To Affinity and Beyond

Type “affinity” into Google and one of the definitions it returns is “a similarity of characteristics suggesting a relationship, especially a resemblance in structure between animals, plants, languages or things.” In Agile facilitation, we often use affinity techniques of comparison to reduce the waste created by the analysis paralysis of group think and to create quick consensus or relative estimates around large volumes of data. Using affinity in facilitation allows us to quickly apply the 80/20 rule so we can decide what to work on first, creating value in the face of complexity sooner versus later.

Some commonly known techniques for affinity facilitation in the Agile world are dot voting, grouping and relative sizing. Less known is that simple affinity facilitation techniques can scale. Scaled affinity exercises let us accomplish some of the following difficult tasks:

  • Quickly discover large-group consensus on a given topic
  • Generate large amounts of content for product backlogs
  • Estimate, prioritize value, and prioritize risk of entire product backlogs
  • Facilitate effective program-level retrospectives that may include hundreds or even thousands of people
  • Identify and manage impediments and risk across large, complex distributed programs

Scaled affinity techniques are not easy to describe. They require a lot of space to execute, most happen around the program level of planning and they are best learned through experiential hands-on practice. However, once seen and understood these scaled affinity techniques become invaluable tools in reducing waste for large-scale planning, estimation and consensus.

Two years ago, Jeff Lopez-Stuit (a fellow Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach at SolutionsIQ) and myself decided that introducing these techniques to the Agile community one client at a time just wasn’t getting the message out fast enough. To scale we decided to place many of these facilitation techniques in a 90-minute whirlwind workshop and bring it to the 2016 Scrum Alliance Gathering in Orlando FL.  The workshop was one of the last sessions on the last day of the gathering presentations.  Our belief that these techniques would help in the Agile community was validated when we received a 100% NPS (net presenter score) for the workshop. Many attendees told us that the 90-minute workshop alone was worth the price to travel to and attend the gathering in Orlando. Jeff presented the workshop solo at Agile Indy in 2017 again to 100% NPS.

On October 30, 2017, I’ll be presenting a solo encore presentation of this workshop at the Global Scrum Gathering Dublin. If you’re attending the Dublin gathering, you may want to attend this workshop and learn how to apply these agile affinity facilitation techniques to simplify the work occurring at your company.