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Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
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Making Decision by Consensus – 35

At the last Agile Philly User group meeting, the speaker could not be present. We were about 25 people in the room and as a group we had to decide a topic for the evening. While we were wondering on what the topic should be, Tobias Mayer introduced us to a very effective technique for decision making by consensus, called “35″. It took us about 5-7 minutes to come to a unanimous decision for a topic. What an amazing accomplishment!

So here is how 35 works:

Step 1: You ask each person in the room to write down a topic [subject] on an index.

Step 2: Then you ask each participant to go around the room and exchange their card with other people. Basically you hand over your card to someone else and take their card. Next you exchange their card and with someone else’s card. You continue doing this for about 30 secs.

Step 3: After about 30 secs, all the participants stop and find a partner, who ever happens to be standing next to you. This ensures the randomness in selection of a partner.

Step 4: Once you have selected a partner, you share the card you are holding with your partner. Ideally it should not be the card you wrote down. The pair looks at both the cards and discuss amongst themselves about the topic on the card. As a pair, they have 7 points to vote on the cards. Depending on how much they like the topic, they can distribute 7 points across the 2 cards[topics]. For Ex: The pair like topic 1 very much and they don’t like topic 2 at all. Then they can vote [put] 7 points on topic 1 and 0 points on topic 2. Or if they like topic 1 slightly better than topic 2, then they can vote 4 points on topic 1 and 3 points on topic 2. Usually they just turn the index card over and write their points on it. You may spend 15-30 secs doing this.

Step 5: After voting, all the participants go around the room and exchange cards again. i.e. they repeat Step 2, 3 and 4, 4 more times. Hopefully in each voting round they have a different partner and different topics [index cards] to vote on. By randomly selecting a partner who happens to stand next to you, you ensure that they have different partners each time.

Step 6: So by now, each participant must have voted 5 times and 7 points each time. [Hence the name "35"]. Now, you ask each participant to total the number of points on the back of the index card they have. After totally, ask them to exchange the card with their current partner and make sure they verify each other’s total.

Step 7: Now you ask the group, if any one has a card with 35 points on it. If not, then you ask for 34, 33, 32… and so on. Basically the card with the highest points happens to be the topic that is unanimously decided by the group as the topic for the day.

35 can be very effective when you have meetings where different people have different agendas and you have very little time to cover everyone’s agenda.

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