Affinity Diagrams

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What Is An Affinity Diagram

An Affinity Diagram is a tool that gathers large amounts of information (ideas, opinions, issues) and organizes them into groupings based on their natural relationships. The Affinity process is often used to group ideas generated by Brainstorming.

Affinity Diagrams help individuals or teams clarify unfamiliar problems. They use ‘language data’ to define the problem. They encourage brainstorming and other creative thinking techniques to identify patterns within data and help you organize your thoughts into meaningful groups.

Why use the Affinity Process?

The Affinity process is a good way to get people to work on a creative level to address difficult issues. It may be used in situations that are unknown or unexplored by a team, or in circumstances that seem confusing or disorganized, such as when people with diverse experiences form a new team, or when members have incomplete knowledge of the area of analysis.

When should we use the Affinity Process?

The Affinity process is formalized in an Affinity Diagram and is useful when you want to:

  • Sift through large volumes of data. For example, a process owner who is identifying customers and their needs might compile a very large list of unsorted data. In such a case, creating an Affinity Diagram might be helpful for organizing the data into groups.
  • Encourage new patterns of thinking. Using the Affinity process is an excellent way to get a group of people to react on a "gut level" rather than mulling things over technically and intellectually. Since Brainstorming is the first step in making an Diagram, the team considers all ideas from all members without criticism. This stimulus is often enough to break through traditional or entrenched thinking, enabling the team to develop a creative list of ideas.

When shouldn't we use the Affinity Process?

As a rule of thumb, if less than 15 items of information have been identified, you should skip the Affinity process. Instead, you can clarify and combine the ideas and then use one of the Decision-Making Tools to identify the highest priority items.

How To Create An Affinity Diagram

Affinitizing is a process performed by a group or team. The idea is to meld the perspectives, opinions, and insights of a group of people who are knowledgeable about the issues.

The process of developing an Affinity Diagram seems to work best when there are no more than five or six participants.

Before going over the steps used to create an Affinity Diagram, we need to look at some unique features of the Affinity process that are important to its success:

  • Affinitize silently. The most effective way to work is to have everyone move the displayed ideas at will, without talking. This is a new experience for many people. It has two positive results: It encourages unconventional thinking (which is good), while it discourages semantic battles (which are bad).It also helps prevent one person from steering the Affinity.
  • Go for gut reactions. Encourage team members not to agonize over sorting but to react quickly to what they see. Speed rather than deliberation is the order of the day, so keep the process moving.
  • Handle disagreements simply. The process provides a simple way to handle disagreements over the placement of ideas: If a team member doesn’t like where an idea is grouped, he or she moves it. This creates an environment in which it is okay to disagree with people having a different viewpoint. If consensus cannot be reached, make a duplicate of the idea and place one copy in each group.

Affinity Diagram

Affinity Diagram

Brainstorming then Affinitizing

Step-by-step process of creating an Affinity Diagram.

Step 1 - Generate ideas. Use Brainstorming technique to generate a list of ideas. The rest of the steps in the Affinity process will be easier if these ideas are written post-its.

Step 2 - Display the ideas. Post the ideas on a flip chart, a wall, or a table in a random manner.

Step 3 - Sort the ideas into related groups. The team members physically sort the cards into groupings, without talking, using the following process:

  • Start by looking for two ideas that seem related in some way. Place them together in a column off to one side.
  • Look for ideas that are related to those you've already set aside and add them to that group.
  • Look for other ideas that are related to each other and establish new groups.

This process is repeated until the team has placed all of the ideas in groups.

NOTE: Ideally, all of the ideas can be sorted into related groups. If there are some "loners" that don’t fit any of the groups, don’t force them into groupings where they don’t really belong. Let them stand alone under their own headers.

Create header cards for the groups. A header is an idea that captures the essential link among the ideas contained in a group of cards. This idea is written on a single card or post-it and must consist of a phrase or sentence that clearly conveys the meaning, even to people who are not on the team.

The team develops headers for the groups by:

  • Finding already existing cards within the groups that will serve well as headers and placing them at the top of the group of related cards.
  • Alternatively, discussing and agreeing on the wording of cards created specifically to be headers.
  • Discovering a relationship among two or more groups and arranging them in columns under a super-header. The same rules apply for super-headers as for regular header cards.

Step 5 - Draw the finished Diagram.

  • Write a problem statement at the top of the diagram.
  • Place header and super-header cards above the groups of ideas.
  • Review and clarify the ideas and groupings.
  • Document the finished Diagram.

From Affinity Diagram to Six Sigma Tools

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