Tools | By Duncan Haughey | Read time minutes
For a project manager, it is essential to think about what future events may impact your projects. These events may be positive or negative, so understanding them allows you to prepare and plan to deal with them. But how can you forecast the future with any degree of certainty? The Delphi Technique can help.
The Delphi Technique is a method used to estimate the likelihood and outcome of future events. A group of experts exchange views, and each independently gives estimates and assumptions to a facilitator who reviews the data and issues a summary report.
The group members, known as panellists, discuss and review the summary report and give updated forecasts to the facilitator, who again reviews the material and issues a second report. This process continues until all participants reach a consensus.
The experts at each round have a complete record of what forecasts other experts have made. Still, they do not know who made which forecast. Anonymity allows the experts to express their opinions freely, encourages openness and avoids admitting errors by revising earlier forecasts.
This article looks at how to run a Delphi session. Upon completing this guide, you will be able to run a session enabling you to predict future events and their likely impact on your projects.
The technique is an iterative process and first aims to get a broad range of opinions from a group of experts. The results of the first round of questions, when summarised, provide the basis for the second round of questions. Results from the second round of questions feed into the third and final round.
The aim is to clarify and expand on issues, identify areas of agreement or disagreement, and find consensus.
Step 1: Choose a Facilitator
The first step is to choose your facilitator. You may wish to take on this role yourself or find a neutral person within your organisation. It is helpful to have someone familiar with research and data collection.
Step 2: Identify Your Experts
The Delphi technique relies on a panel of experts. This panel might be your project team, including the customer or other experts within your organisation or industry. An expert is any individual with relevant knowledge and experience of a particular topic.
Step 3: Define the Problem
What is the problem or issue you are seeking to understand? The experts need to know what situation they are commenting on, so ensure you provide a precise and comprehensive definition.
Step 4: Round One Questions
Ask general questions to gain a broad understanding of the experts' views on future events. The questions may go out in the form of a questionnaire or survey. Collate and summarise the responses, removing any irrelevant material and looking for common viewpoints.
Step 5: Round Two Questions
Based on the answers to the first questions, the following questions should delve deeper into the topic to clarify specific issues. These questions may also go out in the form of a questionnaire or survey. Again, collate and summarise the results, removing any irrelevant material and look for the common ground. Remember, we are seeking to build consensus.
Step 6: Round Three Questions
The final questionnaire aims to focus on supporting decision making. Hone in on the areas of agreement. What is it upon which the experts are all agreed?
You may wish to have more than three rounds of questioning to reach a closer consensus.
Step 7: Act on Your Findings
After this round of questions, your experts will have, we hope, reached a consensus, and you will have a view of future events. Analyse the findings and put plans in place to deal with future risks and opportunities to your project.
Use the Delphi Technique to create work breakdown structures, identify risks and opportunities, and compile a lessons learned report. Use it anytime you would usually conduct a brainstorming session.
Predicting the future is not an exact science, but the Delphi Technique can help you understand the likelihood of future events and what impact they may have on your project.
 Cantrill JA, SibbaldB, Buetow S. The Delphi and Nominal Group Techniques in Health Services Research. International Journal of Pharmacy Practice 1996;4:67-74
Olaf Helmer and Norman Dalkey of the Rand Corporation developed the Delphi Method in the 1950s to address a specific military problem.
Recommended read: The Top Five Software Project Risks by Mike Griffiths.