The Delphi Technique, Why It’s Important and When to Use It

By: Dan Creinin

I had the opportunity to spend some time with Jim Stanton (one of his claims to fame is working on the Apollo lunar landing module.  Yes that one).  He shared a story about how the team overcame some of the challenges about gaining consensus on some project’s complex issues.  The term that he used was “The Delphi Technique”.  Being curious, I went to the source of all truth to find out what it was.

What Is It?

In looking at the various definitions (and there were many), the one that seems to best describe it is found in Wikipedia:

“The Delphi method is a structured communication technique or method, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts.”

The Delphi Technique’s (aka the Delphi Methodology) application centers around anonymously gathering information at an organization’s ground level.  There are many survey organizations that enable organizations this. I have personally used a number of these applications in an attempt to anonymously gather and report both broad and specific cultural issues.  They have yielded some great results, in that these tools highlighted cultural oversights that were easily addressed.

Why It’s Important

Looking beyond culture, this technique has use for a given project or initiative.  By appropriately structuring the survey, the Delphi Technique answers the following questions:

  1. Is everything going well on a given project or process (and why/why not)
  2. What are other issues that we don’t know about that we need to address

In a typical organization, when executives want to understand the status of a given project, they may speak with their direct reports.  These conversations will yield a small subset of issues that need to be addressed, and, may mask some of the larger issues that directly affect the project’s success.

Anonymously gathering information through anonymous surveys across a larger population provides a more accurate and meaningful response.  This ultimately accomplishes the two objectives above much more efficiently versus interviews with a small group of direct reports.

When To Use It

There are three basic times when the Delphi Technique can be effectively applied:

  1. Sideways – When a project is going sideways, it is critical to find out why. Doing so anonymously enables open and honest conversations.  The key element is making sure that management is not interested in WHO is providing the information, but, using the information to make appropriate decisions.
  2. Beginning – Gathering information before a given initiative takes place can yield some good results. Finding the gaps between the intended goals and some potentially unintended consequences is best determined anonymously.
  3. Ongoing – It is important to not only know what isn’t working, but, to also know what is working well so that you can replicate it throughout the organization.

Conclusion

Upon wrapping up my conversation with Jim, I asked him about how NASA got to getting a man on the moon and bringing him home.  His answer was quite simple.  He loved his job, felt part of a much larger purpose, and felt that if he was not there, that he was letting someone else down by not delivering what he committed to.  While not every organization is tasked with historic objectives like a moon landing, I think that most people would like to feel that kind of passion about the teams they are on, their co-workers and the projects they are asked to complete, and to guarantee their project’s success.  The Delphi Technique is one way to help organizations achieve those goals.

Next Steps

MVC Consulting implements this technique with our Project Healthcheck service.  This service provides the following deliverables using a modified Delphi Technique:

  1. Understands the stated goals of a project, whether in flight or proposed, and creates a survey to anonymously gather information about the project.
  2. Sends the survey out to the targeted stakeholders and teams implementing the project.
  3. Provides results analysis, and potential additional information to be gathered.

To learn more about this service, please contact us through our home page, http://mvcconsulting.com/contact-us/

Do PMOs Actually Work?

PMO Image

 

As I visit with clients, one of the most common, and divisive, topics of conversation seems to revolve around PMOs. In my experience, PMOs provide tremendous value when they are managed correctly and operate with the proper intent – that is to facilitate the completion of more projects on time and on budget with the fewest resources, while boosting organizational performance. As of 2014, roughly 80% of US companies, on average, had a PMO of some kind. Obviously, many leaders see the benefit, or at least a perceived benefit, in having PMO guidance, but many organizations are still hesitant.

What complicates the PMO discussion is the fact that many organizations simply don’t understand them. I have clients who view them as too rigid, adding additional “unneeded” oversight, and being too reliant on “meaningless methodology frameworks”. In addition to that, many organizations fail to realize that the purpose of a PMO can vary. A one size fits all approach isn’t the best approach. Also, companies may recognize a need and attempt to implement a PMO, but quickly abandon it if they don’t see immediate results.

First, PMOs do add oversight – which is one of their primary values. Recent studies have shown that less than half of all projects deliver on time, on budget, and with their intended benefits. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, but one in particular is that many projects don’t have an appropriate road map for success. A PMO group can outline a project map, implement an agreed upon methodology, and successfully manage checkpoints to ensure that targets are being hit. Adhering to a “prescribed” method may be met with resistance from within the organization, but PMOs can certainly provide the needed discipline, resource planning, and project focus to enable greater project success rates. The oversight doesn’t have to be rigid or prescribed. The good PMOs will take into account their organization’s culture and mold their frameworks to fit that, being open to input from stakeholders and Project Managers.

Next, the organization needs to determine what type of PMO will best meet its needs. Some PMOs exist solely to staff Project Managers and distribute resources to the business groups. Others serve as an all-encompassing project management cadre, consulting on each and every project, providing training to Project Managers, and establishing an overarching framework to follow for projects. The key to discerning which type of PMO is best depends on your company’s culture, project failures, and the intended goals.

Finally, patience is key. Of firms surveyed, 37% of companies with a PMO in place for less than 1 year reported better project success rates. Companies with a PMO in place for more than 4 years reported a 65% increased project success rate. The greatest gains are realized over time as PMOs integrate with the culture. PMO groups that are allowed the time to gain buy in from business groups and stakeholders are able to more effectively dictate program and project success. The organization that displays patience through the early years of a PMO can reap substantial benefits down the road. Studies show that CIOs should allow 3 years for a PMO to derive benefit.
PMOs are valuable, but they can only demonstrate that value if they are implemented with the right intentions, taking into account cultural aspects of the company, and are given time to develop. It has been recommended that newly formed PMOs start with overseeing well-defined pilot projects with a lot of oversight from business unit Project Managers. This will allow for the right amount of give and take so that both sides are contributing to making the PMO fit the company culture, and not the other way round. At the end of the day, a well organized PMO will help drive project success.