After the ‘Storm: Pareto Voting and Screening Methods
We’re in our 4th episode into our series about generating ideas with our team toward action. The first two episodes were all about idea generation. The 3rd was about grouping and exploring ideas.
We’re still considering that we’re just after brainstorming, at the point where we have many ideas and no next steps.
Let’s instead screen our ideas so we can move toward action. We explore these Quality Tools and how to use them after a brainstorming or other idea-generating team activity:
- 2×2 chart
- Systematic list reduction
- Multivoting or Pareto Voting
Reminders when evaluating ideas with a team
We need to Mind our Mindset
Recognize that it’s difficult to evaluate ideas from a brainstorming activity into actions for next steps.
We’re handling ideas systematically with our team to get the maximum benefit from our creative phase.
We want to control our itch for a quick decision on the best idea – to do so would ruin our efforts toward creativity and innovative ideas.
We aren’t looking to eliminate ideas. We’re looking to develop them to the best solution we think there could be.
Yes, we approach activities with the spirit of developing creative ideas. We say things like, “That’s a great idea, what can we do to make it work?” or “What is it about this idea we can use?”
No, we don’t want to just eliminate ideas. We try to avoid first jumping to say things like, “That’s a great idea, but here’s why it won’t work.”
We’d like consensus on a clear option, which is that place where everyone supports the decision, even if it wasn’t their first choice.
We discuss to clarify ideas. If it’s not clear, then let’s make sure that everyone understands the information about some ideas.
We don’t need to pressure anyone to change votes, but we do need to ensure we’re all voting on the same idea, or the same understanding of an idea.
We can get a quick comparison with a 2×2 chart, using 2 criteria.
- Time vs. impact
- Value vs. effort
- Risk vs. reward
Urgent/Important Priorities Matrix
Multivoting or Pareto Voting
We’re judging ideas by ranking them instead of using “majority rules”.
How many votes does each member get? Try using the Pareto Principle to decide.
Other Quality during Design podcast episodes you might like:
Using the Pareto Principle and Avoiding Common Pitfalls
Visit asq.org for another overview of multivoting:
“What is Multivoting?” ASQ, asq.org/quality-resources/multivoting. Accessed 10 Jan 2023.
Previous episodes in our series about generating ideas with our team toward action:
Episode 1: Ways to Gather Ideas with a Team
Episode 2: Product Design with Brainstorming, with Emily Haidemenos (A Chat with Cross Functional Experts)
Episode 3: After the ‘Storm: Group and Explore Ideas
Hello. This is our fourth episode into our series about generating ideas with our team toward action. The first two episodes, which started at the beginning of January, 2023, we’re all about idea generation. We’re now at the point where we have a lot of ideas and it’s messy and we can’t really define next steps, so now we’re going to take our ideas and start organizing and prioritizing them so we can move toward action. We’ll be talking about ideas to screen and select ideas using quality tools. In the last episode, we talked about affinity diagrams, fishbones and tree diagrams, and how we can use that to better understand and group our ideas. In this episode, let’s talk about something a little bit different, where we’re going to be screening and reducing our choices. More about that after the brief introduction.
Hello and welcome to Quality During Design, the place to use quality thinking to create products, others love for less. Each week we talk about ways to use quality during design, engineering, and product development. My name is Dianna Deeney. I’m a senior level quality, professional, and engineer with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing and design. Listen in and then join us. Visit quality during design.com. Do you know what 12 things you should have before a design concept makes it to the engineering drawing board where you’re setting specifications. I’ve got a free checklist for you and you can do some assessments of your own. Where do you stack up with the checklist? You can log into a learning portal to access the checklist and an introduction to more information about how to get those 12 things. To get this free information, just sign up at qualityduringdesign.com. On the homepage, there’s a link in the middle of the page. Just click it and say, I want it.
There are many quality tools that are team-based and visual in nature, and this is a good thing because it aligns a team around common goals. It’s visual information, so it’s another way that we can take in information and analyze it and regroup it for ourselves, and it also helps us get aligned with each other so that we can move toward action. We can see where it is we need to go or get better ideas of where we need to end up if it’s mapped out in front of us. Imagine this scenario that we’ve just finished a brainstorming session. We had done some quiet brainstorming and everyone has their stacks of post-it notes or ideas or virtual lists, and we, we may have even started grouping them using the Affinity Diagram team sorting method. The affinity diagram exercise helped us to group ideas into like ideas.
It probably also helped us to identify ideas that were duplicated, so that is one way that we can reduce our list of ideas. Now, we need to move from our quantity of ideas to quality ideas that we want to execute. We wanna get to our top priorities. Generally, team members individually judge or arrange ideas. Then we discuss as a team and if we need to, we can judge ideas. Again, what we’re really doing is using a team approach to finding and choosing solutions or collecting and deciding on options. We might be looking at design features where we want to consider different perspectives of all of our internal customers, our end users, our manufacturing friends, our suppliers and others, or we may be working on a problem that we’re having trouble with that we need others to help us figure it out and look at it from different perspectives.
Those are just a couple examples of why we’re working through this as a team. When we’re evaluating ideas like this as a team, we need to recognize a couple things. We need to understand that evaluating ideas from a brainstorm and deciding which action to take is actually a pretty difficult task. We need to control any itches or desires to get to an idea quickly so we can start solving the problem. We’re not looking for a quick decision for the best idea. Instead, we’re handling ideas systematically to get the maximum benefit from our creative phase. The whole reason why we’re getting together to do these exercises in the first place, it doesn’t have to take a long time or it may either way, we’re going to be intentional with our next steps when we’re screening ideas, we’re looking for the good things about the ideas. We’re not looking to discard ideas instead of that’s a great idea, but here’s why it won’t work.
Approach it like, that’s a great idea. What can we do to make it work? Or what is it about the idea we can use? It is more challenging to find ways to make an idea work than it is to give in to our original negative action about it. This might be something we need to remind ourselves about, to remind our team about during this exercise, and we want to adopt a mindset of “What can we do to make it work, or what is it about this idea we can use in order to get to the idea that we can use?”
We need to reduce our list. We can do a list reduction activity. It uses a simple majority voting with the option that anyone can keep an idea on the board. It’s systematic and very intentional. A one idea at a time when a majority of the team votes for an idea to be discarded, it’s not taken off the board immediately. It’s bracketed or otherwise put off to the side, and then everyone is asked if anyone wants to keep any of the discarded ideas, and if anybody wants to keep a discarded idea, it goes back on the list and the team continues to discuss the ideas.
Team discussions are centered around everyone understanding what the idea is, because if the team isn’t on the same page about what ideas are, they don’t have the same understanding. We’re not voting on the same idea. Remember: “What can we do to make it work, or what is it about this idea we can use?”
If we want a quick comparison of the ideas that we’ve generated, we can use a two by two chart. This is something that our expert, Emily recommended. Choose two criteria against which to measure the idea. It could be time and impact, value versus effort, risk versus reward, and if you’re evaluating a user process, it could also be urgent versus important. We cover that in a previous episode of this podcast and I’ll link to it. To do the two-by-two chart, we’re going to follow similar steps to an affinity diagram. Instead of grouping ideas, we’re placing them on a four-window chart based on high-low values.
If we are not getting to our final decision or selection and we need to narrow our list further into top priorities, then we can vote on ideas, and the technique is called multivoting. Each team member gets a certain amount of votes to apply to an idea. In any team dynamic, there are going to be a couple personalities that are dominant in the team. Multivoting allows people to have equal footing on the decisions that are made Coming out of our idea generating activity, everyone has equal participation. Nobody is pressured to change their votes or rank issues a certain way based on what somebody else is saying.
Multivoting is systematic, and here’s how it works. We display our ideas on a board, on a virtual board, just make sure everybody can see all the ideas. It’s best to do it if we could see all the ideas together at once. Everyone individually judges the ideas by giving them a vote. Then the team looks at where everybody put their votes and discusses the results.
Where we’d like to get to in Multivoting is to get a consensus, which is that place where everyone supports the decision, even if it wasn’t their first choice. We’re looking for a clear option. If it’s not clear, then again, let’s make sure everyone understands the ideas and information about some of the ideas. Look to ideas that the team has voted with a split or those ideas that some ranked the highest and others didn’t. We don’t need to pressure anyone to change votes, but we do need to ensure we’re all voting on the same idea or the same understanding of an idea. If we need to, we can repeat the multivoting process. We can individually judge the idea again if we need to, and then discuss the results. Again, if you’ve noticed, we’re sticking with that individual judging, then stepping back to see what we’ve done as a group, then individually judging again.
Some judgment calls we need to make about Multivoting. The first is that we need to intentionally plan to use Multivoting and not pull it out as an emergency when the team is in disagreement, <laugh>. So we don’t want to have a situation where we can’t move ahead with choosing an idea and we decide to angrily say, “You know what? Let’s just have a vote on this!” That’s not in the true spirit of multivoting and we’re not reaching the consensus that we want.
The other thing about multivoting is the deciders. Sometimes teams are structured or they’re working on a problem where the ultimate decision of whether or not that idea is pursued is left to someone else. It could be a CEO if it’s a small company, it could be a vice president or a project manager. There is a decider that decides whether or not this idea is pursued. If that’s the case, then they need to be involved. Sometimes they need to be involved in the idea generation because they have a broader viewpoint or different ideas about what this project needs to be able to do in the end, and we need to get that input from them.
The other one is we don’t wanna spend our team time developing ideas that aren’t going to get approved and are gonna go nowhere. So sometimes we need to have the deciders involved in our multivoting. Coming out of this multivoting, we want honest decisions. With the decider, we don’t want to let them cede their authority, meaning during the multivoting team exercises, we don’t want them to say, “Oh, consensus rules, I’m gonna go with what the group says”, because chances are they’ll change their mind later to their first pick anyway. A way to handle this, to have the decider involved, is to give them a super vote. In the multivoting procedure, ideas that have super votes, the team is going to pursue. Either choosing features from those super votes, combining them, or working with the deciders again, to come up with the ultimate idea. If they’re the deciders, it’s their responsibility to ultimately decide, so the team needs to address that and ask them to be the decider.
How many votes does everyone get? We could use the Pareto principle. We cover the Pareto principle in a previous episode. Let me share with you again a little bit about its history and what the Pareto principle is: ”
“The Pareto principle is named after an Italian economist, Alfredo Fedco Damaso Pareto. He published in the 1890s, a paper that showed about 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Lore has it that he started seeing that ratio everywhere, even down to the pea plants in his garden. Other people noticed that it seemed to carry through in other things too. This 80 20 rule, so the Preto principle is generally that 80% of the output is caused by 20% of the input, or 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes, and those 20% of the causes is dubbed the vital few. Now, why would we want to apply this in our engineering and design processes? Well, it’s a tool to separate the vital few factors from the trivial many or in plain speak. We wanna spend the least amount of effort we need in order to make the biggest effect. A Pareto chart helps us to identify if we’ve got a cause or a short list of causes that we can work hard to solve to fix most of the problem.”
Back to Multivoting, where we apply the Pareto principle is if we have a list of ideas, we’re going to count the number ideas that we have, multiply that by 20%, and then that’s the number of votes that everybody gets. For example, if we have a list of 30 ideas, 20% of 30 is six, so each team member gets six votes.
You don’t like the idea of using a Pareto principle to determine how many votes everyone gets? Then we don’t need to use it. There are lots of other alternatives. A couple of them are that everyone gets three votes. They can choose their top three. Their first choice gets three points. Their second choice gets two points, and the last choice gets one point. Then tally the numbers. If we don’t wanna add numbers, then we can give everyone little round stickers. They can place stickers on their top picks, distributing the stickers the way they want. If you’re using a virtual whiteboard, you could add a little check mark or some other symbol. Team members can put the majority or all of their stickers on the ideas they like the most.
What’s today’s insight to action?
When we’re going from a quantity of ideas to a list of quality ideas that we can maybe execute on, we recognize that evaluating ideas with a team and deciding which action to take is a difficult task, and that we’re not looking for a quick decision. We’re handling ideas systematically so that we can get the maximum benefit from our creative phase. We’re intentional with next steps, and these team approaches give everyone an equal voice. We approach these list reduction and multivoting activities from a mindset of, “What can we do to make this work? Or what is it about this idea we can use?”
We can use a two by two chart to help us choose criteria based on the goal of a project to quickly compare ideas.
We talked about a systematic way to reduce our list of ideas, and we also talked about multivoting as a way to narrow the list of choices and further discuss options.
Now, just a note: after our brainstorming session, we could just head right into a two by two chart or multivoting. We can skip the affinity diagram if we don’t need it, and we can skip the list reduction exercise if we don’t need that either.
Next week, we’ll talk about more ways to make a final decision by using paired comparisons. Thanks for joining me today. I’ll see you then.
If you like this topic or the content in this episode, there’s much more on our website, including information about how to join our signature coaching program. The quality during design journey consistency is important, so subscribe to the weekly newsletter. This has been a production of Deeney Enterprises. Thanks for listening.
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