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.
- Maintain silence. 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 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.
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