Rough Consensus

The IETF has a document, RFC 7282, also called ” On Consensus and Humming in the IETF”, in which they describe how the body makes decisions. This is their philosophy:

We reject: kings, presidents and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code.

That is a process that I can get behind. Overall, I don’t like authoritative leaders. I don’t like to be one, though I do recognize as a manager there are times I need to make some decision. Overall, however, I like consensus.

Someone was discussing how to choose approaches when developing software and brought my attention to that quote. With us being remote now, and unable to hum, this person talked about how to solve problems without humming.

This individual talked about identifying solutions in a team, but not taking a vote, or rather, no immediate vote. Instead, they devised a rating system allowing everyone to look at all solutions and rate them from 5 (best solution ever) to 1 (this would be a terrible mistake). They then produce a histogram of the results for each solution.

Once they’ve done this, they can then have people raise issues and debate them. I assume time limited, which is important, but often when we see different levels of support, we may rethink our rating or the merits/detractions of an approach. At some point, they re-rate the solutions and try to develop consensus.

We won’t always agree completely with an approach, but I do think that we can often come to some decision we can support, especially with some rational arguments and reasoning. I’d like to think that I rarely had to overrule an entire group. Building a team means finding ways to discuss, debate, and decide together.

Steve Jones

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