When you have a scattering of ideas or suggestions, you can use affinity diagrams to organize and group them.
Affinity diagraming is a simple way for an individual or (better) a group to quickly gather and organize a large number of disparate concepts, ideas, suggestions, etc. It is a natural activity after a brainstorming session.
Affinity Diagram Procedure
With one two steps, this procedure is easy to remember.
First, without talking (more on this in a moment), sort the ideas into groups.
Second, for each group of ideas create a summary title the represents that group.
Let’s say you have 200 stickies each with one idea from the brainstorming session. Some are word-for-word the same idea. Some are the same idea only worded slightly differently. Some are really different than others.
The first step includes the no talking rule. When just finishing a brainstorming session where the team is quickly generating ideas and withholding comments, this next step becomes very difficult for most teams.
The idea with no talking is to further reduce the urge to comment, lobby, cajole, or critique ideas toward being the one taking forward in the analysis.
The power of affinity diagraming with a group is getting the groups consensus around the major groups of ideas that require further action and consideration.
Not talking is difficult and requires a facilitator to remind the team to remain silent.
As the grouping occurs, individuals, using their own scheme of grouping and building on other apparent schemes, moves stickies to clusters. Create some space around different groups.
This process may take 5 to 10 minutes. As the movement slows down, that is the signal that the groupings are good enough.
The grouping automatically clusters of similar or repeated ideas generated during the brainstorming. It also bundles ideas that are similar.
For example, if brainstorming how a sensor system might fail, the team may suggest:
- poor solder joints
- external damage to circuit board
- faulty components
- high temperature exposure
This short list could be grouped a number of ways, yet let’s say the team created two groups one that includes the internal to the electronics (solder joints and components) and another that is due to external stresses (damage, corrosion, temperature). You might label these two groups as Failures in circuit board design and assembly and the second group as Failures due to external stresses.
The idea is to summarize the items grouped together. This effectively reduces the number of topics carried forward in your analysis. Instead of dealing with 200 ideas you most likely narrow the list down to 10 or so groups of ideas for further analysis.
Best Practices for Affinity Diagraming
Just a couple of notes when conducting an affinity diagraming session:
- During brainstorming write one idea per stickie.
- At the end of the brainstorming, place all the stickie notes on a wall or across a table.
- Remind the team that this is an ‘out of chair’ experience. Everyone should be involved and encouraged to move the ideas into groups of their own design.
- No talking when sorting and organizing. (may require reminders). Provide positive reinforcement and keep the activity light and fun.
- No rules or suggestions on how to group the ideas.
- If a stickie is moved to one group only to be moved back by someone else. Make a copy of the idea on a new stickie and place in both groups.
- A wall works well and caution tall folks not to create groups at the upper range of their reach.
- As the sorting and movement of stickies slows, prompt the group that there is one minute left for final moves.
- Keep all the ideas with the newly names group. This preserves the individual ideas incase a review of what is included is necessary.
Just try it next time you have a bunch of ideas to organize. It’s fun, quick, and efficient.
Just two steps. Organize ideas in to groups and add a group label. The hard part is not talking during sorting, yet it does provide the best results.