Nominal group technique
Project management and program management involves a tedious process of coming up with a feasible solution to stakeholders’ needs. Any big project could be broken down in smaller task that would need a solution of their own. While a standard brainstorming technique could be used in such situations, there are certain occasions when it might not be the best solution and detrimental to reaching a working solution. The Nominal Group Technique is designed specifically for groups where opinions and expertise between members might differ and members of the working group have no prior experience in working with each other. The application of the NGT also provides a good base for building and working together as effective project team.
In 1971, Andre L. Delbecq and Andrew H. Van De Ven first developed and presented the idea of a nominal group in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences and it targeted two functions: a) identifying strategic problems, b) developing appropriate and innovative programs to solve them. As suggested by its name, the Nominal group Technique is only ‘nominal’, since there is no interaction between group members and ranking of the ideas is performed on an individual basis. It has an extensive application in various fields including, education, business, social services and governmental organizations, but more specifically its importance can be observed when utilized in project management, change management, organizational development, performance evaluation and consumer research.
Nominal group technique (NGT) is a method used for group brainstorming in which each participant has an equal part in participation. It is especially effective when used within groups of 5-10 people and ensures that every member is engaged and the probability of reaching an agreement is highly increased. A particularity of this NGT is that it is proven effective in groups where tensions are high, groups where people are not used to working together or groups where some members may be seen as more senior and thus inhibit the voices of those with a lower status. Key difference between NGT and regular brainstorming is that it each member is supposed to come up with their solution, it prioritizes ideas and assigns weights to them, making it much easier to select the best ones. This way the members that otherwise might shy away from involvement in the brainstorming, are ensured to participate, rather than just having a few employees dominating the brainstorming session. An empirical study conducted on the effectiveness of the NGT has shown that besides the aforementioned benefits, it also yields a larger number of ideas.
Due to the nature of the NGT, it being more time consuming, requiring careful preparation and having strict requirements to its execution, it poses the question as to why would NGT be preferred to any other group brainstorming technique. Nancy R. Tague outlines in he book “The Quality Toolbox” that there are certain situations when the NGT functions better, namely being designed for cases:
- When some people are more vocal than others
- Some members think better in silence
- When there is concern about some members not participating
- When a group cannot easily generate a sufficient quantity of ideas
- When all or some group members are new to the team
- When the issue is controversial or there is heated conflict
Generally, it is recommended for a project manager to choose the NGT when the team he works with exhibits any of the above characteristics. The project manager should do an appropriate assessment of the issues that are to be addressed and decide whether a traditional brainstorming session could be more appropriate instead. The NGT is more effective and vital on projects of greater size, and longer periods, as the results of it are more likely to set the project on the correct path. The NGT therefore is an appropriate technique to be implemented in Project workshops, Risk assessments, Resource allocation, Analysis of project requirements, and arguably the most important part of any project management professional, in Decision making.
The application of the Nominal Group Technique relates to the Team Performance Domain of project management. The goal of an effective leadership is to create High Performing Project Teams which can be achieved through a number of factors, some of them being open communication, shared understanding, shared ownership, collaboration, empowerment and recognition.  The NGT is a powerful tool that takes these factors into account and helps shift the group dynamic towards a direction where despite any differences between group members, they could work together on common problem and exhibit equal contribution to reach a consensus on various issues throughout the project.
The structure of the nominal group technique is one of the unique characteristics which differentiates it from other group thinking techniques. At a glance, it seems relatively self explanatory, but once we start deconstructing each step individually, it becomes evident that the NGT is much more elaborate and orhanized. The nominal group technique is comprised of four stages:
- Individual idea generation
- Group discussion
- Ranking and voting
However, to fully make use of the NGT, its standard procedure has to follow the below outlined seven steps:
- Generation of ideas by members
- Idea registration
- Discussion of ideas
- Prioritization of ideas
- Selection of the best solutions
- Discussion of results
Further, each one will be elaborated on individually and the importance will be outlined.
In contrast to the regular brainstorming session which could be done spontaneously, NGT requires a certain amount of time for preparation. It begins with the selection of individuals which will be involved, who are knowledgeable with the issue at hand. A room is prepared with a board, writing materials and a facilitator must be present who has prior experience in conducting or participating in previous nominal groups. The success of the nominal group reaching a decision lies in the ability of the facilitator to conduct such a meeting. It is imperative that the person conducting the NGT session is someone knowledgeable in the topic under examination, and fully comprehends the final outcomes and goal that are to be achieved as a result of the session. The manner and depth of the questions asked will dictate the extent of the discussion. In project management it is usually the Project Manager himself who will act as a facilitator or the Team Leader, who is the second in charge of the project.
Generation of ideas by members
After everything has been arranged and the meeting is in session, the members of the nominal group will be presented with the issue. Following that, members will generate their own ideas in silence on a paper. Any discussion between members is not allowed in order to avoid the possibility of groupthink. Enough time should be provided for all participants to register their solutions.
Following the idea generation, the facilitator conducts a round-robin during which each member voices their idea on how to address the problem. Each idea is captured on a chart. It is acceptable for a member to not have a solution to propose, in which case he might choose to pass, however he should not do that for every round, as NGT implies involvement of all group members. This step is key in the nominal group technique and any negative influence upon a member’s solution-forming should not be allowed. For the nominal group session to be a success, a number a number of rules should be followed:
- Criticism of other members’ ideas is prohibited - that includes laughter or groans or any other visual or auditory representation of disapproval which could discourage participants to express their opinions in the future.
- No evaluation of other people’s ideas. This step is designed specifically for idea generation only, no other actions should be undertaken during this time.
- Quantity over quality – as the more ideas are suggested, the bigger the pool to later choose from. Feasibility of ideas is assessed at a later stage. It might seem counterintuitive, however in the end, the NGT does produce more qualitative results than other group thinking / brainstorming techniques. 
Alternatively, the facilitator can opt to have all the written down answers to be collected and then register them on a flip chart himself, thus to preserve the anonymity of the participants' answers. This could further reduce the participant's need to 'play it safe', as the lack of anonymity could make some people cautious about what they choose to say. The round-robin is complete once each member has presented their solutions.
Discussion of ideas
Each idea is taken separately and given a larger attention to detail to ensure a better understanding of it by other members. If any of the ideas are similar, they may be combined together into a single one. Any wording of an idea can only be changed is its originator agrees. Ideas can be removed from the list, but only when agreed upon by unanimous decision. The facilitator should pay close attention to ensure that discussion does not turn in an argument, since the objective is clarification and understanding rather then settling conflicting viewpoints. It is not critical for participants to agree on all ideas and any remaining concerns and personal preferences will be recorded for future considerations. 
Prioritization of ideas
The members vote on all solution to show which ones they consider more feasible. This can be done in many ways, but the most common one is assigning weights on a certain scale. The scale should not be to broad, rather a 3 or 5 point scale. The smallest number is allocated to the least feasible solution, while the greatest number is given to the most feasible one. The ranking of each member is registered on the chart for a better visualization of results. Selection of the best solution The weights are then summed up and the items with the highest total scores are considered to be the top choices. Discussion of results The final step is addressing the validity of the choices. Members of the NG are asked once again if they consider the chosen solutions to be the most feasible ones. They can also be asked if they would like to change any of the given rankings. Following the final adjustments, the facilitator announces the decision of the best solution based on the results reached by the nominal group.
The nominal group technique is more superior to other group thinking techniques, because instead of just being a basic idea generation machine, it incorporates a basis for analysis of ideas, allow project managers together with their teams to decide on the optimal solution. Additionally, it creates a sense of cohesion within as each member gains equal value in the process and moving forward this can also translate within the project itself. When used correctly, it can present the following benefits:
- Ensures balanced and equal participation of all group members
- Interactive groups can inhibit the performance and participation of some group members, as the usual "brainstorming" allows people to speak freely and impulsively, in which case generally only the more well-developed ideas get voiced. The NGT excludes such behavior by making it mandatory for all members to get involved in the process. The round-robin specifically ensures that well spoken (verbally active) members of the group do not monopolize the conversation. It is important to note that consensus does not equal the "correct" answer,  however as any brainstorming session, the outcome is the result that is perceived by everyone as being the best. The perfect answer can never be reached, but due to the NGT giving equal voice to all participants, the resulting outcome is more likely to take multiple aspect in consideration that otherwise would be ignored.
- Generated ideas might have more creativity compared to those generated in interactive groups
- According to researches "creativity can often be facilitated by following specific group processes", and a distinct feature of the nominal group technique is that it provides structure to the group meeting.
- The number of ideas is increased compared to traditional interactive groups
- Previous performed comparisons showed that nominal groups are able to come up with a larger number of solutions and a higher quality ones too, operating under fixed time periods. It has been speculated that if the main criteria for idea generation was the number of ideas or number of good ideas, the interaction between group members can become dysfunctional.
- Prioritization and raking ensure that only the best ideas will be selected
- The outcome of the NGT is quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative in a sense of voted-upon list of solutions. Qualitative because it involves an in-depth discussion during which critical information can surface.
- Reduces the possibility of conflict, arguments, heated disagreements that are usually common in in-person meetings
- This is mostly achieved due to the facilitator's strict adherence to NGT guidelines and him imposing them on on the team members during the meeting. Any attempts of deviation from the aforementioned methodology and its application should normally be trumped by the facilitator. The facilitator ensures that everyone is given the opportunity to speak, at the appropriate time and when it does not interfere with another member's participation.
- All participants will feel a certain degree of accomplishment as each of them had something to contribute with and voice their views
- Employees feel enthusiastic and consider themselves valued when they are made a part in the group decision making process.  By working together, the participants can experience the kind of synergy that is regarded as the technique’s main plus point.
While it is regarded as an effective project management tool, the nominal group technique is not always the correct approach to take when targeting issues in project management. Some of its limitations and implementation requirements might discourage people from using it. It is important to take into account the below shortcomings of the NGT when deciding on its usage, by assessing the resources and the constraints of the project itself.
- Extensive preparation and participation
- Perhaps one of the greatest drawback of the NGT is that all participants must be called upon to participate in-person. Such a requirement is not always possible to fulfill, since in the modern world depending on the projects, many require teams to be split between different locations and some participants can find it burdensome to come, which result in nonattendance. As previously mentioned the NGT is applied in small groups of 5 - 10 people. Therefore on one hand, ensuring the presence of a smaller number of people should prove easier, however the absence of one or two can even more reduce the already small group.
- Suitability to problem
- The NGT idea generation is done in written form. That makes it unsuitable for some situations that might require a longer and more elaborate solution involving graphics or other additional interactive inputs. The format of the NGT can also be considered, by some, less stimulating compared to traditional brainstorming. 
- Resource and time demanding
- Similar to the above, writing answers down is also time consuming. The voting and ranking is a long an tedious process, that often has to be repeated numerous times before the participants can agree on a final solution. This is associated with additional time allocation requirements and thus it is not the best technique to use when a consensus has to be reached within a limited timeframe.
- Facilitator skills
- It is mandatory for the facilitator of the nominal group to be someone knowledgeable in the subject at hand, and trained to conduct such a session. Therefore, the nominal group technique cannot be outsourced to be conducted by a third-party. The outcome of the NGT fully relies on the skills of the facilitator maintaining a grip on the session and stirring it in the right direction.
- Addressing of issues
- The NGT is not very flexible in the sense that it only allows for one issue to be addressed at a time and the group can only move on to the next one once a consensus has been reached on the issue at hand. The project manager therefore has to prioritize the subjects and if some of them present similarities, combine them together such that generated solution could address the issues simultaneously.
1. Project Management: A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide), 7th Edition (2021)
- The book presents principles for project managers that guide their actions when managing individual projects. It provides an in-depth instructions/guidelines for project managers that need to be followed in order to build a cohesive team that will generate positive project results. The book outlines a number of factors that define such a cohesive team and the list strongly correlates with the principles and guidelines describing the nominal group technique.
2. Delbecq, Andre & Ven, Andrew. (1971). A Group Process Model For Problem Identification and Program Planning. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 7. 466-492. 10.1177/002188637100700404.
- The article presents an outline of the original nominal group technique model and the structure of the meeting that could be used by project/program managers when implementing the NGT. It also presents some factors which serve as evidence of NGT's superiority over other techniques.
3. Fox, W.M. (1989), "The Improved Nominal Group Technique (INGT)", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 20-27.
- The paper introduces the notion of the "Improved Nominal Group Technique" which builds on the original NGT. It talks about some of the limitations of the original NGT and the improvements that have been done to overcome those. It also provides some alternatives to the methodology of the NGT that aim to improve member participation and increase anonymity of their answers.
4. Islam, R. (2010). ‘Group decision making through nominal group technique: an empirical study’, J. International Business and Entrepreneurship Development, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp.134–153.
- The paper outlines the steps of implementing the nominal group technique within a group as well as the rules that have to be adhered to in order for the NGT to be successful. Rafikul Islam elaborates on the distinct features that make the NGT distinguishable and provides an analysis of the outputs that can be generated by various NGT sessions.
5. Manera, Karine; Hanson, Camilla S.; Gutman, Talia; Tong, Allison. (2019) “Handbook of Research Methods in Health Social Sciences”, Sydney School of Public Health, pp. 737-750.
- The book shows some advantages and disadvantages when using the NGT and provides an overview of methods when conducting the technique. The book mostly presents the technique's implementation in the medical field however excerpt from it could effectively be used in project and program management as well.
6. Tague, Nancy R. (2009). “The quality toolbox. Second Edition.”. ASQ Quality Press.
- The book talks about brainstorming techniques and singles out the NGT to provide a better description of it. The author talks about when is it appropriate to use the NGT and briefly touches on the procedure of it.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 ,Delbecq, Andre & Ven, Andrew. (1971). A Group Process Model For Problem Identification and Program Planning. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 7. 466-492. 10.1177/002188637100700404.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 ,Islam, R. (2010). ‘Group decision making through nominal group technique: an empirical study’, J. International Business and Entrepreneurship Development, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp.134–153.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 Tague, Nancy R. (2009). “The quality toolbox. Second Edition.”. ASQ Quality Press.
- ↑ ,Project Management: A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide), 7th Edition (2021)
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 ,Manera, Karine; Hanson, Camilla S.; Gutman, Talia; Tong, Allison. (2019) “Handbook of Research Methods in Health Social Sciences”, Sydney School of Public Health, pp. 742.
- ↑ ,Fox, W.M. (1989), "The Improved Nominal Group Technique (INGT)", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 22