be on the same page. Here are other benefits of the project management method:
Enables everyone’s opinion to be heard and considered
The Delphi method relies on written answers to collect opinions. Thus, this method gives every expert a chance to voice their opinions without the fear of being judged or intimidated. Even when the panel of experts is brainstorming, the structured nature of this technique gives every individual the confidence to state their opinions freely without accusations of being biased.
It makes it easier to get remote teams together
It’s very common for modern project teams to be distributed across different locations and time zones. Through the Delphi technique’s facilitation, response and re-iteration, key decision-makers can engage in full and productive discussions no matter how far apart they are.
Facilitates rapid decision making
Thanks to its structured and anonymous nature, the Delphi technique enables project teams to achieve consensus and do it quickly, no matter the issue at hand.
Sharing opinions in a group setting, especially when there are a couple of dominant speakers in the room, can often lead to groupthink where the less dominant speakers set aside their personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group. Collecting views anonymously can help reduce groupthink by allowing everyone to express and share their thoughts freely.
It’s cheap and quick to conduct
The Delphi technique is relatively easy and inexpensive to use. You don’t need a lot of fancy tools to achieve results—just some time and a way to write down and compile opinions.
Steps Involved While Implementing the Delphi Technique
Let’s look at the various steps involved while implementing Delphi in project management:
Step 1: Choose a facilitator
The first step is to choose a facilitator who understands the issue at hand. A facilitator could be the project manager or any other neutral person within the organization. The facilitator must be unbiased and familiar with data collection.
Step 2: Identify your experts
The next step is to select your panel of experts comprising individuals with relevant knowledge and experience of the specific topic you want experts to address. You can pool experts from your project team, customers, or other experts within your organization or industry.
Step 3: Define the problem
Before you write down the questions to ask your panel of experts, you must first understand the problem at hand. Does it warrant using the Delphi technique, and if yes, what are you trying to estimate/ forecast? Ensure you provide your experts with a precise and comprehensive definition to make the process fruitful.
Step 4: Round one questions
The facilitator kicks off the Delphi technique by handing out the first questionnaire to the experts. This first set of questions should be general open-ended questions to understand the experts’ broad views on future events. The facilitator then collects all the answers and prepares a summary report without revealing the experts’ identities.
Step 5: Round two questions
The next round of questions is based on the findings gathered in round one. These questions should delve deeper into the topic of the day. Again, the facilitator collates and summarizes the results, removes irrelevant material, and looks for common ground.
This step is vital because some of the experts may change their opinion after looking at the first summary report as they start to examine the issue from a different perspective.
Step 6: Round three questions
The facilitator repeats the cycle of rounds one and two until all the experts reach a consensus. This final set of questions aims to support decision-making by honing in on areas of agreement. The facilitator may conduct several more rounds until all the experts reach a consensus.
Step 7: Act on your findings
At this point, we hope your panel of experts has agreed upon the proposed course of action. Now the ball is in your court, and you must act on your findings. Analyze the results and design a plan to address the issue and deal with future risks and opportunities for your project.
Using Mission Control for the Delphi Technique
As we mentioned, the Delphi technique is relatively easy to use and doesn’t necessarily require fancy tools to implement in your projects.
Take advantage of Mission Control’s communication features to communicate with your panel of experts and schedule panel discussions. Once you’ve reached a consensus about a particular issue related to a project, use Mission Control to create project schedules to follow up on action items from your Delphi method analyses.
Ready to get started? Contact us today for a demo of how Mission Control can help you forecast your projects better.