Confidence Votes — Why I’m on Board

Before I was the PM, I didn’t believe in the value of the confidence vote. Now I must confess that I have never answered the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up” with “I want to be a Product Manager.” Nevertheless, it is a role I need to understand. I need to see what they see and how they see it. For this reason in class we rotate roles in my studio class. This week I rotated into the role of the PM and it is a lot different than being a designer. You spend most of your time in mediation and checking in with your team.

What I’ve learned in my limited time as a PM is that frequent check-ins to near the point of annoyance hold everyone accountable. It forces your team to tell you how they’re feeling and their progress. To implement check-ins, we do confidence votes.

A confidence vote is a vote the PM has his/her team complete to gauge how everyone feels about a certain topic. The vote is casted with one hand. You can vote between 0–5 using your fingers. If someone is unconfident, they would throw a three or below. If they throw a two or below, you must have them explain why they feel that way and bring them up to at least a 3. A compromise must be reached before your team can continue.

Compromise does not look life this:

It looks like this:

Your team needs to be on the same page without singling out the teammate who disagrees. There’s probably a good reason he disagrees so listen to why and find a solution.

Checking in with your team, especially remotely, can feel like herding cats. Everyone has a different opinion and without a team appointed meeting time, it feels like you’re herding cats. That’s why for your PMs birthday, you should get him/her this mug:

On the other hand as the designer who is being checked-in upon, you feel more like this about confidence votes 95% of the time:

It seems like a waste of time, but it’s actually extremely valuable. Here are five reasons why:

  1. ) You avoid massive blow-ups because you see the embers starting to grow. Then, you can put out the embers before the fire starts. Without confidence votes inevitably (and seen from experience), there will be a massive breakdown which leads to large points of frustrations from team members. The PM has to desperately put out the fire.
Avoid this with confidence votes!

2.) Confidence votes keep communication open. If one person starts falling behind, you know. You can take the right actions to keep the process flowing. Otherwise, everything backs up and it all falls down.

3.) Your team talks when you talk. If you’re not communicating, they’re not communicating to you or to each other. This leads to bad user experience and tears.

4.) Communication needs to be nonviolent. Confidence votes help your team learn to communicate nonviolently, which is immensely important for team dynamics. You should avoid team talks that look like this:

5.) Lastly, the confidence vote of five feels good. The votes aren’t meant to tell you when your team is doing well; they are meant to tell you when your team is doing poorly so you can find a solution. Enjoy the fives and respect the reason behind the ones.