No matter the industry or workplace, brainstorming is often used to identify issues, formulate solutions, and execute projects; it is an excellent way to foster collaboration and generating beneficial ideas. Brainstorming sessions that are unstructured or ill planned will ultimately be disservice to the project and it can be easy for ideas and themes to be forgotten.
An affinity diagram is an analytical tool to improve the process and is commonly used in Six Sigma. When it comes to project management or problem solving, affinity diagrams provide structure to organize ideas into subgroups that share a common theme or relationship.
Creating an affinity diagram during a brainstorming session is fairly simple and can be followed in these six steps:
- Identify the issue, project, or process the group will focus on for brainstorming.
- Have those in the group write down their ideas or solutions onto sticky notes or note cards; there should be one card for each idea.
- Lay the cards face-up on the table and begin to look for related ideas or common themes.
- Sort and group the notecards until all the cards have been used.
- Add an 'affinity heading' to each homogenous group.
- Now that groups have been established and identified, put them into the order of the process and discuss concepts and themes.
Affinity diagrams are a beneficial tool for problem solving and project management when many ideas are presented. The physical aspect of these diagrams makes it easy to visualize which themes or areas should be addressed. The diagrams are also particularly helpful for large groups and groups that generate ideas at a fast pace and all members of the brainstorming team should contribute to the diagram. Having even over a dozen ideas can be overwhelming for project planning, but the affinity diagram helps to sort these ideas and plan a project that is viable.