Sinking Islands

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Timing: 1 hour


  • Have a list of ideas/features/projects/tasks (referred to as backlog item) that need prioritizing
  • Agree on how many backlog items can be started (WIP limit)
  • Optional: allow for first group of next priority (for example get alignment on the top 2 backlog items and next 2 backlog items the organization/team will work on
  • Optional: map out all the backlog items on an Impact Effort Matrix to choose which islands should sink first if all have even inhabitants


  • A big room/open location (grass field/parking lot)
  • Print out for each backlog item a page with the name (+ short description)
  • Alternative (more creative islands): create an “island” for each backlog item a page with the name (+ short description)

All backlog item pages are laid scattered around a room: these are the “islands”

Round 1

  1. All participants stand on the “island” they want to save
  2. The “islands” without any participant sinks

Round 2:

  1. Each “island” selects a representative
  2. Each island representative shares in x seconds (e.g. 30 sec.) why their island is the best or why another island is horrible
  3. All participants stand on the “island” they want to save
  4. The x “islands” without the least participants sinks (depend x on the size of the group and how many rounds you want to play

Round n:
Repeat what you have done in round 2 till you have the number of backlog items you agree is your WIP limit.

Be aware:
–        Influence of management on the feet voting:

  • Rewrite/rename the C-level pet projects to make them anonymous
  • Optional technique to anonymize the voting:
    • have all participants write down their vote by themselves
    • put all the votes in a pile
    • each participant picks a vote and walks over to the island that is written down

– Atmosphere in the group if allowing to say why another island is horrible is a good idea
– If the number of participants is small, combine this technique with buy a feature into buy an island

Optional: if all have even inhabitants, sink islands with low impact and high effort.
Next sink the island with the lowest effort and lowest impact
Next sink the island with the highest effort and highest impact
Etcetera till you have reached the number of agreed WIP

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