The Retrospective: Prioritizing What Matters

In the “Look Back in Agile: The Sprint Retrospective” chapter of The Seapine Agile Expedition eBook, I talked about the purpose and elements of a good retrospective. I strongly emphasized the need for action items to make sure the team is not only inspecting but also adapting their practices as they progress through the project. If you’ve already conducted a productive retrospective then you probably have quite a few actions.

Your board might look something like this:

It is rare that your team will be able to address all of the actions they identify. The team will have to balance improvements, with new work going into the next sprint. In some cases your team might need to introduce a spike into their development process to handle some of these actions. It is totally up to the team (including the Product Owner) to decide what to do. In the example above, assume the team must do some new development; as well as, tackle some of these actions in the next sprint.  How does the team decide what actions are the highest priority?

There are numerous ways to reduce the number of choices, but one of the simplest is dot voting. The rules are relatively simple. Each team member gets a specific number of dots and they can use the dots any way they want. They can put all dots on one item, spread dots evenly among items, or some other variation. Assume four team members were given two dots each. Your board may look something like this:


In this example, it’s easy to see that the two highest priority actions are “Research TDD Practices and give 1hr report to team” and “Upgrade the Build Server to v2.5″. After the priorities are determined, team members voluntarily sign up for the actions they will lead. The team member signing up for the action is not necessarily the only person who will work on the action, but they will take the lead on it.

So, does dot voting work? Absolutely! Take a cue from the Seapine Software team.


We recently held a brainstorming session to identify potential names for future products. Above you see from left to right, Communications Specialist David Borcherding, Marketing Communications Coordinator Angie Pepiot, Seapine CEO Rick Riccetti, and Graphic Designer Justin Curtis (seated) choosing wisely! Each person was given four dots to use however they wanted to, as described previously.


We were able to narrow 26 choices down to 8 in less than 10 minutes. Depending on how many items that need to be prioritized, dot voting for your project may take more or less time. We had some stickies with one dot, but discarded those as part of our weeding out process.

Remember, your team will need to prioritize effectively to get the most bang for the project buck. Introducing concepts such as dot voting will help them to not get overwhelmed with the many actions they will generate during a normal retrospective.  It may take a few sprints or iterations but, with practice, they’ll get better at adapting their processes to deliver the best product possible.