Affinity Maps are a simple technique for spotting patterns in data and information.
They can be used in retrospectives in the Generate Insights phase where a previous exercise has gathered an amount of data to work with.
This exercise assume that the team already has gathered an amount of data, probably in separate Post-It or online whiteboard notes.
If face-to-face, have the team gather in front of the whiteboard where the Post-Its have been added, so far more or less at random.
Ask them to look for common themes, and to move the Post-Its into groups. Encourage conversation about the items, but keep the session moving.
They may see groups with many similar items emerge, some groups with overlapping items often identified by disagreement about which group they should be in, and some outliers that do not seem to belong to other groups.
As the movement of the notes settles down, ask someone to place a border around the groups, and ask the team to propose a name to label that group.
Now, use Dot-voting to identify the labelled groups’ relative importance to the team.
This then provides the input for a decision making step (if in a retrospective, the third step, Decide what to do).
(Image source: Medium – also a useful article on Affinity Mapping)
If appropriate, you may wish to extend the exercise by picking two or more of the labelled groups, and doing a Five Whys exercise to determine if there’s a common root. If so, addressing the root is likely to have greater impact than addressing the individual items.