Setting the Stage
Getting the best results from a group can be tricky. Preconceived notions and beliefs coupled with departmental silos create a stalemate for creativity. The purpose of an affinity diagram is to organize a large number of ideas into their natural relationships. This method taps a team’s creativity and intuition. Created in the 1960s by Japanese anthropologist Jiro Kawakita, it can be used very effectively to organize the ideas extracted from a brainstorming exercise where people from diverse and unrelated departments come together to solve a complex problem. To ensure the best results, you must create an atmosphere of trust and safety, where opinions are free to flow without any constraints.
Innovation from an Affinity Diagram
To achieve the best results, the affinitizing process is best performed by bringing all the team members or stakeholders involved into a room and allowing them to post sticky notes with single ideas on a board or flipchart. There is no attempt to organize the ideas at this point, until all ideas are up on the board and are visible to all. It is very important that no one talk during this step. Not being allowed to talk discourages arguments and justifications. The idea is to go for the gut feeling rather than rational pontification, and speed rather than deliberation is the order of the day. Look for ideas that seem to be related in some way. Place them side by side. Repeat until all notes are grouped. It’s okay to have “loners” that don’t seem to fit a group. It’s all right to move a note someone else has already moved. If a note seems to belong in two groups, make a second note. Once you have completed this process, you can now talk. Allow the participants to discuss the shape of the chart, any surprising patterns, and especially reasons for moving controversial notes. A few more changes may be made. When ideas are grouped, select a heading for each group. Look for a note in each grouping that captures the meaning of the group. Place it at the top of the group. If there is no such note, write one. Often it is useful to write or highlight this note in a different color.
Focus Leads to Success
The goal of the Affinity Diagram group is to meld the perspectives, opinions, and insights of a group of people who are knowledgeable about the issues. The process works best when there are no more than five or six participants. The most valuable results from an Affinity diagram is that it forces the team members to move beyond preconceived notions and patterns of thinking towards more intuitive and unconventional solutions.