The Affinity Diagram tool is used to consolidate a large amount of information into groupings or clusters of ideas that have a natural 'affinity', i.e., that have a common thread running through them. This is a great tool to use when sorting Voice of the customer data under broad 'Issues' categories.
It can be used very effectively to organize the ideas extracted from a Brainstorming exercise where people from diverse and unrelated departments might come together to solve a complex problem.
Performed as a Team
The affinitizing process is best performed by bringing all the team members or stakeholders involved into a room and allowing them to post sticky notes with single ideas on a board or flipchart. There is no attempt to organize the ideas at this point, until all ideas are up on the board and are visible to all.
Next, everyone gets together and silently move the notes around into related groups. Not being allowed to talk discourages arguments and justifications. The idea is to go for the gut feeling rather than rational pontification, and speed rather than deliberation is the order of the day.
An Example from the Hotel Industry
Information about customer wants/needs regarding service and room quality was gathered from several sources. The data before affinitizing are shown below:
The same data after affinitizing:
Now we can make much more sense of the main issues facing the hotel staff. Additional tools can be used to extend these general customer needs into specific Critical to Quality characteristics.
Constructing an Affinity Diagram is a team activity. The idea is to meld the perspectives, opinions, and insights of a group of people who are knowledgeable about the issues. The process of developing an Affinity Diagram works best when there are no more than five or six participants.
The biggest bang from an Affinity diagram is that it forces the team members to move beyond preconceived notions and patterns of thinking towards more intuitive and unconventional solutions.