Affinity Diagram – Definition

Cite this article as:"Affinity Diagram – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated February 21, 2019, last accessed December 4, 2020,


Affinity Diagram Definition

An affinity diagram is used to organize the collective ideas arising out of a brainstorming session. It is a management tool used for planning. Kawakita Jiro created it in the 1960s. The chart is also referred to as the KJ method.

A Little More on What is an Affinity Diagram

The affinity diagram is an idea creation technique which goes by different names, such as thematic analysis, affinity chart, and K-J Method. It is a method of arranging an enormous amount of ideas into their essential relationships.

The affinity diagram is used to assemble the output from a brainstorming session in an organized way. It gets used to create, systematize, and unify information related to a problem, product, complex issue, or process. After generating ideas, a facilitator sorts them according to their similarity or affinity. The affinity diagram opens a group’s intuition and creativity. Jiro Kawakita, a Japanese anthropologist, created it in the 1960s.

Times to use the affinity diagram include:

  • When the consensus of a group is required.
  • When there are many ideas or facts in disarray.
  • When problems are too complex and extensive to comprehend.

The ideal situations when the affinity diagram may get used include:

  • When organizing and collecting vast sets of data.
  • Following a brainstorming activity.
  • When analyzing data obtained verbally.
  • When establishing themes or relationships between ideas.

With the affinity diagram process, a group navigates away from their preconceived categories and systematic thinking. There is knowledge and comprehension that remains untouched in people’s intuition. This technique is a way to access it. A regular affinity diagram could have 40 to 60 items but there times when it could include up to 200. The only materials needed are cards or sticky notes, pens, and a large surface to work on, like a table, wall, or floor.

The steps to the process are as follows:

  1. Write down each idea on a separate card or sticky note. All the notes should get spread on the work surface, so they are visible to everyone involved in the group.
  2. All members of the team gather the notes and find related ideas to put those cards side by side.
  3. Have a discussion and define the grouped relationships into categories. The group should come up with a shape for the diagram. Idea notes can be moved around, and the group can make changes when necessary. There should be headers or summaries for all the categories.
  4. Together the team members look at the relationships of the ideas and based on the header, decide which idea best represent that particular group as a whole. That note should get placed at the top above all the other related concepts.

References for Affinity Diagram

Academic Research on Affinity Diagrams

  • •    The power of business models, Shafer, S. M., Smith, H. J., & Linder, J. C. (2005). Business horizons, 48(3), 199-207. It has become trendy to talk about business models, but there is no consensus as to what they are and what’s their use. There are have definitions offered by other authors, but no single writer’s description has been accepted overall. Business models are of interest to diverse industries — all of which connect with the concept in some way. Shafer, Smith, and Linder want this paper to help business managers have a better understanding of business models. With a review of current literature, the authors gather all mentions of the business model and group them in four basic categories, which include capturing value, strategic choices, creating value, and the value network. A proposed definition for a business model is presented.
  •    Contextual design, Beyer, H., & Holtzblatt, K. (1999). Interactions, 6(1), 32-42. Contextual design is an organized, descriptive design process that is focused on the user. It’s a way of gathering information about users in their environment, then interpreting and condensing that data to develop service and product ideas that can be tested over and over with users. The philosophy of Contextual Design is to have an understanding of users so that designers can know their desires, motivations, and intentions.
  • •    Towards an understanding of supply chain quality management, Foster Jr, S. T. (2008). Journal of operations management, 26(4), 461-467. This paper defines what supply chain quality management is, so a better understanding is gain as to why there has been a rise in the emphasis put on the carrying out of quality management. Foster researches common themes found in literature about quality management regarding specific areas that are always changing, such as supplier relations, customer focus, business results, quality practices, leadership, HR practices, and safety as variables. These content areas are used as a basis for proposing other areas which should be the focus of future research.
  • Implementing total quality management in a university setting, Edwin Coate, L. (1991). New Directions for Institutional Research, 1991(71), 27-38. Coate describes how Total Quality Management (TQM) was used at Oregon State University (OSU) and what the school learned by implementing the specific structure. The author outlines the nine phases with which OSU put TQM into action. In each stage, Coate points out attitude and behavioral changes of those involved, the mistakes that had valuable lessons, and the changes in structure at the school while attempting to improve quality.
  • Quality tools and techniques: are they necessary for quality management?, Tarı́, J. J., & Sabater, V. (2004). International journal of production economics, 92(3), 267-280. Total quality management involves techniques for improving quality and several other critical components. This paper presents a study to confirm that the methods and tools of TQM have significance in quality improvement and what their impact is on the outcome.
  • Total quality management in management development, Chandra, M. (1993). Journal of Management Development, 12(7), 19-31.  For businesses to be ambitious, they must work to give customers prompt quality services and products attentively. When a company puts customers at the center of their operations and strive to develop new ways of providing quality to them, they have more advantage in being successful. Deming’s management philosophy and the introducing of the Malcolm Baldrige National Award in 1987 have directly influenced the awareness that companies now have of how effective total quality management (TQM) is to planning strategies for remaining competitive. Chandra discusses how to qualify for the Malcolm Baldrige Award and what management tools are necessary to carry out TQM.
  • 40 inventive principles in quality management, Retseptor, G. (2003). The TRIZ Journal, (March). Retseptor discusses the 40 inventive principles which the founder of TRIZ originally applied to all the technical fields, such as food production, architecture, microelectronics, and computer software, among others. It was later discovered that those same 40 principles applied to other areas as well, including business, social relations, marketing, and management for example. The author presents models of how they are “fundamental, universal and powerful” tools of human creativity, particularly in the areas of quality management involving project management, quality assurance, quality control, supplier selection, customer focus, reliability and so forth.
  • An analysis of decision-making process in organizations: Implications for quality management and systematic practice, Akdere, M. (2011). Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 22(12), 1317-1330. Akdere claims that since technology is more advanced these days and business operations have become simplified, the process of decision-making has more of a vital role in modern businesses. Several decision-making processes are reviewed in this paper, which includes affinity diagramming, brainstorming, consultative, unilateral, consensus, and voting decision-making. The author presents how the use of a decision-making process implies quality management and correlates the processes with others, such as systematic planning, learning, performance, and quality decision-making.
  • Business excellence through quality management, Vora, M. K. (2002). Total Quality Management, 13(8), 1151-1159. Vora believes that coordinated effort simplify processes, please employees and bring contentment to customers is the Circle of Satisfaction. The comprising elements, when working in harmony, have led to the success both operationally and financially for Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winners and other admirable U.S. companies.
  • Six Sigma in the UK service organisations: results from a pilot survey, Antony, J. (2004). Managerial Auditing Journal, 19(8), 1006-1013. Six Sigma, a set of management techniques, has proven to aim at streamlining processes and reducing defect rate in all basic business procedure, which when done have successfully brought about improvements in performance and bottom line savings. This paper looks at differences and similarities of service and manufacturing processes from the lens of Six Sigma application. Also, the results of a UK service survey are presented as Antony reports on what are the fundamental elements necessary for the successful arrangement of Six Sigma in the service industry.
  • Developing global supply chain quality management systems, Kuei, C. H., Madu, C. N., & Lin, C. (2011). International Journal of Production Research, 49(15), 4457-4481. This paper shows the framework of supply chain quality management (SCQM) on the global level as a complement to traditional supply chain management and quality management. The study uses a hierarchy of system variables, a hierarchy of design variables, and a ranking order of problem-solving techniques. The goal is to establish useful guidelines for quality management among global business leaders and their partners. The authors examine the phase of decision-making as an essential component of global SCQM.

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