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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

How Much Should We Trust Experts?

Project, Program, Portfolio Management
Experts should be used carefully!

“Having the data is not the same as having the expertise to look through the data - if it were, everybody with a smartphone would be a doctor or a scientist.” Abhijit Naskar, Mucize Insan: When The World is Family

“Without the opinion of an expert there's no such thing as certainty.” Joanna Ruocco

I intentionally picked these quotes because they show two common misperceptions about experts:

  1. Expertise in a domain isn't the same as expertise in data analysis.

  2. Experts seldom bring certainty.

Project managers are process experts who understand the most efficient and effective way to get from Point A (current state) to point B (desired state). Since we are process experts, we use people with expertise in other domains to assist with every phase of our project.

In a predictive project, we ask experts for their input on everything! At the beginning of the project we ask experts for assistance in understanding the organizational context of the project, and they help us establish high level scope, cost and schedule. Experts help us to understand the best way to elicit requirements, and once those requirements are gathered, they help us understand what is in scope.

Experts help us decompose those requirements into the Work Breakdown Structure, and at the Work Package level they help us understand how long the work will take, what resources are required and how much it will cost. We use experts for assistance with procurement , quality, communication, and risk identification and response planning.

When our project plan is approved, we use experts to do the work and report on their progress.

It seems we should trust our experts.

Not so fast!

There are three aspects to every question you ask an expert:

1. Am I asking the right question?

2. Am I asking the right expert?

3. What level of precision is required.

Over the next couple of posts, I’ll apply these parameters to the rather controversial question of the efficacy of masks to combat COVID – 19.

Do you see it? There is a problem with how I framed the issue. If you don't see it, you need to read my next couple of posts.

If you are going to be a successful project manager, you need to understand the correct way to use experts opinions and when to ignore them.


One of the casualties of COVID-19 was a trust in experts. Many of us were already skeptical, but watching public health officials and politicians repeatedly get big items wrong was jarring. The public's blind faith in “experts” is gone. Nefarious motives aside, I think the next couple of posts should shed some light on why they either got it wrong or were misinterpreted.


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