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Affinity Diagram: How to do it

The Quality Toolbook > Affinity Diagram> How to do it

When to use it | How to understand it | Example | How to do it | Practical variations


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How to do it

  1. Form a team of between four and seven people to work on the problem. The ideal group has a good understanding of the problem, works well together and has complementary, rather than supplementary, knowledge. They also have a tendency to think creatively about problems.

  2. Define the task in such a way such that the problem is clear, but there is scope for creative thought around it. For example, use 'Design attractive rainwear for 13 to 15 year old girls' rather than 'children's mackintoshes'. In the meeting, display this prominently.

  3. Collect data about the problem, for example using Brainstorming, Nominal Group Technique or Surveys. Where data is verbal, such as from interviews and observations, record the actual words spoken.

  4. Transfer the data onto 3" x 5" cards (one item per card), making sure that what is written is understandable as an individual item. This can be helped by using a complete sentence, and by avoiding abstract terminology. For example, 'Bright colors get you noticed' rather than 'luminous'. If a mixture of subjective and objective data is used, differentiate them for later reference, for example with an asterisk.

  5. Shuffle the cards (to remove any patterns that may influence their placement in step 6) and spread them out in a 'parking area' so that they can all be seen. There should be enough space in front of the parking and organization area for the team to freely move.

  6. Silently, the group reads the cards and moves them one by one from the parking area into the organization area, placing together those that seem to be most closely related, as illustrated .

  7. Use feeling and impression to group cards rather than conventional classifications, such as common keywords and clichés (this is particularly important if you are trying to shed new light on an old problem). Aim for small groups of cards; four or less is good, up to about ten is acceptable.

    Cards may be moved between groups, which can result in people moving cards back and forth in silent debate until one person capitulates. If they persist, the leader or facilitator may have to assist.

    This stage ends when the movement of cards ceases. There may be a few cards left in the parking area which do not fit into any groups.



Fig. 1. Moving cards into groups

  1. Discuss each group, aiming to identify the common characteristics of the group. This may result in cards being moved to or from other groups. Create a header card to summarize the spirit of the group, either by selecting an appropriate card from within the group or by writing a new one.

  2. Put the header cards at the top of each group, either at the top of a column (as illustrated in Fig. 2) or physically on top of the group with the other cards attached below it. Mark the header cards, for example with a bold border, to distinguish them from other cards. If the header card is to be moved away from its group, a numbering system can be used to enable it to be put back later.

  3. Repeat the process, building up a multi-level tree made up of groups which contain other groups and individual cards. To do this, treat any existing group as a single card, titled as the header card.

  4. If there are a number of small groups, then clip the group cards under the header card and return them to the parking area before repeating from step 6 until there is only one composite group left.

    If there are a few, larger groups, it may be easier to leave them in place and identify any grouping of these by discussion.

  5. The cards and groups may then be documented in a single diagram for communication, discussion, etc.


Fig. 2. Creating header cards


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