In the agile community, many use collaborative voting techniques to quickly identify agreement or lack thereof. Dot voting is a popular technique used to prioritize among a number of different options. In this post, I introduce a favorite method of mine, Yell Voting, which has similar applications as dot voting, but generates more excitement and fun.

Dot Voting

Dot voting is effective for ranking multiple options. All individuals have the same number of votes, represented as dots, which they can spread across one or more distinct options. Each item on the list has to be granular and well understood by everyone, and then the voting begins.

For example, perhaps there is a list of 10 items identified in a retrospective and the team wants to narrow down the list to a couple they will work on. Everyone has three dots to vote on the retrospective items. Some will put one dot each on three different items, others might choose to put all three dots on one option, or perhaps two dots on one option and one on another.

Teams often use stickers and take turns applying them to a list of choices on a flip chart, or they use dry erase pens on a whiteboard to create their dots. There are electronic versions for distributed agile teams.

In many cases, a single round of dot voting will identify the top ranked choices. If not, multiple rounds of voting can be used as the list gets shorter.

Yell Voting

A frequent favorite of mine is “yell voting.”

Although I never have seen or heard anyone else using this approach, my guess is that I’m not the first to use it and it might be known by other names. Either way, yell voting is a faster, more energetic version of dot voting used to prioritize among multiple options.

As it’s name implies, yell voting requires, well, yelling.

Like dot voting, we first setup a list of granular choices (e.g. user stories to prioritize) and ensure people have a good understanding of the choices prior to voting. After an option is read out loud and re-explained, the group votes by yelling for the items they support.

If an option doesn’t get much energy, it gets crossed out.

I almost always do it in multiple rounds. For the second round, we look at all remaining options in the list, with the bar set higher for energy level. Once again, low energy options get crossed out. On this second pass, clear leaders often emerge and when they do, they get check marks.

Depending on the list, and the attendees, it can take several passes to go through the list. If we are not forming a consensus on items that should bubble to the top, I often add new constraints, like only allowing each person to yell for three items.

Although yell voting appears to be less precise than dot voting, the lack of precision is not an issue (at least in my experience) when used by larger groups, and the technique becomes a faster, more energetic way of getting fairly similar results. It’s also more fun.

When I use yell voting, there are often a couple of people who will state that it’s unscientific. For example, someone will say, “People who are passionate about a choice will yell louder, and thus change the outcome of the vote.” My response is always, “That’s the point!”

Another concern is that introverts won’t participate. There is a belief that the only way to get introverts to participate is to use silent techniques, like writing ideas on index cards. But I find that the anonymity of the crowd often (e.g. not always) encourages introverts to participate, and increases the probability that they will participate more actively in other discussions. Even introverts like to have fun!

Not An Either/Or

I don’t consider yell voting a replacement for dot voting as it doesn’t work in all circumstances. For example I would use traditional dot voting in more formal environments like a corporate boardroom. I would also use it with a distributed agile team.

Yell voting is not a replacement for dot voting, and just like dot voting, the technique simply identifies opinions. A good facilitator should try to understand the reasons behind the votes.

If you want to try yell voting, a less risky approach is to use it to whittle down an initial list then use dot voting to choose from among the final candidates. If your experience is like mine, you often won’t need to do that final round.

So, try giving it a yell and write back to tell us how it works.