An Introduction to Affinity Diagrams
Valentin Huang 06/13/2023 Glossary
4 Minutes

An affinity diagram can also be referred to as an affinity chart or map. Simply put, it is a graphical tool that allows you to combine and order the information gathered in a brainstorming session. An affinity diagram classifies ideas into categories based on the links between them.

Affinity Diagram Defined

An affinity diagram is an organizational tool used to amalgamate and organize large volumes of data based on their similarity and relatedness.

Example of an Affinity Diagram

If you still need clarification about how an affinity diagram works, it is easier and more convenient to understand through the following example: 

For example, you are a team leader in a business organization where a number of complaints are raised about the way your team members approach meetings. You take action by meeting with your team members and understanding what some of their main complaints are. This can be called a brainstorming session, after which you ideally collaborate with them in sorting out their "pain points" using shared themes. The pain points identified in the brainstorming session are written down on sticky notes and posted on a whiteboard or wall. The next step is to group similar complaints and label the groups with a descriptive title. This grouping process continues until all complaints are organized into categories. The end result is a visual representation of the complaints and their respective categories, which makes it easier for the team to analyze and find solutions to the problems. In conclusion, an affinity diagram is a valuable tool for converting scattered ideas into organized and actionable information.


Using Affinity Mapping

Developing an affinity diagram, affinity mapping, is used to improve team collaboration and collect everyone's top ideas. The team must work together to arrange the collected information, involving others in the organization process to better understand the data before finding and ultimately reaching solutions. Likewise, a relevant and prolific strategy of burn-down charts can also benefit you.

Steps before starting an affinity diagram

The following section of the article provides a series of steps you should follow before working on an affinity diagram.

1. Including a diverse team

To generate unconventional, diverse and innovative ideas during brainstorming, it is crucial to have a variety of individuals with different perspectives, personalities and backgrounds. This includes inviting many team members from various departments and levels and those without prior knowledge of the problem under discussion. This is essential to avoid groupthink and potentially provide unique solutions.

2. Assigning a leading role

A brainstorming session, like any other meeting, requires a facilitator. An effective facilitator should possess the following: 

  • Great non-verbal communication skills (listening), allowing attendees to share their ideas without hesitation.

  • Analytical skills are necessary to convert brainstorming results into actionable programs.

  • Communication skills to guide the conversation as needed.

  • You can act as a facilitator or delegate the role to a team member who you feel possesses these skills.

3. Preparing the space and supplies.

To create an affinity diagram, organize the material and find a space free of distractions so you and your team can work together productively. Carrying sticky notes and pens to take visual notes is a handy idea for in-person meetings. For remote sessions, you can find and use affinity diagram templates available online or virtual sticky notes for a similar in-person experience.

4. Going over the notes

Good job finishing the brainstorming session and completing the other necessary steps! Before officially creating the affinity diagram, take time to review the outcome of the session to better understand it and group the ideas for the affinity map.

Going further, to learn more about organized methods of working on products, you can get help from the agile epic concept.

A Step-by-Step Approach to Making an Affinity Diagram

1. Conducting a brainstorming session.

Note that the affinity map is only useful after a good brainstorming session. Start by writing the problem or question at the top of a whiteboard and jotting down the ideas that emerge from each team member on sticky notes. The ultimate goal is to extract as many ideas as possible without worrying about categorizing them yet. This will provide plenty of material to create the affinity diagram later.

2. Classifying and segregating ideas.

With a pile of sticky notes taking up space on your whiteboard, it's time to sort them into shared topics. First, place a sticky note in the first top-level category. Then, for each subsequent sticky note in your collection of ideas, determine if it belongs in the same category as the first. If it doesn't, that's your cue to invent a new variety. Repeat the process for each sticky note, placing it in an existing group or creating a new one.

And congratulations! All your ideas are sorted, segregated and gathered in one place.

3. Putting those ideas into action.

Information is only useful with action. After preparing and visualizing your affinity diagram, put it to practice to develop realistic action plans and deadlines that promote a problem-solving approach. After categorizing the ideas, it is always best to further refine using methods such as hierarchy and prioritization to better structure them.

Using an affinity diagram to present UX research

You can use affinity diagrams if you are a passionate UX designer and need to analyze user research. The design thinking approach is valuable because it allows UX designers to work by putting the user experience before their eyes. It is simple and convenient to categorize user research into different segregations, such as consumer pain points or the preferred target audience. 


Frequently Asked Questions

What is in an affinity diagram? 

An affinity diagram is a visual tool used to organize and categorize many ideas, thoughts, or concepts generated during a brainstorming session or other problem-solving process. It typically includes a list of unique views or statements written on sticky notes, which are grouped and categorized into themes or standard patterns. The result is a diagram showing the relationship and similarities between different ideas, making it easier to analyze and decide based on the information.

What is an example of an affinity diagram?

For example, an affinity diagram could be used to organize customer's product feedback. The brainstorming session can generate many individual customer comments and suggestions written on sticky notes. These notes could be grouped into categories such as "desired features," "problems with the current product," "suggestions for improvement," and so on. The resulting affinity diagram visually represents the common themes and patterns of customer feedback, making it easier to prioritize and address the most critical issues.

When would you use an affinity diagram?

An affinity diagram is used when there is a need to organize and categorize a large amount of information or data. It is often used in the following situations:

Brainstorming sessions - to organize and categorize the ideas generated during a creative problem-solving session 

Customer feedback analysis - to categorize and analyze customer comments and suggestions for a product or service

Project management - to categorize and prioritize tasks and issues related to a project

Problem-solving - to organize and categorize information about a problem and find potential solutions

Team collaboration - to facilitate group decision-making by organizing information and presenting it in a clear and concise way

To gain insight into affinity diagrams and other effective techniques in product development and marketing, consider pursuing the offerings on Harvestr.




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