Jagina has conducted professional training in communications and analytics for 12 plus years, with a a degree from Kent State University in Journalism and Communications.
The Five Step Process of an Affinity Diagram
Have you ever had a large project to accomplish but were unsure about where to start? Have you ever reviewed a list of items that needs to be tackled but did not agree with the priority order? Have you ever been part of a project where you do not feel like you had any input? If so, an affinity diagram may be a perfect solution to your problem.
An affinity diagram is the organization of ideas into a natural or common relationship. For example, bananas, apples, and oranges would be grouped as fruits, while green beans, broccoli, and carrots would be grouped as vegetables. Affinity diagrams aid teams in tapping into their creativity and gut instincts.
Affinity diagrams are typically born out of brainstorming sessions. Brainstorming is the act of discussing with a group or team a theme with the intent of generating ideas to solve a problem. Unlike traditional brainstorming sessions, a brainstorming session held during the affinity diagram process should be done in silence. This encourages independent thinking among participants.
There are five steps to the affinity diagram process:
- generate - create ideas, typically involves brainstorming.
- display - post the ideas for everyone involved to review.
- sort - begin placing the ideas into columns.
- group - using a clear phrase or sentence name each heading.
- draw - create an illustration representing the results.
How to Get Started
Before you get started, make sure to compile all the materials that you will need. Sticky notes or index cards work best for ease of posting or laying out on a large surface. Dark markers work better than pens for visibility in a large group.
The group should be instructed to silently write their ideas on cards using one word or a short phrase regarding the topic indicated. The ideas are then displayed on a larger surface where everyone can see. One person initially organizes and sorts the list into like columns or groups and a heading card is placed above that column. The team is then allowed to move items from one group to another if they disagree and open it up for discussion. In some cases this may require the word to appear in more than one column. Some headings may need to be grouped into super headings when there are two or more groupings that roll into a larger group.
Benefits of the Process
The affinity diagram process is simple and cost effective. The process does not work well for short lists, but when there are many ideas generated from a brainstorming session this process can be used to create focus and determine priorities. Some of the benefits of the process are:
- innovative thinking - new thoughts not based on past ways of conducting business.
- transparent - everyone involved has input in process.
- open dialogue - disagreements about priorities are part of the process.
Imagine you are responsible for marketing a number of new camping products for your company. You need to determine where to start. You are not familiar with the products so you pull together a small group of employees to add more insight. The employees are asked to spend about five minutes silently writing words or short phrases on post-it notes about what they believe are the best attributes of these new products. After which, over thirty post-it notes are placed on a whiteboard in the conference room in no particular order. You begin to group the words into columns and find that the heading that contains the most words is 'Reliability'. It contains words like 'poles hold up', 'fabric is strong', and 'doesn't rip'. Other columns like 'Color' contained very few words, such as 'visible at night'. You take this information and decided to create a marketing campaign around reliability.
Best Time to Use
The best time to use an affinity diagram is when there are too many ideas to narrow down by one individual or when the project is complex with many details. Numerous ideas often lead to chaos and this provides an opportunity to have group input. Affinity diagrams are often used after a brainstorming session, making sense of verbal data, or surveys. The affinity diagram process works best when you are trying to generate gut level responses, rather than complex overthinking.
An affinity diagram is the process of grouping like ideas into common groups, and is usually preceded by a brainstorming session that generates numerous ideas. The brainstorming session is used to get a team to generate ideas, typically about a complex project. The affinity diagram process has five parts: generate, display, sort, group, and draw. The best materials to use are sticky notes for movement, a large surface, and dark markers for visibility. The group should work in silence to generate their ideas, as not to influence each other's thoughts. These ideas will be displayed and sorted into headings and super headings. Open discussion during the sorting process creates an environment to resolve disputes.
This process is beneficial because it encourages innovative and transparent thinking, along with an open dialogue. The best time to use this process is when the project is filled with chaos or complexity. The group input creates a better opportunity for gut level responses.
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Affinity Diagrams: Definition & Examples Quiz
Instructions: Choose an answer and click 'Next'. You will receive your score and answers at the end.
During an affinity diagram session, participants should _____ write their ideas on the cards.
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