Affinity grouping is a collaborative prioritization process where group participants brainstorm ideas and opportunities according to their similarities. Affinity grouping is a broad and versatile process based on simple but highly effective ideas. It helps teams generate and then organize teams according to their similarity or likeness.
Understanding affinity grouping
Affinity grouping can be used to:
- Identify design improvements for an app.
- Classify information gathered via interviews, surveys, or general observations. For example, employee feedback.
- Create a diagram showing the relationship between factors influencing an issue or problem.
The process begins with group members collaboratively brainstorming ideas or opportunities using Post-It Notes.
Then, each idea or opportunity is sorted according to thematic clusters called “affinity groups”. In business, these groups may have themes relating to driving revenue, increasing customer satisfaction, or enhancing performance.
Implementing the affinity grouping technique
The process of affinity grouping is neither formal nor overly structured. Nevertheless, teams should follow this basic order of steps:
- Brainstorm ideas around a central issue or problem. Record each idea on a Post-It Note.
- Randomly place each idea on a large table or surface.
- Without deliberation, group ideas together if they appear to be related. Team members are free to add new ideas to the mix while grouping is occurring.
- Continue until all ideas have been grouped. Some ideas will have to be set aside because they don’t belong to a particular theme. At this stage, there should be no more than 10 groups formed.
- The team should then formulate short and descriptive sentences that describe each group. For best results, avoid one or two word titles. If descriptive sentences cause conflict with the ideas in one group, move certain ideas to another group or create copies so that one idea can occupy two groups.
- With each title, brainstorm some new ideas and classify them accordingly.
- Lastly, the group should determine which categories should be prioritized based on a vote.
The role of the facilitator in affinity grouping
Affinity grouping is a simple process, but it requires a reasonable degree of management.
A good facilitator is crucial in getting participants invested and maintaining that investment over meetings that can last hours.
Affinity grouping facilitators should also:
Clarify ground rules
It’s important to identify the team sponsor or the individual with the issue that needs to be addressed by the team.
Team selection is also vital – each individual must have relevant expertise and be willing to engage in creative thinking.
Affinity grouping should be performed in silence, particularly when ideas are being generated and grouped.
A good facilitator ensures that silence is upheld and that the dominant personality does not jeopardize the “democratic” nature of the technique.
Clarify context and encourage ideas
The context must be established at the beginning of affinity grouping. This helps the technique stay focused on the matter at hand.
Furthermore, all ideas should be encouraged and not dismissed before they’ve been analyzed.
Affinity grouping in agile
Affinity grouping in agile is otherwise known as affinity estimation, but the premise of the technique is more or less the same.
Affinity estimation is used by teams to quickly and easily estimate a large number of user stories using story points. It is most effective for product backlogs that exceed 20 items.
How does this process occur, exactly? There are three steps.
Step 1 – Silent relative sizing
To start, a horizontal scale is defined where one end is marked with “Smaller” and the other “Larger”.
Note that there is no discussion with others while this step is performed.
Team members are expected to estimate the size of each story based on the relative size of other stories already placed.
Items with a questionable or ambiguous size can be placed in a separate area.
Alternatively, the product owner or another qualified stakeholder can provide clarification.
Step 2 – Editing the wall
Once every team member has had the chance to place a story on the wall, it is now time to edit the relative sizes of each.
This is facilitated by a team discussion regarding story implementation, design, or other notable obstacles.
Again, the product owner can be a useful source of information.
After a consensus is reached, some stories may be re-positioned on the scale to more accurately reflect their size.
Stories are represented by cards that may exist in digital form, physical form, or both.
The card itself typically has details including story header (title), story ID, epic/feature, and of course size.
Step 3 – Placing the items
The scale should then be divided and marked so that each story can be categorized based on story points. There are a few different approaches:
- The “t-shirt sizing system” – XS, S, M, L, and XL.
- The Fibonacci series – 0, 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8.
- 2n – 2, 4, 8, 16, and 32.
Each method provides five buckets (categories) on a converted scale that team members can use to better place their stories.
To help team members appreciate the relative size of each bucket, appropriate spacing should be used on the wall on which the scale is displayed.
For minor disagreements on where a story should be replaced, the product owner can take on the role of a mediator and move the process forward in any case.
This is because the development team ultimately decides on the size of the requirement.
For more significant disagreements, however, the story can be placed in the same separate area outlined in step one. The product owner can then seek clarification on these items later.
Additional outputs that may occur during affinity grouping include the creation of one or more user stories that were not part of the initial evaluation.
Others still may be removed or combined subject to group consensus.
Scenario 1: App Redesign
Purpose: A tech company is looking to improve the user experience of its mobile app.
Strategy: The strategy is to enhance user engagement and retention by revamping the app’s interface and adding new features.
Values: User satisfaction, Innovation, User-Centered Design.
Behavioral Standards: The development and design teams work closely to implement user feedback, test new features, and ensure the app is intuitive and responsive.
Scenario 2: Employee Feedback
Purpose: A software company wants to gather feedback from its employees to improve the work environment.
Strategy: The strategy involves conducting anonymous surveys and interviews to understand employee concerns and suggestions.
Values: Employee well-being, Continuous Improvement, Transparency.
Behavioral Standards: HR and management teams actively seek employee input, address concerns, and implement changes to create a better workplace.
Scenario 3: Product Backlog Estimation (Agile)
Strategy: The strategy is to use relative sizing, discussion, and categorization to estimate story points effectively.
Values: Efficiency, Collaboration, Agile Development.
Behavioral Standards: Team members participate in silent relative sizing, engage in discussions to clarify points, and categorize stories into appropriate buckets based on complexity.
Scenario 4: Product Feature Prioritization
Purpose: A software development team is tasked with prioritizing new features for their product.
Values: Customer-Centric Development, Innovation, User Engagement.
Behavioral Standards: The development team collaborates to brainstorm feature ideas, group them by similarity, and prioritize them based on their potential impact.
Scenario 5: Marketing Campaign Ideas
Values: Creativity, Customer Engagement, Brand Awareness.
Behavioral Standards: The marketing team uses affinity grouping to organize campaign ideas into thematic clusters and decide which concepts to prioritize.
Scenario 6: Process Improvement in IT
Purpose: An IT department aims to improve its internal processes for faster issue resolution.
Strategy: The strategy is to identify bottlenecks, streamline workflows, and enhance communication within the IT team.
Values: Efficiency, Collaboration, Customer Satisfaction.
Behavioral Standards: The IT team engages in affinity grouping to categorize process improvement ideas, refine them through discussions, and prioritize changes for implementation.
Scenario 7: New Product Ideation
Purpose: A technology company wants to generate ideas for a new product.
Values: Innovation, Market Relevance, Profitability.
Behavioral Standards: Cross-functional teams use affinity grouping to cluster and prioritize product ideas based on their potential market impact and feasibility.
Scenario 8: Content Strategy for a Tech Blog
Values: Relevance, Audience Engagement, Thought Leadership.
Behavioral Standards: The editorial team uses affinity grouping to group content ideas by themes, ensuring a diverse and appealing content calendar.
- Affinity grouping is a brainstorming method used to generate and organise ideas according to their likeness.
- Affinity grouping can be used to identify design improvements for an app, gather employee feedback, or show the relationship between factors as they contribute to a problem.
- Affinity grouping does require the services of a good facilitator who clarifies ground rules and context. They also ensure that the process is performed in silence so that dominant personalities do not compromise results.
- Affinity Grouping Overview:
- Affinity grouping is a collaborative process where participants brainstorm ideas based on similarities and group them accordingly.
- It helps generate and organize ideas or opportunities according to common themes or likeness.
- Applications of Affinity Grouping:
- Affinity grouping can be used to improve app design, classify interview or survey data, and visualize relationships among factors affecting a problem.
- Process of Affinity Grouping:
- Begin with brainstorming ideas on Post-It Notes.
- Place ideas on a table and group related ideas.
- Sort ideas into thematic clusters or “affinity groups.”
- Create short descriptive sentences for each group.
- Brainstorm new ideas and classify them under respective groups.
- Prioritize categories through voting.
- Role of Facilitator:
- A good facilitator is essential for managing the process effectively.
- Clarifies ground rules, identifies team sponsor, and ensures relevant expertise in the team.
- Maintains silence during idea generation and grouping.
- Clarifies context, encourages all ideas, and prevents dismissals.
- Affinity Grouping in Agile:
- Affinity grouping in agile, also called affinity estimation, is similar in principle.
- Used to estimate user stories quickly using story points in product backlogs.
- Involves silent relative sizing, editing relative sizes through team discussion, and placing items in categorized buckets.
- Categorizing Story Points:
- Story points can be categorized using methods like the “t-shirt sizing system,” Fibonacci series, or 2n approach.
- Helps team members place stories accurately based on relative sizes.
- Role of Product Owner:
- Product owner presents stories for estimation and provides clarification when needed.
- Mediates minor disagreements on story placement.
- Development team decides on the final size of requirements.
- Additional Outputs in Affinity Grouping:
- Affinity grouping may lead to new user stories, removal of some stories, or their combination based on group consensus.