Thursday, 23 September 2010

KJ-Method by Jiro Kawakita in the 1960s


K-J Method
Background: The K-J Method was developed as the the Affinity Diagram by Jiro Kawakita in the 1960s and has become one of the Seven Management and Planning Tools used in Total Quality Control.

The KJ-Method is fundamentally similar to the Snowball Technique. Introduced by the Japanese, it has become one of the ‘Seven management (New) tools’ of modern Japanese quality management and uses values of Buddhism intended as structured meditation.

The Basic Cycle, similar to mind-mapping, except it uses nested clusters rather than a tree structure

  1. Card making: all relevant facts and information are written on individual cards and collated (Post-its would do). In a group-work version, this step could be adapted to use BrainStorming orConstrained Brainwriting, to generate a supply of ideas on cards. The KJ-Method tends to place emphasis on the ideas being relevant, verifiable and important.
  2. Grouping and naming: The cards are shuffled, spread out and read carefully. Cards that look as though they belong together should be grouped, ignoring any ‘oddities’. For each group write an apt title and place it on top of its group of cards. Repeat the group making, using new titles and any ‘oddities’ to create higher-level groups. If you have more than about 10 groups, repeat this iterative process at yet higher levels.
  3. Redistribution: At this stage in the group-work version, the cards are collected and reallocated in order than no one is given their own cards. One card is read out, and all contributors look through the cards in their own ‘hand’ of cards, and find any that seem to go with the one read out, so building a ‘group’. A name is selected for the set that clearly portrays the contents of the cards in the set, but is neither too broad nor a simple aggregation of the cards in the group
  4. Chart making: Now that you have less than 10 groups, some of which may contain sub-groups, sub-sub-groups, etc arrange them carefully on a large sheet of paper in a spatial pattern that helps you to appreciate the overall picture.
  5. Explanation: Now try to express what the chart means to you, writing notes as you go and being careful to differentiate personal interpretations from the facts contained in the chart. Ideas for the solution are often developed whilst explaining the structure of the problem.

Multiple Cycles, The basic cycle can be used to build up a problem-solving method through repetition.

A simple two-cycle version will do it once for problem definition and once for problem solution.

A more complex six cycle version will do it for:

  1. Problem identification
  2. Defining the circumstances
  3. Diagnosis and problem-formulation
  4. Solutions and working hypotheses
  5. Activation of solutions
  6. Programmed application of solutions.

When repeated in separate cycles focused on different project management activities, the basic K-J brainstorming process becomes a problem-solving process. The method emerged before the internet arrived, so many of the steps, originally accomplished on 3x5 cards and through a suggestion box can now be handled electronically.

Description: The basic cycle described here can performed twice to accomplish two-cycle version consisting of problem definition and idea generation.

A more six-cycle version can accomplish:
  • Problem identification
  • Circumstances definition
  • Diagnosis and problem-formulation
  • Solutions and working hypotheses
  • Solution activation
  • Programmed solution application


In advance of the idea-generating session, participants receive a description of the challenge, provided far enough in advance of the meeting in order to give all participants enough time to record ideas and anonymously submit them.

Next, all the submitted, pre-session ideas are copied and distributed among all participants, so that everyone can submit more ideas inspired by the first round of ideas. Again, all ideas remain anonymous. Comments regarding the shortcomings of any idea may be redirected anonymously back to their originators, so that they can upgrade their original idea or submit alternatives.


As a last round of idea gathering, top-of-mind ideas may be submitted anonymously during the first part of the session.

Then a version of the preparation circulation of ideas takes place within the session. Similar to mind-mapping, this basic cycle creates, improves and gathers items in clusters rather than connecting them by lines of relationships.


All of the items are made available on cards and distributed at random among all participants, who announce the ideas in turn as the facilitator transcribes them on flipchart pages. During this phase, anyone can ask for clarification of any idea brought up and recorded. Although all items may be discussed, debate or criticisms of ideas is not allowed.

Items are then prepared for voting. Re-wording, combining, clustering, and consolidation of items continues until the group arrives at a selection of item suitable for putting to a vote.


Depending on the number of items in play, point values are assigned to the classifications of best, second-best, third-best, etc. Clear winners should emerge. Where there are ties or unclear vaules, discussion follows in order to resolve them, until the the group defines the desired number of prioritized items.


Individuals and groups take ownership of items and take responsibility for implementing each on a deadline.

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