By Lynda Bourne
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) uses the concept of “expert judgment” in most of its processes, but only has a relatively brief description of the concept. It describes expert judgment as “judgment based on expertise appropriate for the activity being performed” and advises, “such expertise may be provided by any group or person with specialized education, knowledge, skills, experience or training.”
This description leaves three questions:
- What is expertise and how did you define it?
- What is the judgment process needed to apply the expertise?
- Where do you find the necessary expertise to assist you in making a wise judgment?
Obtaining the expertise necessary to arrive at a wise judgment is not the exclusive responsibility of the project manager—you do not have to be the expert! However, the project manager is undoubtedly responsible for the consequences of any judgments that are made.
Instead, project managers should focus on knowing how to obtain the necessary expert advice and how to use that advice to arrive at the best project decision.
Finding an Expert
The first challenge in applying expert judgment is identifying the right people with the right expertise to provide advice.
By definition, an expert is a person whose opinion—by virtue of education, training, certification, skills or experience—is recognized as holding authoritative knowledge. But this definition is subjective and different experts will frequently have very different opinions around the same question or set of facts.
Also, as the Dunning-Kruger effect explains, people with limited knowledge are often absolutely certain about the facts.
Experts, however, being more cognizant of what they don’t know and having the knowledge to appreciate the complexity and depth of a problem, will frequently only provide a probabilistic answer, such as, “I would suggest this option, but….”
The decision-maker must ensure that the information brought into the judgment process is the best information—not the information that is advocated most loudly.
The organization needs to make information available to its managers about the sources and types of expertise available, and the location of useful experts. This information needs to be updated on a regular basis and be accessible.
In the context of expert judgment, judgment is an action verb—it is the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions based on information and knowledge derived from the application of expertise. Consequently, while the project manager can, and frequently should, seek expert advice to help inform his or her judgment, ultimately the considered decision that comes out of the judgment process is the responsibility of the project manager.
The defining competence of every good manager, project managers included, is their ability to make effective and timely decisions. The challenge is balancing the decision’s importance, the timeframe in which the decision is required, the cost (including opportunity costs) accrued in reaching the decision and the availability of the resources used in the decision-making process.
The key elements of effective judgment are:
- Obtaining the best information available in the allotted time (you’ll never have all the desired information).
- Balancing and weighing information within an appropriate decision-making framework.
- Making the decision in the timeframe necessary.
The judgment portion of expert judgment is part of the individual manager’s skill set. Their innate abilities should be supported with training and a culture that rewards a proactive approach to deciding.
Making an Expert Judgment
Bringing expertise and decision-making skills together to form an expert judgment works best in a structured process. PMI’s publication, Expert Judgment in Project Management: Narrowing the Theory-Practice Gap, outlines the framework:
- Frame the problem.
- Plan the elicitation of expert opinions.
- Select the appropriate experts.
- Brief/train the experts so they can contribute effectively.
- Elicit their opinions/judgments.
- Analyze and combine the information to create your expert judgment.
- Document and communicate the results.
When significant decisions are needed on a regular basis within the organization, standard operating processes should be defined to reinforce the practice of obtaining an expert judgment using the organizations knowledge resources.
How do you go about making expert judgments?