The DELPHI method is widely used in the context of project management, especially during the initial phase. At the start of the project, it enables an efficient analysis of: the opportunities, the feasibility and the obstacles to be overcome. This survey tool has the particularity of mobilizing collective intelligence. The idea is to consult a representative panel of experts, in an iterative manner.
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The DELPHI method is very successful in all fields, from ecology to politics, including technology and even commerce. Its development is such that its use is spreading from government organizations to local authorities, to private companies. Zoom on the implementation of the DELPHI method.
What is the DELPHI method?
It is a systematic method, which consists of interviewing a permanent circle of experts during several rounds. At each new round, the questionnaire is enriched with the previous answers. The objective: to highlight the consensuses but also the divergences, within the framework of a long in-depth reflection. Each expert is pushed to his limits, the result becomes more reliable.
Delphi refers to the Latin name for Delphi, an ancient Greek architectural complex outside the city, in which a prophetess answered questions and made predictions. The DELPHI method inherits this prospective character. The technique was developed from 1948 by researchers from an American consultancy and research institution: they then wanted to improve the decision-making process. Gradually, the method is enriched in particular thanks to the contributions of new technologies: statistical analysis tools, for example, help to automate the last step of the DELPHI method.
The key components of the DELPHI method
The actors and actresses of the consultation
The DELPHI method involves 2 types of stakeholders:
- Analysts, also called facilitators or coordinators. One or more people ensure the implementation of the DELPHI method, structure the group consultation and supervise the communication during the different tours. Analysts must understand the subject of the project. Beyond this substantive competence, analysts must know how to ask the right questions, they must be perfectly familiar with the methodology.
- The experts. They are the ones who are consulted on the advisability and feasibility of the project, as well as on potential obstacles and major issues. They are specialists in the subject to be dealt with: practical and administrative knowledge or even legal and technical skills may be required, depending on the nature of the project. Whatever the profile of the expert, his legitimacy must be indisputable to provide reliable insight.
The main principles of the DELPHI method
6 main principles must be respected when implementing the DELPHI method:
- THE’anonymity : the experts are anonymous. In this way, everyone freely delivers their expertise, without fear of criticism, and the results become more reliable.
- THE’independence : the expert cannot be in a situation of dependence, the slightest political or commercial pressure running the risk of distorting the objectivity of the results.
- The legitimacy : each expert interviewed masters the subject to perfection, to avoid wasting time.
- The representativeness : the panel of experts faithfully represents all the skills required for the project. The panel is also representative in number, the opportunity to obtain divergent opinions which enrich the debate.
- The collectivity : on the occasion of questions, each answer is taken into account by the analysts. The divergences are analyzed in the same way as the convergences, without ruling out any answer.
- THE’objectivity : when developing the initial questionnaire, then enriching it with each new round, the analysts ensure that the questions are formulated in an objective manner, without influencing the answer.
The 4 steps of the DELPHI method
To implement the method, 4 iterative steps with the final objective in mind: the DELPHI method makes it possible to verify the advisability and feasibility of the project, and helps in decision-making.
- Step 1: the analyst defines the purpose of the consultation.
- Step 2: Based on this object, the analyst selects the relevant experts. The panel, in fine, must be representative in number and expertise. Example: for the redesign of a website, the analyst chooses not only developer technicians to study the feasibility, but also marketing experts for the user experience aspect. And to exploit reliable results, the analyst chooses several experts by area of expertise. If the quantity is as important as the quality, be careful not to bring in a disproportionate number of experts, in order to avoid further slowing down the implementation of the DELPHI method.
- Step 3: the analyst develops the questionnaire based again on the object of the consultation, so as not to lose sight of the objective. These can be open and closed questions, to exploit both qualitative and quantitative results.
- Step 4: The analyst sends the questionnaire to each expert and processes the answers.
At the end of step 4, return to step 3: the analyst enriches the questionnaire with the results and comments of the previous round, then sends it again to the panel. This is an opportunity for each expert to reconsider his response in light of the responses of others. The new responses are then analyzed. The use of successive feedback, during each new turn, is an essential characteristic of the DELPHI method. The analyst judges the opportune number of laps to be completed, and closes the consultation. The analyst then writes his summary report, which dictates the orientations to be given to the project.
When to use the DELPHI method?
The DELPHI method is considered cumbersome to implement, particularly insofar as it involves many players. The process is also long, since several turns are necessary to reach the goal. These limitations of the DELPHI method make it unthinkable when decision-making must be prompt.
The DELPHI method is appropriate for large-scale projects, complex by nature and requiring a significant investment. In this context, in fact, this investigative tool based on collective intelligence secures decision-making. 2 major advantages of using the DELPHI method in the context of project management:
- If the DELPHI method involves a group, the questionnaire is sent to each expert individually and anonymously. In doing so, the project manager avoids the risk of pressure and the phenomenon of influence. When exchanges are indeed face to face, the consultation is often dominated by the most charismatic speaker or the most senior. Individual consultation also limits the “bandwagon” effect, which leads respondents to follow the collective opinion. With the DELPHI method, the results gain in objectivity and exhaustiveness.
- The expert at each new turn is enlightened by the others, he is thus able to continue his reflection in a more intensive way. In the context of a complex project, the DELPHI method makes it possible to better understand in detail and in depth all aspects of the project. The manager also anticipates in a more advanced way the opportunities and potential obstacles. By highlighting the consensuses but also the divergences, this technique offers consolidated results, more reliable.
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