Founders Affinity Diagram Grouping Seemingly Different Things to Tackle Issues

 In Benefit Venture Blog, Optimizing, Tools

Founders Affinity Diagram: All entrepreneurs that I know are messy thinkers—for good reason. Things happen and you want to act quickly, not least because your data is scrappy and incomplete. You often can’t see the wood for the trees and everything seems urgent. Prioritizing is tough. Business founders are very unlikely to have management problem-solving systems in place. Entrepreneurs think about their ideas 24/7 and often take action at odd times of day or night. Failure can lead to success, but ‘getting a handle on things’ can diminish the chances of things not working out.

Oh, yes, that was me.

But, there’s help. It has a big name, but is a deceptively simple process. It’s called an Affinity Diagram. The idea is to work on the issues, first to identify them, then to group them and finally to devise a plan for tackling them. What I found was that there were both practical benefits, like prioritizing work, but there was also a psychological advantage, too—less stress. The challenges and conflicting priorities became less daunting.

You may want to start on your own by the use of a Mind Map, to get all your ideas and information down on one piece of paper, or computer screen. An Affinity Diagram is best done in a group—the dynamics and feeding from others’ ideas and data is really stimulating. When you use a group of people, start by using Brainstorming to get the ideas out into the open. The image shows a group using at work on an Affinity Diagram.

Founders Affinity Diagram—Method

founders affinity diagramThe general idea is to bring business order out of chaotic thinking. The aim is to collect existing and latent ideas or data on the issue and set them down in one place.

Once documented, they need to be collated so that creative decisions can be made on how best to deal with them.

Wise entrepreneurs will use all available talent and skills to make things happen in line with her vision. Here are the 10 steps for a group of people (or on your own if must):

Ten Steps of a Founders Affinity Diagram

  1. Brainstorm ideas (and data), and write them on cards or stickies;
  2. Pin or stick them up on a board, or lay them out on a table;
  3. Discuss which ideas or data seem to be related and think of headings for the groups;
  4. Agree and then arrange the cards or notes into clusters of ones that seem to be alike in nature;
  5. When organizing the notes you may see some redundancy or better words for the ideas, so do some editing;
  6. Patterns will emerge that enable further re-grouping, or creation of new sub-groups, so don’t hesitate to refine what goes where; but you may want to look at them using, perhaps the Cause and Effect (or Fishbone) Diagram.
  7. Now you will be better able to see interactions or priorities for decision making;
  8. At this stage solutions of lines of action may already become apparent; test them out in discussion;
  9. Now actions will be prioritized, taking into account the variables and responsibilities—perhaps the hardest part of the whole process;
  10. Agree how the agreed actions will be monitored and assessed.

The whole process will seem very disorganized and patterns may take quite a while to emerge, but keep at it, or maybe even leave the notes posted, go away and then come back to them later. I know that it’s a very scrappy process and frustrating for the founder, but that should not have you abandoning it. It will not only bring deeper convictions for actions, but enthusiastic commitment from your team.

If you like problem solving on computer, you can get software to use affinity diagrams on line.

Get going right away and tell me how it went!

Project managers often make use of the affinity diagram. It was devised by Jiro Kawakita in the 1960s. So things other than hippies happened back then! Jiro is an amazing fellow who devised his KJ Method, based on what he called the Key Problem Approach, largely as a result of his experience dealing with an ecological disaster in a Himalayan village in 1951 (the Sikha Valley Project) after finding dissatisfaction with other anthropological field techniques. His life’s work was about creating harmony from chaos. He was specially famous for working with remote Nepalese villagers in researching their problems, resulting in practical benefits of portable water supplies and rapid rope-way transport across mountain gorges.

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