Definition: A group decision-making technique designed to sort a large number of ideas, process variables, concepts, and opinions into naturally related groups. These groups are connected by a simple concept.
Purpose: To sort a list of ideas into groups.
- Insure ideas are described with phrases or sentences.
- Minimize the discussion while sorting -- discuss while developing the header cards.
- Aim for 5-10 groups.
- If one group is much larger than others, consider splitting it.
How to Conduct an Affinity Sort:
- Conduct a brainstorming session on the topic under investigation.
- Clarify the list of ideas. Record them on small cards or Post-It notes.
- Randomly lay out cards on a table, flipchart, wall, etc.
- Without speaking, sort the cards into "similar" groups based on your gut reaction. If you don't like the placement of a particular card, move it. Continue until consensus is reached. Create header cards consisting of a concise 3-5 word description; the unifying concept for the group. Place header card at top of each group.
- Discuss the groupings and try to understand how the groups relate to each other.
- Inquire whether ideas are adequately clarified.
- Use only 3-5 words in the phrase on the header card to describe the group.
- If possible, have groupings reviewed by non-team personnel.
- While sorting, physically get up and gather around the area where the cards are placed.
- Team members will ultimately reach agreement on placement, if for no other reason than exhaustion.
- Sorting should not start until all team members are ready.
- If an idea fits in more than one category or group, and consensus about placement cannot be reached, make a second card and place it in both groups.
Affinity Sort - This example documents the delays Internal Medicine residents encounter when discharging patients. It is the basis for this fishbone diagram.