October 19, 2023

Delphi Technique In Project Management (How to + Example)

Talked with the client yesterday. He asked me to look into a new technology on iOS called “layers”.

He wanted to see if we can leverage it.

I had no idea what was that.

For sure, I could open a developer’s documentation and try to read it.

But that is not what a project manager does.

Instead, I decided to apply the Delphi Technique.

Here is what I did.

Delphi Technique Example

In project management, you never use a tool or a technique as is.

So, I wanted to gather information, make a decision, and get buy-in from several stakeholders all at once.

First of all, I decided on whom should I ask.

My development Team Lead – John. He knows how to explain complicated technical concepts in simple words.

Next, the company’s CTO – Gregory. He may have an opinion of his own.

Moreover, I need his support. In case we run into troubles, he may be useful in negotiations.

But that is not all.

I also want to get an opinion from a Project Manager who implemented it already. He might point out some risks in estimation and real-life benefits.

So, I talked with a department manager. She helped me with some hints on what projects to visit.

Becky was the PM I needed.

What’s next?

I came up with several questions:

  1. Have you heard of the technology?
  2. What are the benefits of using it?
  3. Should we make a switch from what we use today?
  4. What risks do you see?

That is the first round of questions.

The idea is simple. I need to ask these same questions to all three experts I selected.

Given the realities of our environment, I talk with Team Lead at once. I had to book a call with the CTO. And with Becky, I caught her on the phone.

The communication method isn’t that important. However, I don’t like to do it by email.

Here is the trick:

You can’t let them know that you have talked with others.

Otherwise, they will be biased to align their answers. It is much safer.

So, I got all the answers from each person independently.

Answers to questions number 1, 2, and 4 were similar.

What about the question: “Should we make a switch from what we use today?”

Answers varied:

“For sure, you must do it as soon as possible!”
“You may do it if time permits.”
“You may not get the benefits. Performance improvement varies…”

So, that’s the question for the second round.

It went like this:

“I have learned that the performance benefits may vary. Is there a way to check it for our application? Can we promote the benefits to the customer?”

Again I ran the questions independently. I did not disclose the person who was in doubt about the benefits.

His or her opinion should not impact the decisions of others.

And there was round three.

After that, I had to switch out from Delphi and get into a brainstorming meeting. We needed to develop a proposal for the client.

What is the Delphi Technique?

Delphi Method or Technique is a structured information gathering method. It leverages the input from a panel of unbiased experts.

If you like to know in-depth historical details, here is a link to Wikipedia.

Delphi Technique Process

It is a structured technique. There is a step-by-step process:

  1. Select the expert that you would like to question.
  2. Prepare a list of questions that you are interested in.
  3. Provide the list of questions to the experts.
  4. Collect the answers.
  5. Compile the gathered information into a document.
    5.1 Decide if you need to make another round of information gathering.
  6. Share the compiled information with the experts again.
  7. Collect feedback.
    7.1 Decide if you need to make another round of information gathering.

As a facilitator, you can decide how many rounds to run.

If you get the answers and they are approximately similar. That is it. Just send the notes on your discovery.

However, there may be variations in opinions.

Then, you will want to collect feedback on why there is such a range of responses.

Here you will need to exercise the ability to analyze the feedback. You need to point out the critical aspects that need further clarification.

Advantages You can Gain

You encourage participants to share their own thoughts. There is no pressure from authoritative experts. There is no one dominant opinion.

All of these help you to identify risks.

If there is a range of opinions, then you need to dig deeper.

Moreover, you can assess the openness of stakeholders to the idea you research. You will discover points of resistance that you will need to address.

Also, you build engagement. You put people on the list of experts. You come for a piece of advice. Stakeholders will be more likely to back up their suggestions with support later.

Disadvantages to be Aware of

It takes time. You can gather the same information faster in a meeting. However, you will lose the benefit of honest thoughts.

Also, after the first round, when you have follow-up information, stakeholders become more protective.

“Someone expressed concerns or a different point of view. Maybe that person is right? I should play safe further.”

It takes some skill to continue the information gathering process casually. You don’t want to raise concerns.

Delphi Technique in Project Management

I don’t use Delphi Technique in project management as is.

I don’t like to run it formally and in written format. You lose too much non-verbal information this way.

So, I apply the technique during interviews. It speeds up the process.

I understand that it makes it more subjective. However, I also correct the “weight” of the feedback of an expert based on the nonverbal hints, confidence, and experience.

Finding equally competent experts is hard.

Also, keep in mind:

Following the process should not defeat the purpose.

In the end, you want to get quality information and feedback. It should help you to make correct decisions.