What is a dot vote?
Dot voting has been used by meeting facilitators since the 1980s and is a big part of the design sprint method pioneered by Google Ventures.
Dot voting is a quick and easy way for groups to settle on a consensus. The method is transparent and gives everybody on the team a voice.
A series of options are presented on Post It notes or in some similar fashion on a wall or other surface. Group participants are then issued an equal number of small stickers that resemble dots. They are then asked to vote by applying a dot to their favourite options.
The option with the highest number of dots is determined to be the consensus of the group.
To avoid overwhelm and allow people the time to deeply consider their votes, keep the quantity of the options to a reasonable limit. Coming up with ideas is fun and can result in too many options, especially if you are using a tool like SCAMPER. If this is the case, ask your participants to only submit their two favourite options for consideration.
Aim for about a dozen options maximum so that people voting with their dots can truly take the time to contemplate their choices.
One of brainstorming’s advantages is that it allows new ideas to build on ideas already put forth. The team can riff on each other’s ideas. In dot voting, to allow the vote to proceed smoothly, the quantity of options is limited, and once the ideas are posted for voting, nobody can add options.
Dot voting almost never happens in isolation. In design sprints, for example, it happens after people have had a chance to hear what the others have to contribute and are free to be inspired by those ideas to come up with new ones.
Splitting the vote
The other problem is that similar options may split the vote, and so less truly popular options rise to the top. Let’s say you are going for lunch and everybody lists their restaurant suggestions for a dot vote. Pizza may be the preferred option, but if two pizza places are listed, they might lose to a less popular option because the votes are split across the two.
The facilitator should take a moment to examine all the options before you begin the vote. Look for items that seem very similar. If two items seem to overlap, consult the group to see if they can, for the purpose of voting, be reasonably consolidated.
You aren’t only doing this once
Design sprints, design thinking, lean startup and growth hacking all begin with the idea that the work of producing value is iterative. Make a decision, test it, then using the data uncovered, make another decision and test it. On and on.
The dot vote is a way to get the centre of gravity of the opinion of the room, but the goal is for that opinion to shift with feedback. Once a hypothesis is tested, the group will receive that feedback and their vote should be better informed next time.
Iteration gives every idea a second chance if someone on the team thinks it deserves it.
Less likely but not unheard of, undemocratic outcomes can result from dot tampering – individuals using extra dots or moving already placed dots.
Another issue is the risk of group-think. If early dot placers choose one option en masse, those that follow may be tempted to choose the same one as the “safe option”.
Group think and dot tampering can be eliminated by conducting a simple vote online. The clever folks at Qeek have created an online voting system called Just Vote. It’s an easy way to format a series of options, invite people to rank them online. It even tallies the votes automatically.