A Guide to Using Affinity Grouping Technique for Prioritization

As a product manager or member of a development team, you likely engage in various forms of brainstorming and collaboration to help prioritize your roadmap.

Brainstorming often brings different ideas that could seem disjointed. One technique that leverages the power of teamwork for grouping these ideas and organizing data is affinity grouping.

This method of qualitative analysis facilitates meaningful discussions as you and your peers develop affinity diagrams.

By clustering concepts into thematic affinity groups, everyone can rank each category to reach alignment. Though simple in theory, affinity grouping enables you to extract powerful insights.

In this post, you’ll learn when and how to use this versatile collaborative prioritization technique for your next project.

What is Affinity Grouping?

Affinity grouping is a collaborative prioritization technique used to help organize ideas and data.

It typically involves gathering a group of people together for a brainstorming session, and then each person writes down their ideas individually on sticky notes or cards.

Once everyone has recorded their thoughts, the group works together to cluster the ideas into groups based on common themes or similarities. These clustered concepts are known as affinity groups or affinity diagrams.

The affinity groups represent related ideas that can be framed around various topics relevant to the exercise.

For example, you may group ideas by user personas, business capabilities, or parts of your product. The categories will depend on your goals, and the key is to get all the ideas grouped into thematic clusters.

After the affinity groups have been created, everyone votes or ranks the groups based on priority and value to the business.

This process of qualitative analysis provides a simple yet effective way to align your team around deciding what’s most important. The end result is a prioritized list of concepts your group feels are worth pursuing next.

Purpose of Affinity Grouping

Purpose of Affinity Grouping

The main purpose of affinity grouping is to help prioritize ideas and opportunities which makes it a popular technique for product roadmapping.

By bringing together different people from across your organization, you can collect a wide range of perspectives during an open brainstorming exercise enabling you to capture diverse ideas beyond just your own.

The process of grouping these ideas into affinity groups and themes enables you to bring structure to the raw content as well as spot connections and patterns you may have missed otherwise.

Having various teams vote on the affinity groups allows everyone to feel heard while aligning on priorities which prevents bias and makes the result feel more objective.

Overall, an affinity grouping session facilitates productive collaboration for:

  • Generating new ideas
  • Synthesizing perspectives
  • Organizing concepts
  • Gaining alignment

With both quantitative data and qualitative insights from affinity grouping, you are equipped to map out a prioritized roadmap reflecting the shared interests across your organization.

How to Facilitate an Affinity Grouping Session

How to Facilitate an Affinity Grouping Session

An affinity grouping session does not need to be a formal or overly complicated activity. It however needs to be effective.

To run an effective affinity grouping session, here are some key steps to follow:

1. Assemble a Diverse Group

First, determine who should participate. Strive for diversity by inviting team members across product, engineering, sales, marketing, and customer support departments.

This allows you to gather varied perspectives during the brainstorming process. Having 6-8 people is ideal.

2. Introduce the Goal

Clearly explain the goal so everyone understands the purpose of the affinity grouping exercise.

For example, you may be aiming to prioritize features for an upcoming release or rank ideas for new products.

3. Brainstorm Ideas Individually

Give each participant sticky notes or cards for recording ideas separately and set a time limit for individual brainstorming so no one gets stuck. Encourage everyone to capture as many ideas as possible at this stage.

4. Group Related Ideas

Have participants place their notes on a board and move them into groups of similar concepts. Names for each affinity group will emerge during this collaborative process. Let conversations flow organically as people discuss connections.

5. Refine the Groups

Review the affinity groups and make changes if certain ideas feel misplaced. Ensure each group has a clear theme and relationship between the ideas within it.

6. Vote on Priorities

With the affinity groups finalized, each person votes on the groups based on importance. Then tabulate the results to achieve a prioritized list of groups and ideas within each one.

7. Document the Outcome

Record the affinity diagram and rankings so you can later review the popular ideas and recommended priorities identified during the productive session.

When to Use Affinity Grouping

When to Use Affinity Grouping

Affinity grouping is a versatile technique that you can leverage for quite a lot of situations. However, it tends to be especially helpful for:

Product Roadmapping

When creating your product roadmap, affinity grouping provides an excellent way to align stakeholders and prioritize features.

Rather than making unilateral decisions, you can foster collaboration across teams to decide what’s important. This will result in a roadmap reflecting the collective interests.

Idea Generation

If you feel stuck on coming up with new concepts, an affinity grouping session facilitates creative brainstorming.

The open discussion and different perspectives allow fresh possibilities to emerge. Grouping the ideas also reveals connections you may have missed.

Processing User Research

Affinity grouping is useful for making sense of large amounts of qualitative data, like user research findings.

Organizing quotes and insights into affinity groups allows you to spot key themes and patterns enabling smarter synthesis and analysis.

Planning Projects

Even when scoping a single project, affinity grouping can help determine priorities and requirements. The wisdom of the crowd results in a better ranking of the proposed features and tasks.

Advantages and Benefits of Affinity Grouping

Advantages and Benefits of Affinity Grouping

Affinity grouping delivers an inclusive environment for creativity, prioritization, and building team rapport all through organized yet organic conversations.

The lightweight facilitation and diverse ideation lead to enriched synthesis and better decisions compared to siloed work.

Affinity grouping offers many advantages as a collaborative prioritization technique including:

Promotes Open Sharing of Ideas

By bringing together people across roles and encouraging individual brainstorming, affinity grouping fosters creative thinking. This way, people feel comfortable sharing ideas freely, allowing unique concepts to emerge.

Provides Structure for Synthesis

Affinity grouping brings structure to a potentially overwhelming amount of qualitative data. The process of identifying connections and grouping ideas helps synthesize key themes and relationships.

Generates Buy-In and Alignment

Rather than having priorities dictated, participants feel actively involved in the decision-making creating stronger buy-in and alignment on the roadmap.

Surfaces Unexpected Insights

The openness of sharing unique perspectives sheds light on unexpected insights as the group dialogue highlights intersections not obvious through individual analysis.

Easy Facilitation

The straightforward techniques make affinity grouping accessible for any team as it requires minimal resources beyond participants, sticky notes, and a space to collaborate.

Flexible Application

Affinity grouping can be applied to almost any prioritization or brainstorming situation and this versatility makes it widely useful for product teams.

Positive Team Building

The collaborative process strengthens relationships and provides a shared experience for making progress on complex problems together through constructive discussions.

Disadvantages and Challenges of Affinity Grouping

Disadvantages and Challenges of Affinity Grouping

While affinity grouping has many benefits, there are also some potential disadvantages and challenges to consider:

Time Investment

Proper affinity grouping takes time – first for individual ideation, then group collaboration, and finally prioritization. The time spent prevents working individually on execution.

Misgrouped Concepts

With loose facilitation, some ideas may end up misgrouped or in unclear clusters, and without refinement, this can undermine the validity of the affinity diagram.

Stifled Creativity

During group brainstorming, some participants may hold back ideas if they are shy or hesitant about sharing publicly thus limiting the diversity of perspectives.

Participant Availability

Key stakeholders from various teams must dedicate their time to ideation and prioritization. Securing time on busy calendars can be a challenging task.

Bias in Voting

Those with the loudest voices could dominate the voting process rather than having an equitable say which could unfairly skew the rankings.

Output Requires Further Analysis

The affinity diagram alone doesn’t dictate what to build next as further synthesis and analysis is still needed on the highest priority groups.

Affinity Grouping Example

Affinity Grouping Example

For further clarity, let’s walk through an affinity grouping session we used at my organization to prioritize features for a B2B software product roadmap.

My product manager first identified a diverse set of participants – herself, two engineers, the sales manager, a customer support rep, the marketing director, and I was the facilitator.

After introductions, I started by explaining our goal and how they’ll each brainstorm ideas for new product features independently before grouping them based on themes. The goal was to align on our priorities for the next release.

Using large sticky notes and pens, the six attendees spent roughly 10 minutes quietly jotting down feature ideas. The understanding that there were no bad ideas at this stage had been emphasized- the focus was on volume and variety.

When they were done, the product manager compiled the notes on a whiteboard. Looking at the board filled with ideas, the attendees started to verbally cluster related notes together.

A few affinity groups emerged:

  • User Experience enhancements
  • Mobile optimizations
  • Admin and security upgrades
  • New value-added integrations with other tools
  • Analytics and reporting improvements

While they aligned on the affinity groups, some notes got shifted between clusters to find the best fit while a couple of groups were renamed for clarity.

With the affinity diagram finalized, each person voted on the groups by priority using dot stickers, and the votes were tallied, resulting in the following prioritized order:

  1. User Experience enhancements
  2. Mobile optimizations
  3. Analytics and reporting improvements
  4. New value-added integrations
  5. Admin and security upgrades

The affinity grouping exercise provided an engaging way to align the team and decide priorities for the roadmap.

Each participant left feeling heard and part of shaping the product’s future through collaborative analysis and productive debate.


Affinity grouping is an invaluable collaborative prioritization technique for any product manager and team.

By bringing together diverse perspectives for structured brainstorming and grouping, you can derive unexpected insights and greater alignment. The lightweight facilitation promotes organic ideation and synthesis.

While simple in concept, affinity grouping drives impactful results – prioritized ideas reflecting the shared interests of your team and organization.

With the power to inform your product roadmap through inclusive discussions, affinity grouping is a staple method worth practicing.


What is the Basis for Grouping of Ideas in an Affinity Diagram?

The basis for grouping in an affinity diagram is thematic similarity. Ideas are clustered based on their natural relationships, common themes, or patterns, facilitating synthesis and understanding of large amounts of data.

What is Affinity Grouping Analysis?

Affinity grouping analysis is a technique that organizes qualitative data into categories based on shared attributes or themes, aiding in pattern recognition and decision-making.

It’s often used in brainstorming sessions to sort ideas and identify relationships among disparate pieces of information.

What is Affinity Voting?

Affinity voting is a collaborative prioritization technique where participants vote on items within an affinity diagram to rank ideas or issues based on importance or relevance.

This helps teams identify consensus and make decisions about which topics to focus on or actions to take.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified project manager professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced project managers and product developers the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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