Expert judgment is when you call in an expert with a specific area of expertise to get a skilled opinion. These experts can be external consultants or internal team members, so long as they have the required knowledge base. Learn how and when to use expert judgment in project management.
When working on any project, you run into topics, challenges, or questions you simply don’t know how to resolve. That’s when you need an expert. Project managers use expert judgment to solve complex problems during high-impact projects. These experts are uniquely qualified to make decisions based on their years of experience. Learn how expert judgment works and when to use it in your work.
Expert judgment is when you call in an expert to get a skilled opinion. It’s an estimation methodology for project planning that relies on the expert’s opinion to estimate quantitative project details, such as timelines and potential resources.
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), expert judgement is one of the most common project management planning tools. In the PMBOK® Guide, they suggest expert judgment as a potential tool in every single one of their six processes. Specialized knowledge is expensive, so hiring a skilled full-time employee to give expert judgement is not always cost-effective. Instead, many companies hire external experts to complete assessments, using them to monitor and control project work in specific areas.
One of the reasons expert judgement is so common is because it can be applied to a variety of situations. It’s a useful way to get external insight into your work, but it’s subjective and needs guidelines. Often, you’ll use expert judgment to assist with resource management. For example, an expert can help you determine how many resources you need to launch a new product, feature, or even a new company if you’re in the startup stages.
You can also use expert judgment:
When the stakes are high. If you have a high-impact project coming up, it helps to get validation from experts before you move forward.
Before project planning. If you’re developing a project charter before you create a project plan, you might want to bring in an expert to review it and confirm that your project is viable.
For cost management. When you’re determining cost estimates for product pricing or even hiring, having an expert on hand will help you get as close as possible to a realistic number.
During decision-making. You can use expert judgment in a decision-making framework, such as RACI, or during routine decisions. If you use RAPID, having an expert as the decision-maker role helps you get full use of expert opinions.
With forecasting. Experts can help you weigh factors such as the current macro environment or market fit during forecasting, to help you get an accurate estimate on potential sales.
For risk management. An expert can review and analyze your risk assessment, risk analysis, and risk responses to determine how high-risk different scenarios are, so you can be prepared for any likely outcome.
Delphi technique: Running through the expert judgment process once will leave you with one expert’s opinion, but these can be biased. The Delphi technique continues the expert judgment process repeatedly in an effort to remove those cognitive biases.
Expert elicitation: When a group of experts in a specific knowledge area form one, cohesive opinion. Usually used when there’s less data or resources available.
Your experts will vary depending on your needs—they could be anyone, from a team member to a consultant you fly in for a unique situation. Your experts can be:
Internal project team members. Your team is likely already made up of experts. This is the easiest place (and often the first place) to look for experts.
Subject matter experts. These are experts with a deep knowledge base of a specific subject. For example, if you manage a manufacturing company, you’d likely bring in a procurement expert when you’re looking for new potential suppliers. Subject matter experts can be external consultants or in-house experts. The benefits of using someone outside of your organization is that they come without biases and can be more objective.
Project managers. Project managers often have a deep understanding of their subject matter. When using project managers as your experts, watch for biases that come from working in the same field as you.
Project stakeholders. Stakeholders can come from different backgrounds and perform a variety of different roles. As a result, many of them are experts. Don’t be afraid to lean on them for their valuable judgment.
It's not enough to just talk to an expert—you need to clarify what you want and expect from them in order for the relationship to be successful. By clearly defining the inputs, outputs, and expectations of the project, you and your expert can benefit from a structured expert judgment process that satisfies everyone.
Before you can engage your expert, you must have a thorough understanding of your problem. Make sure you know exactly what’s already been completed, where the issue stands, and what you need from your expert.
Be as specific as possible here. The more targeted your questions, the better your expert’s answers will be. Using your research from the previous step, develop clear questions. The questions you ask can be complex, but should be clear enough for the expert to understand and answer.
Choose the experts that best fit the needs of this specific problem or project. For example, if you’re working on product distributions, you’ll want to involve experts who understand your industry’s supply chain and the target market. Then explain the problem to them, sharing all resources and project documents so they have the knowledge they need to pass effective judgment.
Send your questions off to your selected experts. If you’re using project management software, you can attach relevant analyses and documents directly to the questions. Then when your experts respond, you can see their answers in real-time.
Once you have answers from your experts, it’s up to you to review them and determine how you’re going to use the information. To further mitigate bias, you might want to use a peer review process made up of multiple experts to ensure you’re getting the most accurate data.
Create a report of all the judgements you receive. Save it as one central source of truth, so you can easily share the results with stakeholders.
Once you have your results neat and tidy, send them out to all stakeholders for review. At this stage, you’ll also start to discuss if you need another round of expert judgment. Mostly, you repeat the process if stakeholders spot errors or have additional questions.
When you’re estimating key project, product, or company initiatives, you’re never going to be 100 percent sure—but using experts can help you get as close as possible to the results you need.