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Efficient Prioritization: Dot Voting vs. Priority Poker in Product Management

11 Oct 20236 mins read
Adam Thomas
Efficient Prioritization: Dot Voting vs. Priority Poker in Product Management
By Adam Thomas

Product management teams have to make better decisions consistently to rise above the competition. Good decisions come from understanding your stakeholders, the market, and the overall business strategy, and recognizing that these inputs are constantly adjusting to reality. The map isn’t the territory, after all. 

Testing that reality is why product development teams have to work at a fast pace. Getting work done during a sprint can focus a team to try to validate hypotheses and clear backlog items. However, how do you know which items to work on? 

Efficient prioritization is a crucial aspect of product management, allowing teams to allocate their limited resources effectively and deliver value to customers. And let’s be clear, these days, as teams do their best to do more with less, and customers have more options to choose from, the teams that can cut through the noise and understand where they should apply resources will be the team to win. 

Two popular techniques that aid this process are dot voting and priority poker. In this article, we will delve into these methods, explore their benefits and limitations, and provide best practices for implementing them in product management.


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What is dot voting?

Dot voting is a simple yet effective method for prioritization. It involves team members visually indicating their preferences by placing dots on various options or ideas. The number of dots represents the level of importance assigned to each item. Through collaborative decision-making, dot voting helps teams quickly identify the most valuable items for further focus and development.

Dot voting

Dot voting example

Let’s say you are on a product management team, and you’ve got three hypotheses you want to test during the next sprint. 

The simplest method of dot voting would be to tell the team what your objective could be,  put those three hypotheses on Post-it notes, and have the team vote by assigning “dots” to the Post-it that helps complete the objective.

Benefits and limitations of dot voting

One of the primary benefits of dot voting is its simplicity. It requires minimal setup and can be executed with ease, making it accessible to teams of all sizes. Additionally, dot voting fosters collaboration and inclusivity by allowing every team member to have a voice in the prioritization process. It encourages open discussions and brings different perspectives to the table.

However, dot voting does have limitations. It may favor popular ideas and overlook potentially valuable but less recognized options. The method's simplicity can also lead to superficial decision-making, lacking the depth required for complex product prioritization. To mitigate these limitations, it is essential to combine dot voting with other techniques and ensure that the decision-making process is well-informed and thoughtful.

Dot voting tips and best practices

To effectively use dot voting in product management, consider the following tips and best practices:

1. Clearly define the options or ideas being prioritized and provide sufficient context to the team.

2.  Have the team write post-its without discussion (a method called brainwriting

3. Set a specific number of dots each team member can allocate to avoid biases caused by unequal distribution.

4. Encourage active participation and discussion during the dot voting process to ensure a comprehensive understanding of each option's value.

5. Periodically review and refine the prioritization criteria to align with evolving goals and market demands.

team aligned

What is priority poker?

Priority poker is another technique used for efficient prioritization in product management. Unlike dot voting, priority poker involves assigning a numerical value, usually based on a Fibonacci sequence, to each option. The team members engage in discussions and compare the relative value of different items before arriving at a consensus on the priority.

Start by dealing out some cards, and once you have your cards, follow these steps to play Priority Poker:

  • A product manager will open the team’s backlog and go through each story or task individually. This will usually involve a quick summary of the task and its requirements.

  • Each team member will choose a card from their deck — one that they feel represents the amount of effort required to complete this task.

  • Once everyone has chosen, all team members will reveal their scores. If there are folks who’ve voted very high or low, they’ll usually be given a chance to explain their rationale.

  • Repeat the process from step 2 until a broad consensus is reached.

  • Move on to the next story or task, rinse, and repeat.

airfocus' Priority Poker

Priority Poker is a lot of fun, however, playing it manually involves a lot of mathematics, note-taking, and card shuffling. Recognizing this, we have intricately designed an app — Priority Poker — seamlessly integrated into airfocus, to streamline your experience.

Prioritization with airfocus' Priority Poker can be Interactive, collaborative, and inclusive. This digital adaptation of the game ensures not just ease of play but also a meticulous and automatic calculation of scores and results. Now, orchestrating group priorities and making collective decisions have never been this efficient and straightforward.

Priority Poker

Benefits and challenges of priority poker

The principle behind priority poker lies in embracing uncertainty and facilitating productive conversations. By assigning numerical values, team members can objectively evaluate the importance of each option and consider multiple factors, such as effort, impact, and dependencies, during the decision-making process. This method encourages teams to think critically, uncover hidden complexities, and align their understanding of priorities.

The advantages of priority poker include its ability to capture nuanced priorities and create a shared understanding among team members. By facilitating discussions, it allows for the exploration of different perspectives, leading to more informed decisions. Moreover, priority poker's numerical values enable the calculation of priority scores, aiding in long-term planning and resource allocation.

However, priority poker may present challenges, mainly when dealing with many options or a diverse range of stakeholders. It requires active participation from all team members and can be time-consuming. Additionally, relying on subjective estimation may introduce biases, and accurate estimation can be challenging, especially for complex tasks.

Priority poker guide

Determining when to use each method

Both dot voting and priority poker have their strengths and can be effective in different scenarios. Dot voting works well when there is a need for quick decision-making, and the options are relatively straightforward. It is particularly useful for generating ideas, narrowing down options, or getting a general consensus from the team. On the other hand, priority poker is suitable for more detailed and complex prioritization, where considering multiple factors and engaging in in-depth discussions is crucial.

Think of each as tools in your prioritization toolkit, and any time you find your team unsure of the next step, think about doing a dot-voting or priority poker session to see what your teams are thinking about. 

Best practices for efficient prioritization

Regardless of the method chosen, the following best practices can enhance the efficiency of prioritization in product management:

1. Define clear and measurable criteria for prioritization to ensure alignment with product goals.

2. Involve cross-functional teams and stakeholders to gather diverse perspectives and promote collective ownership.

3. Continuously prioritize and reprioritize based on evolving business needs and feedback from customers and/or users.

4. Regularly communicate and explain the rationale behind prioritization decisions to foster transparency and understanding.

5. Leverage data and insights whenever possible to support prioritization choices and minimize biases.

Clear criteria will ensure your team is making better decisions over time, ruthless prioritization helps eliminate product waste, bringing in customer or user feedback will help you stay on track to solving real problems, communicating your rationale will raise your team's overall trust in the organization, and adding data helps increase the literacy of the organization and functions as a check against bias. 

Effective prioritization is king

Efficient prioritization is a critical aspect of successful product management. Dot voting and priority poker offer valuable techniques to support this process, each with its own benefits and limitations. Dot voting promotes collaboration, inclusivity, and quick decision-making, while priority poker encourages in-depth discussions and considers multiple factors. By understanding when and how to use these methods, along with adhering to best practices, product teams can effectively prioritize tasks and features, maximizing their impact and delivering value to customers.

Adam Thomas

Adam Thomas

Lead Product Manager @ SmartRecruiters
Adam Thomas is a technologist and product management expert based in Harlem, NY. He’s passionate about social justice and the behavioral psychology at work within product teams....more
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