The Affinity Diagram

The Affinity Diagram is a powerful and easy to use brainstorming technique. It helps sort seemingly random ideas of a subject into naturally related groups.

The diagrams are flexible and can be used for doing projects and achieving objectives.

A diagram can be created in a single brainstorming session or by using mini-brainstorming sessions over a long period of time.

This page discusses using mini-brainstorming sessions to collect ideas for a project or objective. Another name for a mini-brainstorm is a "spark" of an idea!

Note: This method can easily be modified for a simple 1-2 hour brainstorming session (to create an Affinity Diagram) with colleagues or friends.


Steps of setting up an Affinity Diagram

1. Capture ideas

Ideas come to us 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. In essence you are using your conscious and subconscious to keep you in constant brainstorming mode.

An excellent way to capture these ideas is to write them down on a sheet of paper whenever they pop into your head. Scraps of paper can get cumbersome. A better alternative is to use sticky notes (ex Post It Notes®).

I have found that the small Post It® Notes (2” X 1.5”) work well for capturing ideas and creating the diagram. Larger ones are an alternative. Each person does it a bit differently.

Consider leaving them several places around the house (for a home project). If it is a work project, you may want an ample supply of the sticky notes at your desk.

Note: When writing on the sticky notes use short descriptive sentences for the project or objective.

Only put down one idea per note.

Collect your sticky notes and attach them to 8 ½” x 11” sheets of paper either immediately, or at intervals. As soon you fill up one 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper with sticky notes, start another.

Keep a file, or notebook with all your ideas so none get lost.

Your ideas will probably come slow at first, then grow and then taper off.

Think of it as a bit like making pop corn. At first the ideas will pop into your head occasionally, then the popping will increase in frequency. You many have a frenzy of ideas popping into your head over time!

You will probably get many ideas to capture. This may be over days, or weeks. For a large project it may be take months for your ideas to come out.

Depending on the size of the project or objective, you may have dozens, if not hundreds of ideas. Every project or objective is different.

Eventually your ideas will slow or stop. This is the time to organize your ideas.


2. Organize your ideas into Sub-Categories

Get all your of 8 ½” X 11” paper with all your notes on them. Also get several clean sheets of 8 ½” X 11” paper with nothing on them.

The clean sheets of paper will be used to put ideas on that have similarities.

Start looking for the sticky notes with natural categories. Put all similar ideas on a single sheet of paper. Some categories may take up multiple clean sheets of paper.

When completed you should have anywhere from one sheet to many sheets of paper with similar ideas on them.

Look at all of the ideas, decide on a logical title for that category of ideas on that sheet of paper and write that title on the top of the sheet of paper. That will be your working title. You can change it later if you come up with a better category name.

If there are multiple sheets of paper with ideas, paper clip or staple them together.

When you are finished with categorizing your ideas you will probably have some left over. At the top of one of the sheets of paper, write “Miscellaneous.”

Put all remaining ideas that don’t fit into any of the other categories that you chose onto this sheet of paper. You can categorize them later…or they may eventually get thrown out.

Notes:

1. You now have many great ideas to move forward with your project or objective.

2. Even after you have organized your ideas you will probably continue to get more ideas. That's great! Continue to capture and put them in the appropriate categories you have developed.


Example:

How the Affinity Diagram can be used to do a project.

When writing my book: The Re-Discovery of Common Sense I used Post it® notes extensively to capture ideas for chapters and sections to write about.

The Affinity Diagram method to organize my ideas helped me streamline the writing process significantly. Once my original ideas and concepts were captured I always had something to write about that had excellent content.

A side benefit of using this method for capturing ideas this way was that I almost never have had writers block.


Always Moving Forward

With ideas captured and organized using the Affinity Diagram you should find the same benefit of always being able to move forward on your project or objective.


The Pareto Principle

Another powerful tool to consider when doing a project and objectives is the

pareto principle.

It will help you select the most important items to work and the amount of energy you should invest in each.

The beauty of the Pareto Principle is that it helps free up significant (sometimes enormous) amounts of time when used effectively.

Return from Affinity Diagram to Problem Solving Techniques

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