An affinity diagram helps you process complex research or ideas by finding similarities among your data and grouping them accordingly. Whether you’re brainstorming or extrapolating data, an affinity diagram can help you visualize what’s in front of you and take action. Read on to learn how an affinity diagram can help you reach stronger conclusions.
To turn information into action, you must first draw conclusions. But conclusions can be hard to find in a sea of facts or ideas.
That’s where an affinity diagram comes in. Affinity diagrams help you organize your information so you can process what’s in front of you and identify common themes. Using this tool, your team can gain visibility into possible solutions or innovations.
An affinity diagram—also called an affinity map—is a visual tool used to organize information. When you sort facts or ideas by common themes, your team can develop new ways of processing complex issues.
Affinity diagrams can also help you:
Spark meaningful discussions
Present your information to others
Find innovative solutions
Affinity mapping is the process of creating an affinity diagram—the end result. Perform affinity mapping to improve team collaboration by harnessing everyone’s best ideas.
After your team gathers facts or brainstorms ideas, work together to organize the data. Involve others in the organization process so you can gain a better understanding of the information before working toward solutions.Read: Affinity diagram: How to organize information
If you’re finding it difficult to narrow down a solution to a problem, you may have too many facts or opinions and not enough structure. An affinity diagram can help make information more digestible.
Use an affinity diagram to:
Analyze large amounts of data
Find a solution to a difficult problem
Sort a large number of ideas by theme
Visualize and process information
Collaborate on solutions
Whether you’re improving a strategic plan, developing a new product, or looking for answers, affinity mapping can help you find relevant insights and take action.Free affinity diagram template
UX design teams often use affinity diagrams to analyze user research. Design thinking encourages UX teams to keep the user experience front of mind. By grouping research into categories—like target audience or customer pain points—your team can pull out the useful details and leave the rest.
Agile teams following a method of continuous improvement can use affinity diagrams to make sense of project information. For example, if your team wants to improve a past project, you can sort the project tasks by things like communication, process, or leadership. These categories will make it easier to identify what went wrong.Read: How to capture lessons learned in project management
To create an affinity diagram, work with your team to find commonalities in your research findings. You may notice various themes—some will be more relevant than others. Before grouping your data points, determine what categories will help you draw conclusions.
Think of affinity mapping as an essential step in processing your information. Follow the below steps to create a diagram and turn insights into actionable steps.
This first step in creating an affinity diagram is to clarify what topic you need to organize or consolidate. You may need to sort through user research to improve your marketing strategy, or maybe you want to spark ideas for your next project.
Not every topic will work for an affinity diagram. Topics that have one of the following goals will work best:
Extrapolating user research
Improving a past project
Developing ideas for a new product
Identifying issues with a process
Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to look at it from another perspective. Ask yourself whether the topic you’re processing would be easier to understand if you organized the information differently.
A cross-functional team helps you look at your data from various perspectives, because each team member is bringing their own unique skill set and experiences. For example, you may default to grouping your ideas by “idea type,” while other team members may find more effective grouping methods, like “implementation requirements.”
Imagine you’re brainstorming ideas to improve customer relationships. If you sort the ideas by who came up with them, you likely won’t gain much insight into the product development process. Instead, identify groups that will push your ideas forward. For a CRM strategy, your categories could include the impact the idea will make or how complex the idea will be to implement. Work with your cross-functional team to find the best grouping methods.Free affinity diagram template
For example, if you’re trying to brainstorm ideas to improve customer relationships, your initial idea list might include:
Social media posts
Upgraded CRM software
More direct sales strategy
Make sure each list item is a singular idea or thought so you can group ideas based on their unique characteristics. If you’re using affinity mapping for research, pull out relevant facts in your data and list each one on its own line.
Once you have an exhaustive list of items, it’s time to look for similarities among ideas or facts. Categorize items based on the most logical themes. Keep in mind that your grouping style can change the way you see information—as well as the conclusions you find.
Topic: Ideas to improve customer relationships.
Social media posts
Upgraded CRM software
More direct sales strategy
By internal vs. external efforts
By creation complexity
You can group the ideas above in a few ways. One category option would be whether your efforts are internal or external. However, this grouping likely won’t help you narrow down your choices. Instead, group your ideas by how complex the creation process will be. That way, you can determine which idea will be the most logical to act on.
Affinity diagrams help your team find answers so you can more confidently take action. After placing your ideas in groups, you’ll be able to see what ideas fit best with your goals of development or improvement.
Narrow down your ideas: Narrow down your facts or ideas to the data that feels most relevant to your goals. For example, if your goal is to develop a new software product, remove any items that don’t involve this audience.
Create an action plan: Once you have a strong set of data, work with your team to incorporate that data into your campaign or project. An action plan includes the specific steps your team will take to implement ideas or incorporate research into your project.
Map out your timeline: Take the tasks from your action plan and assess how much time you think the project will take.
Follow up on progress: Check in with your team and see how the implementation process is going.
When you have clarity on what it takes to implement an idea, you'll feel more confident in the idea or facts you’ve chosen.
Below, you’ll see an illustration of what affinity mapping looks like. The concept is simple, but how you map out your diagram is key. Your priority should be to identify similarities among your facts or ideas that will lead to helpful insight.
Use the free affinity diagram template below and perform the process with your team. Once you create a digital affinity diagram, make it accessible through your work management system so your team and key stakeholders can reference it when needed.
Affinity diagrams change the way you view information. With new perspectives, your team can quickly find the answers they’re looking for and develop innovative solutions to problems.Free affinity diagram template