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Affinity Diagram

One of the more unusually named Lean tools, the affinity diagram is not really a diagram at all. It is more of a sorting and grouping process to organize ideas into manageable chunks.

The process is simple:

  1. Collect ideas, whether through brainstorming, VOC (voice of the customer) or some other means.
  2. Record the ideas onto separate cards or sticky notes.
  3. Begin placing similar cards/notes into groups.
    • This step can be done in silence, with each person placing their own cards where they feel the ideas belong, or as a group.
  4. If a card could fit in two categories, make a duplicate and put it in both.
  5. Create logical headings for the groups in the affinity diagram.

The end result of the affinity diagram is a few clusters of related ideas that can be more easily analyzed and acted upon.

Sample Affinity Diagram

Suppose your team comes up with the following ideas to help a floundering restaurant improve its sales:

  • Give customers frequent visitor punch cards
  • Make bigger portions
  • Play better music
  • Get more comfortable chairs
  • Use better ingredients
  • Add Menu items
  • Make healthier menu choices
  • Have the servers wear costumes
  • Advertise in the local paper
  • Publish coupons

When placing these into groups, the team generally feels that punch cards, coupons, and advertising all fall into the same category. Music, chairs, and costumes go together, and the rest are in a final group. The affinity diagram would look like this:

Marketing Food Ambiance

Give customers frequent visitor punch cards

Make bigger portions Play better music
Advertise in the local paper Use better ingredients Get more comfortable chairs
Publish coupons Add Menu items Have the servers wear costumes
Make healthier menu choices

You can see how the different categories tend to ‘shake out.’ With this information, you can start to decide on a course of action. You may decide that the Marketing approach is the least expensive of the options, and might have the most immediate impact.

Be careful when using an affinity diagram, though. The ideas should match the step you are working on. For example, don’t start organizing improvement ideas while you are still brainstorming during problem analysis.

 

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2 Comments

  • Sanjeev Goel says:

    So, in case of shopfloor problem this Affinity diagrame is usefull for sorting possible causes into man, machine, material, method etc categories which will be a good input to make Ishikawa diagram.

    • Jeff Hajek says:

      Absolutely. The cause and effect diagram is just a bit more specialized than a basic affinity diagram.

      The most common time I use it, though, is right after a brainstorming session to come up with improvement ideas. It lets me see which ideas are the most common, and makes it easier to come up with a plan when the ideas are categorized.

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