Dot Voting – Evaluating Ideas, Prioritizing Action

What’s New? Within the course of managing a project to completion or evaluating the delivery of a program, brainstorming sessions can be useful to creatively evaluate and solve problems. Dot Voting is a simple tool that provides an equitable means for team members’ voices to be heard and to quickly reach a consensus on prioritizing issues and identifying trends or major gaps. This process can be done in real time in a matter of minutes and requires no special data collection or synthesis tools.

What Is the Tool? Dot Voting

Dot Voting is a process in which a team can take a large amount of data and quickly gain focus on the most relevant elements based on the team’s shared analysis. It is typically used in brainstorming or problem-solving sessions.

The team starts by creating a one-sentence descriptor of the purpose or theme of the exercise. A facilitator collects inputs from the team and visually displays them on a whiteboard or flip board. Each input should represent a single idea or thought that is relevant to the theme of the session. Once all the data has been collected and visually displayed, each member of the team will be provided with an equal number of adhesive “dots”, which can be purchased at any office-supply store. The number of dots provided to each team member is discretionary (typically 3-4) and is normally based upon the number of team members and items that were created in the brainstorming session.

Team members will then “vote” with their dots by affixing them to the highest-impact elements. They are free to apply all dots to a single item or distribute them across multiple elements. Typically, voting is done silently so as to not influence the voters. Once the voting has been completed by all participants, the team will then be able to identify high-priority elements and trends. Based on the purpose of the exercise, the project manager can then create an action plan to focus on the highest-impact items.

What Are the Benefits?

  • Provides a mechanism to take large amounts of data and quickly organize and prioritize the key elements
  • Leverages the collective wisdom of the team
  • Provides an equitable way for all the voices on the team to be heard and have accountability in prioritizing key issues
  • Provides focus to ensure the team is working on the most critical issues
  • Serves as a “front end” for a more rigorous and focused analysis, such as a root-cause analysis process
  • Provides context between all the data generated in a brainstorming session and the most important elements using a graphical representation
  • Ties problem solving to a pragmatic tool that leads to high-priority action


Which Business Problems Do We Solve?

Dot Voting helps prevent “analysis paralysis” by quickly identifying high-impact issues. In addition, this tool can quickly get a team in alignment and ensure that time and resources are not wasted because of a lack of clarity or agreement.

What Are some Considerations?

Dot Voting cannot be applied to all types of data analysis or decision making. But when you need to get concurrence on the “big picture” and there is a large amount of data within the team, it can help you focus the team in the right direction and can serve as a basis for a more detailed analysis.

Case Study

Gizmo, Inc. has just launched the latest version of its flagship product Giz 2.0, barely in time for the holiday buying season. In order to make the deadline and ensure the product was in stores, the company had to drop features, air-ship the product from the manufacturer, and do last-minute updates of the firmware. With the product out the door, the team is now conducting a post-mortem to understand all the unplanned events that forced them to make these costly decisions.

The post-mortem meeting is led by the program manager and attended by the leads from the cross-functional team (product management, industrial design, user experience, software and hardware engineering, QA, manufacturing, supply chain management, finance, and customer support). The discussion is framed with the question “What are the key factors that led to the decision to eliminate desired features to ensure that the product was shipped in time for the holiday buying season?” Each team member comes to the meeting with project materials to participate in a fact-based discussion that addresses the agreed-upon theme.

The program manager leads the brainstorming session by capturing inputs from the team members and writing them on stickies affixed to a whiteboard. The discussion is only meant to clarify language, not to debate the merit of the inputs. Once the brainstorming is completed, each member of the team is given 3 dots to vote on their top items of highest impact. Voting is done silently so as to not influence the voters, and each person can either assign all of their dots to a single item or disperse them across multiple items.