What is an Affinity Diagram?

First used in the 1960s by ethnologist Jirō Kawakita—and sometimes referred to as the "K-J Method"—an Affinity Diagram organizes the output of a brainstorming session by grouping ideas together based on their relationship to each other, typically around common categories or themes. As such, an Affinity Diagram offers teams several advantages:

How to run an Affinity Diagram workshop

The Affinity Diagram workshop starts by asking participants a question tied to a specific business objective—and then it flows into the following steps or phases:

  1. Ideation: Participants brainstorm on their own and then write ideas on sticky-notes. There can be no more than one idea per sticky-note.
  2. Grouping: After participants have shared and posted all of their sticky-notes, the group sorts them into “clusters” based on common categories or themes.
  3. Naming: Once the clusters have been established, each cluster needs to be given a unique theme name, one that encompasses all of the ideas that have been grouped into it. Word choice is, therefore, incredibly important at this stage.
  4. Results: Now it’s time to create an organized visual representation of the results. Start by writing the theme name on a different color sticky-note (versus the color used for the ideas) so it stands out. Then, organize all of the ideas vertically under each theme name. You may also draw arrows between clusters—or even between individual ideas—to highlight the links between them.
  5. Voting: If the objective of the Affinity Diagram workshop is to agree upon a specific course of action (i.e. for resolving a product issue or overcoming a key business challenge), then the group may be invited to vote on the tasks they feel should be prioritized for tackling the issue(s) at hand.

Customize your Affinity Diagram workshop

There is not a single way to run an Affinity Diagram workshop. You can customize it however you see fit. For example, you can limit the number of ideas per participant (i.e. up to five ideas max) or even the number of clusters that the ideas can be grouped into (i.e. no more than 10) in order to keep the process focused and organized.

And although these workshops typically begin with participants brainstorming ideas on their own—before sharing them with the broader group—you may choose to kick things off by sharing an idea and then opening it up for debate and discussion, as this can also be a great way to get the creative juices flowing and generate new ideas organically.

Ultimately, you can choose how best to adapt this method for addressing your specific business goals or challenges. However, to get moving in the right direction, here are a few tips to ensure that you get the most out of an Affinity Diagram workshop every time:

Suggested resources to run effective Impact Mapping workshops