Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Fist of Five a voting and consensus building technique

The Fist of Five is a voting and consensus building technique that allows groups of people to quickly understand what they agree and disagree on. With a foundation built upon the agreements they do have; the group can focus their time and effort on resolving their differences. The simultaneous voting aspect of Fist of Five boosts the effectiveness of the group conversations by giving everyone an equal voice. I.e. the loud extroverts in the group no longer dominate the conversation. It only takes one minute to teach the Fist of Five to a new group of people and considering its broad versatility; it is a collaborative technique well worth learning. 

I am sure that you have been in a lengthy team discussion that is wrapped up by the lead saying, “so we all agree then?!”. The team responds with some half nods, some murmuring and plenty of silence. The lead moves on quickly and you are left confused about what we just agreed upon and how much agreement there really was. This to me is a failed attempt and consensus based decision making. The Fist of Five can improve these situations in numerous ways with very little effort expended. 

Benefits of the Fist of Five

  • Reveals hidden information: Who agrees, who is sitting on the fence, who disagrees, why do they disagree.
  • Reduces me vs. them mentality: Participants are disagreeing with a statement not necessarily a person.
  • Builds consensus: quickly see where everyone agrees, hone in the areas of disagreement allowing for discussion to resolve these differences.
  • Saves time: prevents discussion around topics that are already agreed upon, speeds up the resolution of differences because the specifics of the disagreement are often clearer.
  • Provides more time to tackle the key issues: once the disagreements are clear, the group can focus their precious time on that item.

How to use the Fist of Five 

  1. The facilitator makes a statement, such as “The Sprint Backlog should include the seven User Stories that are underlined on the whiteboard” or “The new team name should be ‘High Five’”
  2. The facilitator counts down from three, holding their fist in the air. (They use that time to visually confirm that all participants are ready to vote, who show their readiness by raising their own fist into the air).
  3. At the end of the count down, all participants change their fist into their vote, as shown below.
  4. The votes are ‘read’ which leads to an ‘outcome’ as explained below. The outcomes include: Statement Accepted, Statement Rejected, and More Discussion is needed.

Participant voting

Participants show their agreement or disagreement with the statement by voting as follows:

  • 5 fingers: strongly agree / it is spot on / approaching perfect
  • 4 fingers: agree / it could be improved but i am happy with it
  • 3 fingers: neutral / will go with the majority
  • 2 fingers: disagree / the intent needs to be tweaked / the wording needs to change
  • 1 fingers: strongly disagree / the intent is wrong / i do not support this

Reading the votes

  • Strong agreement: Everyone voted four or five.
  • Agreement: The majority voted four or five; there are no twos or ones.
  • Strong disagreement: There are only threes and below.
  • Disagreement: any other result; such as there are some ones or twos, and some fours or fives.


  • If Agreement or Strong Agreement is reached, the statement is accepted; the team has made a decision!
  • If there is Strong Disagreement the statement is rejected; the team has made a decision!
  • If there is Disagreement then more discussion is needed. One at a time, those that voted two or one explain their point of view to the group, then others in the group join in the conversation. The facilitator guides the discussion before deciding what to do. Usually some changes will be made to the statement followed by a revote.

When to use the Fist of Five

The Fist of Five is surprising versatile; primarily because there are so many different situations where teams need to agree or at least understand what consensus exists within the team. Some situations where I have found the Fist of Five to be highly effective:

  • Choosing a team name
  • Choosing a name for a project
  • Agreeing on a Sprint backlog – which user stories to include
  • Deciding on the scope of a project – which scope items to include.
  • Agreeing on a Vision statement – which intentions to include and the specific wording of the sentence(s).
  • Deciding on the objectives for a community, such as Scrum Master Community of Practice - which objectives to include and the specific wording of each objective.
  • Deciding on a set of team values – which values to include and the specific wording of each value.

How to use the Fist of Five on multiple items

Sometimes your team will have brainstormed many competing items. The Fist of Five is still very effective in this situation to either decide on one winner or to select multiple items. The basic usage is the same as described above. The key difference is to vote on each item, and record those votes, before discussing any item in detail. As you vote on each item note down all the votes against the specific item (e.g. Jimmy votes 4, Bob votes 3, Sally votes 5, Dianne votes 2 could be recorded as 4352). This allows the group to assess the overall field of options and quickly rules out some options as well as locking in some clear winners. The team can now look to combine items before focusing their discussion on those items that did not have clear consensus.

Example of choosing a Project Name

What follows is the list of project names we brainstormed along with the Fist of Five votes for the items that did not have Strong Disagreement, and hence were immediately discounted. There were 6 people voting. In this situation we only wanted one name for the project so “Project New Hope” was the winner.

  • 323244 ProtoFNX (This item received two votes of 2 fingers, two votes of three fingers and two votes of four fingers)
  • Proton and FNX Foundation
  • Joint FNX & Proton
  • 234334 A new hope
  • 332244 FNXP
  • Return of the Mortar
  • Proton strikes back
  • 233323 Proton - A new hope  (This result is also Strong Disagreement)
  • Galactic War
  • Clone Wars
  • Death Star
  • Project JAM
  • JAM Session
  • Proton JAM
  • 544335 Project New Hope