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Quality Tools > Tools of the Trade > 10: Voting


Voting is a useful tool to follow up a group cause-effect analysis or brainstorming session, as after you have identified a list of possible problem causes or actions the problem now is to select the most likely candidates upon which to act.


How it works

Voting is familiar to most of us through the democratic society in which we live. We make our own choice, but are prepared to accept the decision of the majority. This background makes voting easy to accept for most people and thus is a useful tool for gaining consensus on a future course of action.


Things are not always this easy, however, and there are a number of traps into which people can fall. By understanding these, actions can be taken to avoid them and their negative consequences.

·         A key influencer or faction within the group can result in others following their lead or suggestion. This is particularly true if you have a manager who voices a strong opinion or towards whom people naturally look for guidance. You may also remember times where strike voting was done openly, with much prior persuasion from union leaders.

·         People voting later will always take note of previous votes. If many votes are in one area, this can cause a 'me too' reaction or alternatively a deliberate balancing counteraction.

·         Once the group has decided, it is easy to assume the result as fact. Just because the majority has decided on a course of action, it does not mean it is the best thing to do nor that it will work as desired.

·         There can be two or more clear groups of votes, where different sets of  people have voted together. This usually indicates that there are two (or more) different criteria being used to make the selection. For example one group may be concerned about time whilst another may have a greater concern for cost.


How to do it

1. Clearly identify what you are voting for and any criteria which needs to be taken into account. For example if voting for a solution to a particular problem, the team should also know who is going to implement it (is it them?), what resource and budget is available and by when the solution should be implemented.


2. Select the number and value of votes. If there are a large number of items to vote for and few people in the group, then it is possible for a spread of opinion with no clear leading selection.


3. Select the privacy level. If there are managers and subordinates in the group, it may be an idea to write votes down on pieces of paper and have someone else add them up. This can be eased by lettering the options, so you only need to write 'D3' to allocate three points to item D.


4. Vote, using the selected methods.


5. Total and display the votes. This may be done simply by summing and writing the total in a way that makes it stand out, for example by using a different coloured pen or by putting a box around the total. A Pareto diagram may be used to illustrate the relative difference between individual groups of votes.


6. Discuss the selection, ensuring everyone at least is prepared to accept the decision of the group. Surface and deal with any resistance now, as it is better to deal with conflict openly rather than let it go underground, where subterfuge and sabotage may occur.


Next time: Risks calculations


This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Institute for Quality Assurance

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