Wide-band delphi estimation for Business Value – 1

Revised: 9/26/2023

Many, many teams and I have been doing wide-band delphi estimation of Business Value for several years now.

Let me report how we do it.

It helps build success in many ways, so you are likely to find these patterns useful. In fact, as far as we can tell, it is more successful than any other approach.

What is it?

You may want to look up wide-band delphi estimation in Wikipedia, and I recommend you read James Grenning’s article (PlanningPoker-v1.1) on wide-band delphi estimation for effort.

It is expert estimation. It is said to have been invented by the Rand Corporation in the 1950s, and they did a lot of research then. In my opinion, it must be older than that. Also, the ancient Greeks talked about the oracle of Delphi millennia ago, and expert estimation arises from that idea.

So, in this case, it means gathering, for a given set of work, your best experts on Business Value. I recommend about five people (five ‘experts’). Like the well-known Planning Poker, we use the Fibonacci cards to estimate relative Business Value. This is done after selecting the highest Business Value card (User Story, Product Backlog Item, etc.), and the estimates (guesses, opinions) are made in comparison to the highest story. The highest BV story becomes the ‘reference story’ and it is arbitrarily given 100 Business Value Points (BVPs). (You could give it another number; 100 BVPs seems to work well.)

I will explain more about the basics, but that’s the main idea — expert estimation.

Mike Cohn suggested it be called ‘Priority Poker’ to distinguish it from ‘Planning Poker’ for effort. I like that idea.


There might be many answers to this question, but here is why I think this technique is valuable.

First, I think the number (the Business Value Points assigned to each card, or ‘the guess’) will be valuable in several ways.

In my opinion, using numbers to vote drives useful conversations and learning.

Also, in my opinion, the key thing knowledge workers do is learn, or, you might say, create knowledge, and that happens best in a small team where diverse perspectives enable them to ‘fight,’ disagree, examine assumptions and alternative perspectives and then start to agree, or at least, average their opinions.

The exercise of doing Priority Poker enables them (and those watching them) to:

(a) see the same elephant
(b) become more motivated (they see better where the juice is)
(c) share the tacit knowledge

I will discuss the usefulness of priority poker more later.

Could it work for you?

Yes.  I say yes, definitely.

Since so many have tried it and found success, we feel confident in recommending it. So, it will probably help you. There really is nothing more to say.  Stop talking and try it.  The proof is in the pudding.

Before your colleagues have done it, you or they will wonder, “Will it work for me?” But after they have done it, there is never any question — in our experience so far.

I think I have heard accurately that if it is introduced to senior people by a person who does not have confidence, then the process can get derailed. At least I can honestly say no team I have worked with has ever refused to do it, or found it not useful.

So, because I have done this so often with so many different kinds of teams and situations, I am confident in saying ‘yes.’

Is it going to work for you?

Perhaps somewhere it will not work (when tried honestly), but in my opinion, you ought to give it a fair trial.

The more likely failure is that you find some business stakeholders who ask endless questions, and if you appear less than confident, they will not do it.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

So, for that reason, if they demand some explanation before doing it, you give them 15 minutes, but tell them at the beginning: “After the explanation, we’re just going to try it for a while. And I’ll explain more as we do it. And after an hour, you can decide whether to continue or not.”  If you have enough knowledge and some confidence, that will work.

If all else fails, invite me in, and we can do “Agile Release Planning” (which includes BV pointing), and I’ll get them to do it.

See Part 2.



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