5 and 10 finger voting

I previously looked at the “MVP” of democracy – voting with a thumb.

Now I am looking at the concepts of 5 finger voting and 10 finger voting.

Fist of five (five finger voting)

The fist of 5 is pretty popular with the agile crowd.  It is quick and decisive but also allows for some conflict.  It is documented in several blog articles including this one


The idea is that people vote on an idea and we see if they are aligned.  For example I might say to the team

“We need to have better muffins in our showcases”

Some of the team vote 5, by holding up 5 fingers.  This means let’s do that, I don’t see a need for a discussion.

Some vote 4, by holding up 4 fingers – which still means yes, but there might be some need for discussion, or there might be a “but” in there somewhere.  For example

I agree, but let’s only do it for a couple of sprints and then consider doughnuts.

Others say they don’t care, by voting with 3 fingers.  But it is critical that you understand what this means.

In evil teams, a vote of three fingers means

“don’t ask me – I don’t care.  But whatever happens I will complain and say that I never agreed to it. I will complain  endlessly and blame people all over the place”

But this does not work so well in good teams.  For these teams, the three finger vote means

I defer to the team.  Either I don’t care or I think someone else is better placed to decide.  This means that whatever happens I will work toward making this a success and I am as much to blame as anyone if things get challenging.  I will have the team’s back whatever the decision.

Note that saying “I will have the team’s back” is quite different to saying “this will be someone else’s fault”

Getting more negative, two fingers means “I have concerns.”  Or “I would agree if we added some conditions.”  Either way this means we should discuss the matter.

One finger basically means no.  The finger you use depends on the team’s attitude to good manners (In Australia, the middle finger is a stronger way of saying no. with either mock contempt or real contempt.  The pointer finger just means the number 1.

So I will leave it up to you to decide whether 5 finger voting or thumb based voting is better.

10 finger voting

10 finger voting is not as common, but gives room for allocating a vote between options.

So rather than giving a yes/no to a single idea, the team vote allocate a percentage to each option.

Limited cash approach

The most common way is to say that the team can only allocate a total of 10 votes.  Each one counts as either 1 vote (obviously I guess) or 10% (if you can handle decimal maths).

So, for example, I ask my team where they allocated their time in the last sprint.  We have 4 categories:

  • Building new things as per our plan
  • Fixing defects and investigating “features” that do not make sense to anyone
  • Looking after production – monitoring customer calls, etc
  • Management reports and special projects that do not advance our team’s mission

I have 5 people in the team and I ask them to vote on each topic. I get the following scores:

  • Planned things – 3,4,8,2,1 for a total of 18 votes
  • Defects – 4,4,1,3,2 for a total of 14 votes
  • Production maintenance – 2,2,0,3,2 for a total of 9 votes
  • Management reports and adventures – 1,0,1,2,5 for a total of 9 votes

Since I know the total possible score (50), I could turn this into a percentage and create a lovely graph over time.

This might be the recent history of the team:

iteration effort graph

Looking at this graph I can see that 10% or more of my team’s time is spent on adventures unrelated to our mission.  We also had a lot of production work to do in iteration 2 and 3, but it is more under control now.  Also – even though we have a lot to do, we only really spend 20-40% of our time building new things according  to our plans.

This information can be useful when aligned to a velocity chart, because it can explain why we speed up and slow down.  It can also be used in retrospectives to see if we are happy as a team that this is where our effort should be applied.

But even if I do not create a graph, nor look at the percentage over multiple iterations, I can still find useful information from the vote.  Firstly I note that the team is spending about 20% on management reporting and requests (9 points out of 50).  This might be important work we should include in our planning, or it might be a distraction from our mission.  But I also note that for one team member, the percentage was 50% (5 votes out of the total 10 fingers they could vote).  That means that one person is holding management at bay (valuable work) and handling the reporting.  Again this might be deliberate and good, or unexpected and distracting.

So 10 finger voting is more complex, but also allows richer information than just giving a yes/no response.  It is imprecise but in my experience it is quite accurate and credible.

I have used the approach in stand-ups and retros.  I have also used it for things like “time mentoring and peer reviewing, time administering and so forth”

Unlimited cash approach (err – you can reuse the fingers each vote)

Another use of 10 finger voting is just to score multiple ideas out of 10.

Again, lets look at the important issue of catering in our show case.  Rather than voting on muffins I can get people to score the following options out of 10:

  • No catering at all
  • Muffins
  • Scones
  • Doughnuts
  • Healthy fruit
  • Coffee and tea

Now people can just vote on each out of 10.  We can add the votes for each option and see which one wins.

This approach is like using stickers (dotocracy, multivoting, heatmaps etc) but uses fingers instead.  That makes it quicker, more environmentally friendly and also more subject to bias or peer pressure.

Give finger voting a try in your team and let me know if it works for you.


2 thoughts on “5 and 10 finger voting

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