An Affinity Diagram is a tool used to organise large amounts of information into groups based on similarities or ‘affinities’ between the information. This process is often used to group ideas generated through Brainstorming.
The Affinity process is a good way to get people to address difficult problems in a creative way. It is useful when people from different areas of the business who are knowledgeable about the problems form a new team. Their perspectives, opinions and insights are combined together. The team consider all the ideas without criticism. This often helps to break through entrenched thinking, enabling the team to develop a creative list of ideas and unconventional solutions.
- When there is a large amount of information to go through (generally more than 15 items of information)
- To organise the ideas generated from Brainstorming where people from diverse and unrelated departments come together to solve a complex problem
- Organise a team – made up of people from different areas of the business who are knowledgeable about the problems (generally a maximum of 6 people is beneficial)
- Brainstorm the problems – this is often best done by allowing each member of the team to write a single idea on a Post-it note then stick it to a board. (No attempt to organise the ideas should be made until all of the ideas are up on the board and visible to the whole team)
- Organise the ideas into ‘Affinity’ groups – every member of the team will move the notes around into related groups. This is done silently to discourage arguments and justifications. The idea is to go for the gut feeling and speed rather than deliberation
- Much more sense can now be made of the main problems facing the business and solutions can be created using other ‘Tools for Analysis’ such as Pareto Analysis or the ‘Five Whys’
Information about customer complaints to business X regarding service, product quality and price was gathered from several sources. The information before it had been organised is shown below on the left and once organised into ‘Affinity’ groups on the right: