Token Prioritisation

My favourite technique for prioritising a backlog is to use tokens. I think the first time I encountered this method we used sticky dots but after much trial and error, I now use physical tokens as having something quantifiable and real in your hand seems to help to prioritise the work and people tend to be more engaged. This would work with any token (Agility Cards, Poker Chips, magnets, jelly beans, etc…). Using this technique you can prioritise large backlogs (up to about 100 items) in just a few minutes. The output is a consensus-generated prioritised list that can be then talked about and modified as necessary. This is a lot easier to do once an initial order is established.

Pros/Cons

  • Very interactive – engages people really well
  • Involves the whole team – everyone’s voice is heard
  • Runs the risk of not being a carefully thought about order

Start by giving some cards to each ‘player’. A player is anybody who is interested in the priority of the work, this should include the business and any technical staff involved.

My suggested values are as follows:

  • 1x Black Cards (10 points)
  • 2x Green Cards (5 points)
  • 2 Orange Cards (2 points)
  • 3 Red Cards (1 point)

This gives a good number for a large backlog, for smaller backlogs use a smaller number of cards.

Setup

If your tokens don't have values on them, write the values somewhere clear that everyone can see. Print and lay all the items to be prioritised down so that the players can see all the requirements.

How it works

Ask the players to vote for which items should be prioritised with their chips. They can put multiple chips on 1 item if they like. I like to use a time limit of 5 minutes, the timebox helps them focus.

Add up the values, write the total on the item and prioritise based on these values.

As with any prioritisation method, this initial order should be a cause for a conversation. I would expect the Product Owner to take this information and re-prioritise as necessary but the end-to-end time should be greatly reduced.

What other prioritisation techniques do you use? What tokens are best?