Affinity Diagram

The Affinity diagram is one of the new Seven Management tools. It is being widely used for its simplicity and perfectness for creating and organizing ideas in various categories. It is also called the KJ Method (Named after Jiro Kawatika).

The Affinity Diagram is a tool used to organize and classify a large number of ideas or issues or items into relevant buckets based on certain criteria. Thus it helps the team/person to view a holistic picture on a complex scenario. It also helps a team confronted with large number of different ideas or solutions to approach the problem in an organized manner. It reduces the complexity of the problem and makes the work easier and simpler.

Figure 1: Affinity Diagram Overview

Figure 1: Affinity Diagram Overview

The above figure shows how an Affinity Diagram looks like. Similar items are categorized and arranged together under a Header. Based on the complexity, a Super-Header which combines few Headers can also be assigned.

The Affinity diagram finds its use in many places like below:

    1. In the field of New Product Development, to develop ideas for features of a new product or for a new product itself.
    2. In the field of Operations & Quality Management to identify potential causes for a problem or failure
    3. In the field of medical or clinical research, to identify the causes for certain medical condition

Apart from this, there are numerous other places where Affinity Diagram can be used. Basically it is used for idea generation or potential root causes identification.

To use an Affinity Diagram, one need to follow the below steps:

    1. Bring all the team members and domain experts in a room. An ideal size is 4-6 members so that no confusion arises in grouping the ideas.
    2. Brainstorm all the ideas related to the problem/topic. This will ensure that ideas are free flowing and not interrupted or influenced.
    3. Write all ideas in cards and stick it on a board randomly.
    4. Ask each of the team members to group similar ideas. No other member should interrupt while arranging the ideas. Only at the end of each turn, the objections should be discussed and consensus is arrived. If there is no consensus in assigning an idea to a group, the card containing the idea should be duplicated and placed in all the mentioned groups.
    5. After every member has completed his grouping, the groups should be named based on the items classified. A Header is assigned to each group.
    6. If two or more groups can be further grouped, a Super Header can also be assigned.
    7. Draw the completed Affinity Diagram

Note: While grouping ideas, the team should associate the card with the immediate thought that comes to mind. No detailed analysis should be done while grouping.

Affinity diagram thus poses a clear and organized view of a complex and huge task or issue.

In case of idea generation tasks, once the diagram is done, then the team discusses on combining similar features or product groups. Prioritization of products or ideas would be the next task for the team.

In case of problem solving exercise, the team then tries to plot a Fishbone diagram with the help of affinity diagram. Then the team tries to find out the vital few causes by collecting data and plotting a Pareto chart.

Thus Affinity Diagram is a tool that takes the task to the next level of decision making.