When a manager in any business setting tackles a problem or opportunity, input often is needed from a broad group of informed colleagues. Their combined experience and imagination can be a great contribution to the effort at hand; their ideas invaluable to the initial decision-making process. This situation often comes up in the area of process improvement and in the general area of improving quality. Leaders of the modern quality movement invented a device to help capture worker input and to systematically organize it. It is called the affinity diagram.
The process is simple. First, the workers are asked to each make a list of suggestions relevant to the decision-making process for the effort at hand, being as thorough as possible. This could be a listing of actions, components, or processes. Because everyone is doing this all at once, it proceeds quickly. The workers then are brought together in a conference room and asked to copy each suggestion from their list onto a small piece of note paper, writing one suggestion per note paper. Working together, they place their suggestions on a display table or tape them on a board doing so without conversation. Next, they arrange the suggestions in clusters of like suggestions. At this point, the workers can freely talk and discuss the clusters, and organize them under headings. This process proceeds rapidly, and before long, a diagram has emerged with a heading for each cluster of suggestions. This diagram, with each grouping determined by affinity, can produce a good basis for the manager to decide on how to proceed.
This entire process is a fast way to gather a great deal of input from a large group of people, and to organize the input to provide a systematic and comprehensive approach to action.