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How to create affinity diagrams to organize and cluster your ideas

Coming up with effective solutions in collocated and remote teams

Affinity mapping is one of the most popular and effective methods that help teams organize ideas and come up with viable solutions and action plans. In this article, we will do a deep dive into the ways affinity mapping can help your team, improve the quality of ideas, and help you overcome your company’s challenges.

Anna has written about experience design, product development, and workshop facilitation. She has been working in distributed teams for three years, and she is passionate about helping these teams to succeed.


What is an affinity diagram?

An affinity map or an affinity diagram is a widely used management tool that helps participants organize information generated during a brainstorming session, by sorting it into groups based on their relationships for review and analysis.

Who invented affinity diagrams?

Affinity diagramming was invented in the 1960s by Japanese anthropologist Jiro Kawakita, and is sometimes called the K-J method. For many years, this method was implemented as a part of the Seven Management and Planning Tools, used in Japan and worldwide to help leading global organizations make and implement better team decisions.

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The Seven Management and Planning tools include:

  • The Affinity Diagram
  • The Tree Diagram
  • The Interrelationship Diagram
  • The Matrix Diagram
  • Prioritization Matrices
  • The Process Decision Program Chart (PDPC)
  • The Activity Network Diagram

When should I use affinity diagrams?

Affinity diagrams provide a way to help with idea generation and organizeing your ideas after a brainstorming session is done. They will also augment decision making processes in the future and are especially helpful when you are brainstorming a complex issue in a group or dealing with large data sets and, as a result, have a large number of ideas that are hard to align or group around one big topic.

Before you start creating an affinity diagram

1. INVITE team members WITH DIFFERENT MINDSETS AND PERSONALITIES. This is a great way to ensure you’re avoiding groupthink and having far more productive and effective conversations. We suggest bringing in people from other departments, and varying levels, completely unrelated to the problem at hand. Someone who doesn’t always understand the problem or what isn’t possible can suggest something that everyone else wrote off as impossible or stupid.

2. ASSIGN A LEADING ROLE. The value that a good facilitator brings to the table cannot be underestimated. A good facilitator should be able to help brainstorming participants express their ideas, so good listening skills are a must. The facilitator also should be good at analyzing information after brainstorming and able to turn major insights into action items. So, try giving one of your colleagues with strong facilitator skills the opportunity to lead the meeting.

3. PREPARE A SHARED SPACE. To make sure the session runs smoothly, prepare stickies, pens, nametags, etc for each participant. If you are working in a distributed team, try using the Miro template for affinity mapping.

4. RUN A BRAINSTORMING SESSION. Using an affinity diagram template, you first clearly state the problem you’re trying to solve at the top. Then, you brainstorm ideas for solving that problem, recording each idea on a sticky note. If you are brainstorming remotely, your participants can use Miro to tag their sticky notes.

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Brainstorming results. 

How do you create an affinity diagram?

1. Once you have a large amount of ideas listed on sticky notes with different ideas (in a room or on a virtual whiteboard), it’s time for the group to sort them into common themes on the diagram. Start by taking one sticky note and turn it into the first idea for the first group.

2. Look at another sticky and ask yourself if it is similar to the first one and belongs to the same group. If not, make it the first sticky in the second group.

3. Keep going, evaluating each sticky and adding them to existing groups on creating new groups. Common themes shouldn’t be pre-defined; they’ll emerge organically as part of the process.

4. When you go through all your ideas and stickies, you should have 3-10 related groups. Name each one of them based on the common theme.

5. Miro’s affinity diagramming template allows you to group stickies depending on the level of the idea, but if there is no hierarchy between your stickies, you can just group them under several common themes.

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6. Once you understand common themes, you can prioritize (try using the Miro voting feature for that) groups based on your goal (ask yourself, what goal or objective you want to influence).

7. Depending on the format of the meeting, you can also use top-priority clusters to create action items for the team and set timelines that will help you move the project forward.

Affinity diagramming is a useful tool for UX designers, product managers, and organizational leaders to come up with ideas and turn them into insights, and then, into an action plan. Next time you are struggling with a big challenge, try using brainstorming and affinity mapping to tackle it with your team!

FAQs about affinity diagrams

How does an affinity diagram work?

An affinity diagram works by first brainstorming a list of ideas, and then categorizing these ideas according to their relationships. From there, you can develop an action plan to implement the ideas you generated.

What are the best practices for creating affinity diagrams?

Make sure you begin the process with a clear set of objectives, and elect a leader to guide the brainstorming session and then the process of creating the diagram. This will keep your affinity mapping focused and yield the most productive outcomes.

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