Affinity Diagram


Affinity Diagram


Is it bad to have too many ideas? May be not, but if you’ve ever found information where you’re struggled to find where to begin with a huge data you’ve, you may have wondered how you can use all of these ideas effectively.

When there’s lots of “stuff” coming at you, it is hard to sort and organize the information in a way that makes sense and helps you to make decisions.

Brainstorming ideas, trying to solve a problem or analyzing a situation, whenever you are dealing with huge information from a variety of sources, and ended up spending a large amount of time assimilating all bits and pieces. In this case, you can use an affinity diagram which helps you to organize it.


The affinity diagram was created in the 1960s by Kawakita Jiro (a Japanese anthropologist) and is also known as the KJ method. It is the organized output from a brainstorming session. It organizes a large number of ideas into their natural relationships

Also called: affinity chart, K–J method Variation: thematic analysis


An affinity diagram is used to refine a brainstorm into something that makes sense and dealt with ease. In Seven New QC Tools, Ishikawa recommends the affinity diagram where uncertain facts or thoughts need to be organized, and preexisting ideas or set of ideas need to be overcome, clarified, and when creation of team unity is needed

Diagrammatic Representation

Refer Diagram 1

Steps in affinity diagram/Procedure

Materials needed: sticky notes or cards, marking pens, large work surface (wall, table, or floor)

  1. Record each idea with a marker on a separate sticky note or card. (In a brainstorming session, write directly on sticky notes or cards if you find that you will be following the brainstorm as per affinity). Spread notes on a large work surface in a random manner so all notes are visible to everyone. Entire team gathers for the next steps, around the notes
  2. No one talk in between this step. Look for ideas that are related in some way. Place them side by side. Do until all (ideas) notes are grouped. It’s okay to have “loners” that don’t seem to fit a group. You can move a note which someone else has already moved. If one note looks to belong in two groups, create another note
  3. You can speak now. Members can discuss the shape of the chart, surprising patterns if any, and reasons for moving controversial notes. Certain changes may make. Select a heading for each grouped idea. Search a note in each grouping that captures the meaning of the group. Put it at the top of the group. In the absence of such note, write one. Write or highlight this note with different colors
  4. Join groups into “super groups” if appropriate

When is it used?

  • Complex problem (or issue) and hard to understand
  • Uncertain, disorganized, or overwhelming problems
  • Need the involvement and support of a group to solve the problem

Typical situations are:

  • After a brainstorming exercise
  • When analyzing verbal data, such as survey results

Affinity Diagram Considerations

1.This process makes a group move beyond their habitual thinking. This technique accesses the great knowledge and understanding residing untapped in our intuition

  1. Do not put notes in any order. Do not define categories or headings in advance. Do not speak during step 2. (This is hard for some people!)

3.Plenty of time may take for step 2. You can, for example, place random notes in a public place and allow grouping to happen over several days

4.Groups that use these techniques are amazed that how powerful and valuable a tool it is.

Use markers. With regular pens, it is hard to read ideas from any distance

How to use the tool


Affinity diagram on “Customer service is sub-standard”    – Refer Diagram 2 for this step

  1. Description of problem or issue
  2. Create ideas by brainstorming session. Write each idea on a separate sticky note and put these on a wall/flip chart
  3. Sort ideas into natural themes by asking:            – Refer Diagram 3 for this step
  • Which ideas are similar?
  • Weather one idea connected to any of the others?

If you’re working in a team:

  • Separate into smaller groups of 3 to 4 people
  • IN SILENCE sort the ideas so that no one is influenced by anyone else’s thoughts
  • Shuffle the cards around until consensus is reached
  1. Create total group consensus
  • Discuss on shared meaning of each of the sorted groups
  • Continue until consensus is reached
  • Ideas do not fit into any theme, separate them as “stand-alone” ideas
  • If ideas fit into more than one theme, prepare a duplicate card and put it into proper group
  • Give limitation to the total number of themes in between five and nine
  1. Prepare theme cards (also called affinity/header cards) – Refer Diagram 4 for this step
  • Prepare a short 3-5 word description for the relationship
  • If you’re working in a group, complete this together
  • Write the theme/header on a blank card and place at the top of the group
  • Define a “super-headers” if necessary for group themes
  • Create a “sub-header” card if necessary as well
  1. Group the themes/headers until you have reached the broadest but meaningful categories
  • Create lines that connect the themes/headers, sub-headers, and super-headers
  • It end up with a structure that shows the hierarchy, at a glance, where the relationships are

Note: The diagram will take shape after each and every step


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