Project Management

Understanding Expert Judgment

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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.


Wise Judgments

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:

  1. Frame the problem.
  2. Plan the elicitation of expert opinions.
  3. Select the appropriate experts.
  4. Brief/train the experts so they can contribute effectively.
  5. Elicit their opinions/judgments.
  6. Analyze and combine the information to create your expert judgment.
  7. 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?

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: July 30, 2017 09:05 PM | Permalink

Comments (26)

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Thanks for good article. That's a easy guideline to understand "Expert Judgment"

Excellent article!

Very good & elaborate information on expert judgement. A project manager cannot be an expert in every area, but PM who has expertise in the field he works helps him to take right decision. PM has to train himself to a level, where he can understand the expertise options provided the expert, so that he shall take a cognitive judgement on expert opinion.

Always a PM with expertise in his field will be respected.

Great article... After reading this,i found it is easy to understand the concept.

Thanks for the comments - however Subramanyam, I must disagree with your premise - the key skill a project manager needs is the ability to bring the right experts into the decision-making process and then make sure a good decision is reached in the timeframe required. This is a facilitative skill (and good project managers are experts at this). There are many dangers if the project manager tries to be the lead technical expert in the project he or she is managing starting with the creation of a major bottleneck in decision making and severely reducing the range of options tabled to facilitate the decision-making process.

Concise and easy to understand the concept,it's great!

As a former professional facilitator, I totally get what Lynda is saying.

Even as a facilitator, I need a minimum of knowledge in order to properly understand and guide the group through the processess of decision making and/or taking actions.

That is how I understood Subramanyam's comment.

Agree completely with your point Stéphane you cannot be an expert facilitator, or decision maker if you do not understand the significance of what is being said by the experts. But this role is a very different use of knowledge to being the expert.

Thank you Lynda Bourne for the information.

Yeah, Thanks Lynda for our comment, I do agree that Project manager job is to Facilitate experts. As Stephane mentioned, I shall not intervene into the expert job as a manager, but I need to pickup right experts and also take right decisions from pool of expert opinions which require some level of understanding of the technical expertise.

I think we have an interesting concept - the project manager should be a leading expert in applying expert judgment effectively :-)

I agree with Lynda, it's dangerous waters when the PM want's to be an expert, not just because of decision bottlenecks and she points out, but also because of accountability. Do PM's really want the weight of expert status on their heads in addition to the various complexities of project, management and leadership skills they will already need to possess, in addition to juggling competing knowledge areas of the project? The PM just needs to be an expert in project management and nothing else in order to be effective, and that is a tall enough order in itself.

Thanks Lynda for sharing this article, I agree with most of the comments, the project manager does not need to be an expert on topics he is leading, needs the knowledge of a technical leader, and the PM should be a leading expert on Projects.
Pm's expertise is know how to select the best choice, and he can be leaning on the project team and especific topics experts

good article and well thoughts on the subject of expert judgment. Thanks

good article and well thoughts on the subject of expert judgment. Thanks

When it comes to making an expert judgment there are four basic options:
1. If the decision is needed quickly or has relatively limited consequences, and the project manager has the expertise, the PM uses his/her knowledge to make the decision.
2. If the decision is needed quickly and has relatively limited consequences, but the project manager does not have the expertise, the PM delegates the decision making to an expert.
3. If the decision is important and the project manager has the expertise, the PM seeks advice and suggestion from others and based on this input uses his/her knowledge to make the decision.
4. If the PM is not an expert in the subject matter of the decision, or the decision has major consequences, the PM facilitates the obtaining of expert advice from others and facilitates the decision-making process.

Thanks for the article
On your last comment, on point 2 the PM should seek information from expert and make the decision.

Hi Vincent, Your suggestion applies only if the project manager is a control freak and wants to slow down progress on a $100 million project by being the sole decision maker. Good managers know how to delegate effectively.

Good article. Thanks for sharing.

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