Methods of Prioritization

In Jean Tabaka’s new book, “Collaboration Explained : Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders“, she describes several methods of collaboratively prioritizing a list of items (for example a project’s work item list). The methods she suggests are excellent, and I would strongly recommend the book. However, there are a couple variations and additional methods that I have used successfully that I would like to share.


1) Round the Group prioritization:
group size 3-8
item list size < 15

Items are written on cards and placed in random order linearly either vertically or horizontally.

The members of the group each take turns placing the items in the order they think is the proper priority order. While doing so, each person moving the cards is welcome to explain their reasoning. However, the other group members refrain from commenting on the new prioritization.

This continues around the group as many times as it takes to find a stable order.

2) Ping Pong Balls:
group size 1-12
item list size > 15

(Thanks to Ken Schwaber for this method)

A fixed number of ping pong ball units are given to the group. The ping pong balls represent units of one dimension for prioritization such as value, risk or cost.

The group discusses how to allocate ping pong balls to each item in a dynamic fashion until everyone agrees that the allocation makes sense.

For very large lists, this is easiest to do in a spreadsheet with fewer people involved.

3) Variation: 2-stage multi-voting with voter freedom
group size 5-20
item list size < 50

This is identical to the public multi-voting system Jean describes with the following changes:

First, there is no restriction on how votes are allocated to items. A person can put multiple votes on a single item and can withhold some or all of her votes.

Second, after everyone has “finished” voting, the facilitator calls for everyone to step back and think about the results. Some discussion is allowed about the consequences of the results. Finally, everyone is given an opportunity to move their votes.

For large groups with large lists this can be somewhat awkward as people might forget where they voted. In this case, and if anonymity is not required, each person can use small post-it tabs with an identifying mark on them so that they can easily be moved around in the second stage.


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