Home » Brainstorming with an affinity diagram | BUS-470

Brainstorming with an affinity diagram | BUS-470


An affinity diagram is a visual tool that organizes ideas by themes often used in brainstorming sessions to determine both root causes and potential solutions for a problem. Use this tool to brainstorm a viable business problem and its root causes and determine the best one that fits within the scope of influence you and counterparts might have on that particular problem. This tool is most effective for face-to-face meetings; however, with the advancement of technology and shared desktop spaces, this method could be adapted for virtual teams. Participants in the process should include individuals from all stakeholder groups associated with the problem.

  1. Identify a high-level problem in your business or industry.      Consider areas where the organization or department is not meeting metrics      (example: low customer satisfaction, attrition problems, defects, etc.). Normally,      the facilitator has identified the problem or issue prior to the meeting      and introduces the problem or issue to the participants. The process of      introducing the problem and explaining how it is defined in the context of      the project increases understanding of the participants, as well as      producing ideas that are aligned with the problem. 

Example Problem/Issue: Voluntary attrition in the call center is 60%.

  1. Proceed by brainstorming causes for the problem. Participants      should use a separate sticky note to identify each item they believe is a      cause of the problem (see example below). “Why” questions are      often very beneficial when thinking about the problem. 

Example “Why” Question: Why are call center employees voluntarily leaving the company at such a high rate? 


  1. Next, sort the ideas into themes based upon commonalities (see      example below).






Compensation     and Benefits




Employee     Training and Tools


Low     compensation 


Lack of     employee training 


No leader     training 


Lack of     career path


System hard     to use 


Benefits too     costly 


Lack of     procedural support 


Lack of     performance feedback 


System     frequently down 


Lack of     performance standards 

  1. Work with your counterparts to establish connections. Discuss the      categories and examine how they could potentially link together. 

Example Connection: In this case, the “Leadership” theme had the most items. This item could be potentially aligned with the “Progression” theme since employees do not believe they are receiving feedback or have a clear career path.

  1. Use the connections to establish the root cause of the problem.      Look at the established themes and ask “why” questions until the      real root cause of the issue is identified (see example below). At this      stage of the process, many people prefer the use of different colored      sticky notes for the root causes that align to the ideas that have been      brainstormed.

Example: Five Whys Root Cause Analysis:

Defined Problem: Voluntary attrition in the call center is 60%.

Why are call center employees voluntarily leaving the company at such a high rate? 

● Employees feel there is a lack of leadership.

Why is that?

● Employees do not know the performance standards.

Why is that?

● Employees do not receive feedback about their performance.

Why is that?

● Managers have not been trained in providing performance feedback.

Why is that?

● There is no manager training program.

Why is that?

● Most managers are promoted from the call center floor to fill immediate vacancies, so there is no time for training.

  1. Finally, validate the root causes (or causes) of the problem.      Validation of root causes requires collecting data and reviewing reporting      or survey results. The validation phase separates the “noise”      from real root causes of the problem. Noise is considered any item of low      impact and low volume; however, it may be a recent event that individuals      considered when brainstorming, like system downtime.

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