Tools for organising ideas

Affinity Diagrams are a tool used to organise information by identifying some commonality. In improvement projects, they can be used to organise a large number of issues or ideas into logical groupings. Affinity Diagrams are usually created by recording ideas onto post-it notes and then physically moving or organising the notes so that they are grouped in a more useful way.

Mindmapping is also a tool used to represent information. The structure of the mindmap is designed to easily communicate linkages. With mindmaps, you start with a central theme. From this central theme, the main elements or branches of a subject radiate. From these elements or branches, you can have minor elements or subranches. There are many software tools to help create mindmaps including mindmanager, freemind etc.

I often combine mindmapping with affinity diagrams to firstly record a brainstorming session and secondly to organise the results of the brainstorm into what is essentially an affinity diagram.

Let’s say that I have to design a training workshop or write a report.

I start by opening a blank mindmap using my mindmapping software. I then brainstorm the topic recording each new idea as a separate branch on the mindmap. At this stage, the activity is purely about brainstorming – I don’t worry about structure or duplication or linkages. The mindmap looks like one central idea with many branches radiating from that idea but no sub-branches.

Once I feel that I have exhausted all my new ideas, I then start into organising the output that I have. Using the approach to creating an affinity diagram, I scan the mindmap and, where I see that two branches have something in common, I bring them together – firstly creating a new branch and then moving the existing ideas to be sub-branches of the new branch. I don’t name the new branches until I have completed the full re-organisation. I continue organising and grouping until I consider that I have organised my ideas as well as I can. At that stage, I review the diagram and put names or label on the new branches. Usually the labels are obvious and are prompted by the commonality or connection.

Sometimes, there is more than one way to organise or structure the ideas and I may rework the original brainstorm output until I am happy with it.

The resultant mindmap can be exported to become the outline of the training workshop or the report or article that I am working on. I find that once I have the ideas gathered and structured the remaining work of the project becomes much easier.

If you want to learn more about improvement and productivity tools and techniques, please contact me by email jim(at)accountsplus(dot)ie.

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