Focus – Affinity Diagrams

Affinity Diagrams

The affinity diagram organises a large number of ideas into their natural relationships. It is the organised output from a brainstorming session. Use it to generate, organise, and consolidate information related to a product, process, complex issue, or problem. After generating ideas, group them according to their affinity, or similarity. This idea creation method taps a team’s creativity and intuition. It was created in the 1960s by Japanese anthropologist Jiro Kawakita.

Why is it used?

The affinity diagram process lets a group move beyond its habitual thinking and preconceived categories. This technique accesses the great knowledge and understanding residing untapped in our intuition. Affinity diagrams tend to have 40 to 60 items; however, it is not unusual to see 100 to 200 items.

When is it helpful? 

– When you are confronted with many facts or ideas in apparent chaos
– When issues seem too large and complex to grasp
– When group consensus is necessary                   
– After a brainstorming exercise
– When analysing verbal data, such as survey results
– When collecting and organising large data sets
– When developing relationships or themes among ideas
– When reducing attributes to categories that can be addressed at a higher level”

How is it applied?

Step 1: First, write down the problem

Then quietly put ideas, data, etc. on cards, pieces of paper, or Post-it notes. The operative word is quietly. This is not like a typical brainstorming session where people are very vocal about their ideas. We want this to be a quiet exercise so that no one person(s) biases the other team member’s ideas.

Step 2: Quietly put into homogeneous groupings

Step 3: Affinity Heading

Develop affinity heading cards. For example, there is a homogeneous grouping for human resources related items. There is another grouping for the training department. Another grouping deals with general processing. One grouping has to do with billing. And, the last grouping addresses employee empowerment. The heading cards will be placed on top of each of the homogeneous groupings. 

Step 4: Put the groupings into the order of the process.

For instance, when employees get hired, they first start off with human resources. The human resources department deals with employee empowerment. And you have the process itself – that goes in the middle. Billing usually comes late in the game. And finally, training is something that involves all employees on an ongoing basis so the team chose to put it in last position.

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