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Affinity Diagrams 

What is it?

Affinity diagramming is a categorization method where users sort various concepts into several categories. This method is used by a team to organize a large amount of data according to the natural relationships between the items.

Basically, you write each concept on a Post-It note and tack them onto a wall. Team members move the notes to groups based on how they feel the concept belongs with other concepts.

How do I do it?

Perform the following steps:

1. Form a team: Gather a team of four to six people. There should be a good mix of experiences and perspectives, and they should approach the diagramming session with a creative, open mind.

2. Describe the issue: Have the team compose a statement about what they're trying to accomplish, or what the end result will be. This statement should be broad and neutral, yet clearly understood and agreed-upon by all members of the team. For example, suppose

3. Generate Idea cards: Brainstorm a list of ideas, then record each idea on a separate PostIt note. The cards should describe whole concepts, and not have just a single word on each one.

4. Tack cards to wall: Tack the notes to the wall in no particular order.

5. Sort cards into groups: Move the cards from into groupings. Just use your gut reactions for where the cards should go. No one speaks during this phase of the process, to make sure that no one influences someone else's decision. If you don't like where someone put a card, move it into a different group. Don't waste time disagreeing about where something should go.

6. Create header cards: Create header cards for each group. These header cards should concisely describe what each group represents. One way to think about this is to write a newspaper-style headline for each group. The header cards shouldn't be single-word titles, and should be able to stand alone and be meaningful without the contents of their groups.

Write subheader cards for subgroups if necessary.

7. Draw the Affinity Diagram: Draw lines connecting the headers, subheaders, and groups. Connect related groups with lines. The result looks a lot like a typical organization chart.

When should I use this technique?

Use this technique when you need to generate a large number of ideas or concepts and sort them into groups.

Who can tell me more?

Click on any of the following links for more information:
Brassard, Michael, ed. 1988. The Memory Jogger: A Pocket Guide of Tools for Continuous Improvement. Methuen, MA: Goal/QPC.

All content copyright © 1996 - 2016 James Hom