Affinity Diagrams: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Jagina McIntyre

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.

Are you facing a complex project at work, or dealing with conflicting ideas from different groups about a product? Learn the basics of using an affinity diagram, a powerful tool that can bring order from chaos.

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:

  1. generate - create ideas, typically involves brainstorming.
  2. display - post the ideas for everyone involved to review.
  3. sort - begin placing the ideas into columns.
  4. group - using a clear phrase or sentence name each heading.
  5. 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.

This is an example of an affinity diagram, which is used to group common ideas and make sense out of chaos.

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:

  1. innovative thinking - new thoughts not based on past ways of conducting business.
  2. transparent - everyone involved has input in process.
  3. open dialogue - disagreements about priorities are part of the process.

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Affinity Diagrams: Definition & Examples Quiz

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During an affinity diagram session, participants should _____ write their ideas on the cards.

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