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Affinity Map

Affinity mapping, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

Object of Play

Most of us are familiar with brainstorming—a method by which a group generates as many ideas around a topic as possible in a limited amount of time. Brainstorming works to get a high quantity of information on the table. But it begs the follow-up question of how to gather meaning from all the data. Using a simple Affinity Diagram technique can help us discover embedded patterns (and sometimes break old patterns) of thinking by sorting and clustering language-based information into relationships. It can also give us a sense of where most people’s thinking is focused. Use an affinity diagram when you want to find categories and meta-categories within a cluster of ideas and when you want to see which ideas are most common within the group.

Number of Players: Up to 20

Duration of Play: Depends on the number of players, but a maximum of 1.5 hours

How to Play

1. On a sheet of flip-chart paper, write a question the players will respond to along with a visual that complements it. Conduct this game only when you have a question for the players that you know will generate at least 20 pieces of information to sort.

2. Ask each player to take 10 minutes to generate sticky notes in response to the question. Use index cards on a table if you have a group of four or less. Conduct this part of the process silently.

3. Collect the ideas from the group and post them on a flat working surface visible to everyone. It should end up resembling the following figure.

4. Based on guidance from the players, sort the ideas into columns (or clusters) based on relationships. Involve the group in the process as much as possible. Have the players approach the wall to post their notes—it saves time—and allow them to do an initial, general sorting in columns or clusters.

5. Create a sticky-note “parking lot” close to the display for ideas that don’t appear to fall into a natural category. Redundancy in ideas is OK; don’t discard sticky notes because they’re already represented. It’s helpful to leave repeated ideas posted since it indicates to the group how many people are thinking the same thing. At this stage, ask the players to try to avoid searching for higher categories and simply to focus on grouping the information based on the affinities.

6. Once the content is sorted, ask the group to suggest categories that represent the columns you’ve created and write the categories they agree on at the top of the column (or near a cluster if you chose a cluster rather than a column display). Don’t let the players spend an inordinate amount of time agreeing on a name for a category. If there’s disagreement over “Facilities” versus “Infrastructure,” write them both. If the players produce categories that are significantly different, pay attention to which category gets the most approval from the group and write that one. Your visual may end up looking like the one below.

Strategy

The value of the Affinity Diagram game increases when two conditions are met. The first is that the players generate multiple data points, ideally with good information. The second relates to the quality of the sorting. The cleaner the players’ insights when they form relationships within the content, the better the categories will be.

Fun, optional activity: Run through the Affinity Diagram game once, complete with categorizations. Then ask the group to reshuffle the sticky

notes and recombine the ideas based on affinities they didn’t notice in the first round.

Sometimes affinities within content are crystal clear, so the sorting becomes less pivotal, but when those relationships are more nuanced, it’s more important that the sorting process is done well. In a situation in which there are many ways to affinitize information, assume a stronger facilitative role. Ask questions about the columns or clusters to clarify the group’s thinking and steer them toward an appropriate number of categories. If there are too many, the data gets watered down. If there are too few, the analysis gets watered down. Help the players find the sweet spot.

The affinity diagram was devised by Jiro Kawakita in the 1960s. It is also referred to as the KJ Method.

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7Ps Framework

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower
Object of Play
Every meeting deserves a plan. Note that a great plan can’t guarantee a great outcome, but it will help lay down the fundamentals from which you can adapt. Sketch out these fundamentals by using the 7Ps framework.
Number of Players: Individual
Duration of Play: 20 minutes to 2 hours
How to Play
Use these items as a checklist. When preparing for a meeting, thinking through the 7Ps can improve focus and results, even if you have only a few moments to reflect on them.
Purpose: Why are you having this meeting? As the leader, you need to be able to state this clearly and succinctly. Consider the urgency of the meeting: what’s going
on, and what’s on fire? If this is difficult to articulate, ask yourself if a meeting is really necessary.
Product: What specific artifact will we produce out of the meeting? What will it do, and how will it support the purpose? If your meetings seem to be “all talk and no follow-through,” consider how a product might change things.
People: Who needs to be there, and what role will they play? One way to focus your list of attendees is to think in terms of questions and answers. What questions are
we answering with this meeting? Who are the right people to answer the questions?
Process: What agenda will these people use to create the product? Of all the 7Ps, the agenda is where you have the most opportunity to collaborate in advance with the
attendees. Co-design an agenda with them to ensure that they will show up and stay engaged.
Pitfalls: What are the risks in this meeting, and how will we address them? These could be as simple as ground rules, such as “no laptops,” or specific topics that are
designated as out of scope.
Prep: What would be useful to do in advance? This could be material to read in advance, research to conduct, or “homework” to assign to the attendees.
Practical Concerns: These are the logistics of the meeting—the where and when, and importantly, who’s bringing lunch.
Strategy
  • Each of the 7Ps can influence or change one of the others, and developing a good plan will take this into account. For instance, if you have certain participants for only part of a meeting, this will change your process.
  • Get others involved in the design of the meeting. Their participation in its design is the quickest route to its effectiveness.
  • Recurring meetings can take on a life of their own and stray from their original purpose. It’s a healthy activity to revisit “Why are we having this meeting?” regularly for such events.
  • Make the 7Ps visible during the meeting. These reference points can help focus and refocus a group as needed.
  • Have a plan and expect it to change. The 7Ps can give you a framework for designing a meeting, but they can’t run the meeting for you. The unexpected will happen, and as a leader you will need to adapt.
The 7Ps Framework was designed by James Macanufo.
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Empathy Map

Empathy map, originally uploaded by dgray_xplane.

The empathy map, one of XPLANE’s methods for understanding audiences, including users, customers, and other players in any business ecosystem, has gotten some press lately because it was featured in Alex Osterwalder‘s excellent book, Business Model Generation as a tool for discovering insights about customers.

Here’s how it works:

GOAL: The goal of the game is to gain a deeper level of understanding of a stakeholder in your business ecosystem, which may be a client, prospect, partner, etc., within a given context, such as a buying decision or an experience using a product or service. The exercise can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. You should be able to make a rough empathy map in about 20 minutes, provided you have a decent understanding of the person and context you want to map. Even if you don’t understand the stakeholder very well, the empathy-mapping exercise can help you identify gaps in your understanding and help you gain a deeper understanding of the things you don’t yet know.

1. Start by drawing a circle to represent the person and give the circle a name and some identifying information such as a job title. It helps if you can think of a real person who roughly fits the profile, so you can keep them in mind as you proceed. In keeping with the idea of a “profile” think of the circle as the profile of a person’s head and fill in some details. You might want to add eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and maybe glasses if appropriate or a hairstyle to differentiate the person from other profiles you might want to create. These simple details are not a frivolous addition — they will help you project yourself into the experience of that person, which is the point of the exercise.

2. Determine a question you have for that stakeholder. If you had a question you would want to ask them, or a situation in their life you want to understand, what would that be? You might want to understand a certain kind of buying decision, for example, in which case your question might be “Why should I buy X?”

3. Divide the circle into sections that represent aspects of that person’s sensory experience. What are they thinking, feeling, saying, doing, hearing? Label the appropriate sections on the image.

4. Now it’s time for you to practice the “empathy” portion of the exercise. As best you can, try to project yourself into that person’s experience and understand the context you want to explore. Then start to fill in the diagram with real, tangible, sensory experiences. If you are filling in the “hearing” section, for example, try to think of what the person might hear, and how they would hear it. In the “saying” section, try to write their thoughts as they would express them. Don’t put your words into their mouth — the point is to truly understand and empathize with their situation so you can design a better product, service or whatever.

5. Check yourself: Ask others to review your map, make suggestions, and add details or context. The more the person can identify with the actual stakeholder the better. Over time you will hone your ability to understand and empathize with others in your business ecosystem, which will help you improve your relationships and your results.

Download the Empathy Map Canvas.

Click here for photos of empathy-mapping in action.