Looking to improve processes and unify teams? Grab a pack of sticky notes!
An Affinity Diagram is a beneficial team collaboration tool. It is often used in lean project management to collect and group thoughts and perspectives from a diverse team around a single problem. The exercise can be insightful and helpful in process improvement efforts as well as building team unity. The resources needed are simple and low-tech: several packs of sticky notes, pens, and a wall to post the ideas.
Affinity Diagrams and Team Building
Working through process improvements within your organization? The effort can feel overwhelming at times. Incorporate an Affinity Diagram exercise to help team engagement and collaboration. Orchestrating an Affinity Diagram exercise helps achieve desired outcomes for improving processes in multiple ways.
- Enables the team to openly express their ideas on what needs improvement
- Understanding how revamped processes will help the team and organization
- Builds trust among peers within an open and honest environment
- Allows individuals to build credibility among their team members and prove they are a valuable and contributing member of the team
- Highlights accountability of each team member to offer solutions to challenging problems
- Provides the team leader visibility to the pinch points within the organization
- Creates a culture of continuous improvement for the team and organization
Lean Project Management
Often, difficulties within business processes are suppressed due to a “just get it done” mindset and culture within an organization. Through an Affinity Diagram exercise, the entire team is engaged. This forces the team, as a unit, to drill down into the processes and discuss the areas in need of streamlining.
In a Project Management perspective, an Affinity Diagram is an effective tool to organize themes and group ideas for improvement opportunities. The exercise encourages teams to call-out specific issues that may inhibit their job performance, workflow, time or effectiveness.
When viewing all the ideas holistically, common themes will emerge. As examples, some general themes in organizations can include: communication, technology, customer service, training, processes, quality or maintenance.
The Affinity Diagram exercise enables leaders to prioritize the themes based on ease of implementation, return-on-investment (ROI), short and long-term business strategies, resources and alignment with overall goals and objectives of the organization. The identified themes can positively or negatively impact an organization’s bottomline and the ability to generate revenue. As a result, it’s important to delineate the themes during the exercise.
Project Managers can utilize the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) continuous improvement tool to assist in their efforts.
Identifying Process Improvement Opportunities
Conducting an Affinity Diagram exercise also contributes to executing Process Improvement opportunities for the organization. It is at this juncture, following the identification of improvement opportunities, that the findings should be quickly converted into actionable items.
The Project Manager responsible for the Affinity Diagram effort should address several components as part of their follow-up to the exercise and the findings. At a minimum, the project lead should outline task completion dates, identify who is accountable for what, and indicate specific resolution recommendations.
Once the Affinity Diagram Exercise concludes, findings are identified and plans to move forward are developed and submitted to leadership. It is critical for the Project Manager to consistently follow up with those involved to maintain momentum and ensure tasks and goals are on track for completion.
Affinity Diagram and Continuous Improvement
Teams of all sizes, departments and industries can benefit from utilizing an Affinity Diagram exercise as part of their Continuous Improvement efforts.
In one scenario, RTG Solutions Group guided a Human Resource team in the healthcare industry through process mapping, development of standard operating procedures (SOPs), and instituting a lean communications structure. The Affinity Diagram exercise provided team collaboration and collective insight to areas of concern. The team embraced the improvement ideas and converted them into cost savings and cost avoidance opportunities. In addition, the team streamlined internal processes that benefited not only their team, but the organization as a whole.
Want to learn more about how to foster a culture of Continuous Improvement and improve business processes? Take the next step and contact RTG Solutions Group today!