Six Sigma Green Belt—Management Tool #1: Affinity Diagrams

In the next week, I would like to discuss the 7 management tools that are used in conjunction with the DMAIC methodology in the course of managing a Six Sigma project. The first is that of affinity diagrams. I am indebted to the Project Management Hut ( for their lucid explanation.

1. What is an affinity diagram?
It is a brainstorming tool, developed by Jiro Kawakita in the 1960s, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the “KJ Method” (in Japanese, last names are listed first).

It is a way of taking a series of facts, ideas, or data on a certain general theme and organizing it into groups of clusters. It can be the first step towards a cause-and-effect analysis using an Ishikawa or fishbone diagram.

2. How does it work?

You get the various stakeholders who are involved on a problem to get together. You buy a lot of variously colored post-it notes or 3×5 cards which are the “atoms” of facts or ideas that you are going to assemble into the various groupings.

Here’s the steps you take:

Step Description
1. Identify Problem Define your problem or identify a general theme. Example: why has customer satisfaction rate been declining?
2. List ideas/issues List the relevant facts, data, ideas, opinions regarding the subject and put these on the post-in notes or index cards. Post these on a noteboard or blackboard.
3. Create affinities Notice which of these notes or cards are similar and arrange them according to patterns based on those affinities.
4. Identify Groupings Label each group of similar notes or cards with a label for each Affinity group. These could be aspects of the problem under consideration. Prioritize these problems that have been identified.
5. Analyze Results Look at the overall groupings created and the facts/ideas associated with each. What insights does this create with regards to the problem stated at the beginning? Does it suggest potential solutions?
6. Share Results Share the results with the stakeholders at large.

For an example of how this would work with a real-world problem, please go to the following website because I thought they did a great job showing the various steps I outlined above.

In conclusion, the affinity diagram or KJ method is a way of synthesizing data and allowing natural patterns to emerge, which allow you to approach the problem in a more organized and systematic way in order to create a more comprehensive solution.


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