How to Use Affinity Diagrams (KJ Diagrams) in Brainstorming

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How to Use Affinity Diagrams (KJ Diagrams) in Brainstorming
Kenneth, India
I have been using the Affinity Diagram method for a long time now and this has proven to be a hit when it comes to selecting criteria and then categorizing ideas. It's participative, silent, quick and very effective. Another variant in brainstorming is using the 6 minus 1 thinking hats, just avoid the Devil's Advocate hat, this can be used in the concerns stage of Brainstorming.

What is an Affinity Diagram?
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
The affinity diagram is a business tool used to organize ideas and data. This tool takes large amounts of disorganized data and information and enables one to organize it into groupings based on natural relationships. It was created in the 1960s by Japanese anthropologist Jiro Kawakita. It's also known as KJ Diagram.
The tool is used in project management and brainstorming and allows large numbers of ideas stemming to be sorted into groups for review and analysis.
Affinity diagram process:
1. Conduct a brainstorming meeting
2. Record each idea on cards or post-it-notes
3. Gather (glue) the post it notes / cards into a single place (e.g. a desk or wall)
4. Look for ideas that seem to be related
5. Sort cards into groups based on the teams thoughts until all cards have been used and the team is happy with the results.
6. Name each group with a description and write the name at the top of each group.
7. Once the cards have been sorted into groups the team may discuss the groups and how they are related and sort clusters into subgroups for easier management and analysis.

The KJ Brainstorming Methodology
Henrique Steinberg, Management Consultant, Brazil
I searched for KJ (a group brainstorming methodology by Jiro Kawakita (hence KJ - the Japanese put the last name first) and Kobayashi) but find only the KJ Diagram by Kawakita.
See below my understanding about KJ:
KJ is a group brainstorming technique that has two main phases:
A. Problem Definition - Understand the Problem/Challenge Essence
B. Problem Solution - Solve the problem/Achieve the challenge

A. Problem Definition - Understand the Problem/Challenge Essence
1. Define concern area.
2. Each participant writes facts or challenges that are related to the selected area of concern on index cards (one fact per card).
3. Facts are grouped in themes and grouped by similarity.
4. The challenge is defined through a phrase that groups the essence of all facts grouped per theme

B. Problem Solution - Solve the problem/Achieve the challenge
1. Each participant suggests solutions, as much as better
2. Solutions are grouped per themes/subjects
3. Continues till all solutions are grouped
4. Essence of the final solution must encompass all themes.
Source: "Problem Solving for Results" By William Roth, James Ryder, Frank Voehl, 1996

KJ Backgound, KJ Process Steps
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
In the 1960s, Professor Jiro Kawakita of Tokyo Institute of Technology developed a technique to allow an area of concern and solutions for it to shape its course according to the neutral facts and nuances of the situation.

In Japan it's called "kami-kire ho", which means "scrap paper technique". It's called "scrap paper" because originally Kawakita had participants write thoughts and ideas on scrap paper. The technique is commonly referred to in the West as "KJ".

KJ synthesizes different individual perspectives and experiences into a shared problem definition and solution that is acceptable to the group.

There are two phases in KJ: understanding the problem and solving the problem. Understanding the problem is getting each member of the group to get a sense of the essence of the problem definition; solving the problem means encouraging all members to participate in suggesting solutions.

KJ Process / KJ Steps:
1. Form team (3-6 members, include key stakeholders, allocate approx. 2 hours, arrange materials: post its, markers, brown paper, flip chart or whiteboard)
2. Pose a question (try to put is as a "why" or "what" question, rather than a "how" question and write it at the top of the brown paper)
3. Write statements of fact that relate to the question (5-10 per team member on separate post-it notes, stick to the fact - no judgments)
4. Arrange similar facts into groups (in silence, strictly redundant fact may be stacked on top of each other, if you don;t like a grouping just change it - don't argue)
5. Create headers for groups of facts (should summarize the facts in that group, keep it short, use a different, striking color and font for the headers)
6. Arrange groups and identify links among groups (stack the facts underneath the appropriate headers, arrange the headers into bigger groups. Circle the bigger groups and give them a label. Conduct a multi-voting: each team member may allocate three coins/dots/stars to indicate the best ideas). Draw lines to indicate relationships between the bigger groups.
7. Write concluding statement and reflect (should capture the essence of the facts, headers and groups)
8. Perform ritual "YO WAN": after team members have come to consensus about the KJ Diagram, they all hold their hands in front of them at waist level with palms up. The team chants YO...WAN while simultaneously bringing the hands together in a clapping motion at chest height. The WAN syllable coincides with the clap. If the chant was not sufficiently enthusiastic, the process is repeated (or the team returns to the KJ Diagram until it is a good reflection of the group;s problem solving effort)
- Ulrich, Karl (2003) KJ Diagrams


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