Scrummasters and agile coaches know the tool of the “priority poker” in which team members can prioritize ideas. There are different forms of this poker. In one variation, all team members are given playing cards from 2 to 10, each idea is called out, and on three, each team member casts a vote on the quality of that idea by putting a playing card on the table. Another variant is to assign the sticky notes to clothing sizes. Here, S, M, L, XL are written on a board from left to right and the team members are allowed to sort and move around the suggestions into these categories for a certain period. You can quickly see which suggestions are judged similarly by the team and which suggestions need further discussion.
The method presented here, “The Solution Poker”, supplements the agile approach with an important solution-focused step that simplifies prioritization. The online implementation is very simple due to the available online pinboards such as Miro, Mural, Padlet or Jamboard.
When to use “The Solution Poker”
“The Solution Poker” is appropriate in any situation where a team wants to evaluate and prioritize different proposals or ideas. Examples:
- Action Planning
- Crisis response
- Annual planning
- Strategy and tactics
- Creating a backlog
- Project planning
Objectives of the method
The method leads to a high level of agreement and satisfaction with the results. The procedure is transparent and clear and enables open and safe communication. At the end of the process, everyone is in agreement and only the most important differences were discussed in a time-saving manner.
Step 1 Collect ideas
The team collects ideas or suggestions, for example on how to proceed, on actions, on projects on online sticky notes. The team coach could ask a selection of the following questions:
- “Suppose you were one step ahead, how would you and others know?”
- “What are the most important 3 steps the team should take now?”
- “What ideas might help right away?”
- “What does the team have to get right next year?”
Step 2 Cluster ideas
The team gets 2 minutes (you can set a timer on Miro or Mural) to cluster the online sticky notes. Each team member is allowed to “grab” each online sticky note and move it near others that have a similar topic. This sounds a bit chaotic, but it is the easiest way to quickly bring order to a large amount of online sticky notes. After the 2 minutes are up, the team coach and team sift through the clusters and clean up the field once again. At the end of this step, one online sticky note per idea cluster is created as a title.
Step 3 The solution focused twist
When it comes to proposals for actions, there may be multiple interests that influence the team’s decision. Some ideas are brilliant, but team members fear extra work and therefore reject the proposal, or a proposal is good in another way, but inconvenient. If you go directly from the collection of ideas to the evaluation, good ideas can be rejected out of partial interests of some.
So the team coach asks the team members to think individually and silently for 2-3 minutes about the goal or the desired state. The timer function can also be used here. It is helpful to ask team members to turn off the video for this step and turn it back on when they are ready to move on. Here is a selection of possible questions aimed at visualizing the desired state:
- “Assuming we are very successful, who would notice and what would they be noticing?”
- “What’s the best thing we can do for the team today?”
- “If we have achieved our goal — what will our work look like in detail?”
Depending on the situation, the team should should come up with a question that fits the team.
Step 4 Wild sorting
During the 2-3 minutes of the solution twist, the team coach prepares the next steps: He or she writes headings with clothing sizes (S, M, L, XL) in a sufficiently large distance from each other in another corner of the online board. In addition, he or she also moves the headings of the idea clusters into this area.
Similar to clustering step, all team members may now wildly evaluate the ideas. This phase can last 3-5 minutes — again, the timer is recommended. Each team member may “grab” each online note and drag it to another field. Here you immediately notice which ideas are rated similarly, and which ideas still need discussion. If a sticky note is constantly dragged into another field, you know that you have to talk about it again.
This step can happen in one phase for simple topics. If the topics are more complex, you can also work in several phases. Then, for example, you could first ask: “What are the ideas that are easiest to implement? In the next phase you could then ask: “What are the ideas that could have the greatest effect?”.
Step 4 Discussion and agreement
In any case, you can see that you don’t have to talk about the ideas that are classified under S by the majority. In the subsequent discussion, one can concentrate on the ideas that are controversial. Here, the individual team members can explain their reasons for their assessment, and the team can come to a final evaluation. Finally, the team agrees on the ideas that should now be implemented as a priority.