How to KJ: Setting Priorities Quickly

KJ is a collaborative activity for setting priorities. (It’s called KJ because it was created by Jiro Kawakita.) The whole activity centers around answering one question, called the focus question.

  • Everyone in a group contributes to setting priorities, regardless of rank or position
  • There’s no discussion until the group reaches its priorities
  • It usually takes less than an hour to get to the priorities

At the end of the KJ activity, you will have:

  • Identified the top priorities
  • Reached an understanding of what those issues mean to the group
  • Discussed which smaller issues are part of a larger priority
A group arranging yellow and pink sticky notes on a wall.

Figure 1. Adding labels to groups of notes during a KJ exercise.

Decide on a focus question

You might want a question that reflects the goal of the group and that people who took part in research, or are familiar with the project, can answer.

For example, let’s say the group wants to determine how to spend some resources to reach an organizational goal. The question might be:

What are the most important steps we can take to reach our numbers next year?

Or

What obstacles do we face in reaching our goals for this year?

You can also use it to focus on a specific product. In this case the question might be:

What needs to be fixed in product X to improve the user experience?

The group’s answers will be based on observing people interact with the product and using that data to answer the focus question.

Supplies

  • Square Post-it Notes in one light color, ten or twenty for each person
  • 3×5 inch Post-it Notes in a different color, also ten to twenty for each person
  • Bold pens such as Sharpies for everyone
  • Two large open wall spaces (windows also work)

Gather the group

Make sure that everyone who is affected by the priorities is invited.

Tell them the focus question

  • Don’t explain the rest of the session yet
  • Follow steps 1-8, using the script, to guide the group through the KJ activity.

1. Put opinions or
data on notes

Give each person a stack of Post-it Notes to write their answers to the focus question. There should be no talking while people write. Say:

Use the Post-its to answer the focus question. Write down one answer per Post-it. Make sure it’s legible and understandable to other people. Keep the answers short.

2. Put notes on a wall

Again, no discussion.

Everyone put your notes on the wall in random order. As you do this, take a moment to look at everyone else’s answers.

3. Group similar items

Point to a new wall or a clear space on the wall. As the notes are sorted, be sure to leave space (12-18 inches) between
the groups.

Now sort the answers into groups. Find a couple that seem like they belong together and move them to an empty space. Arrange them in columns.

As you do this, feel free to add to groups that other people have made, or split them, or join groups together. In the end, you will move all of the notes to this wall.

4. Name each group

Give everyone a stack of 3×5 inch Post-its in a different color.
Still no talking.

Use these to give each group a name. The names for the groups should be descriptive nouns. This is another chance to split or join groups, but don’t add any new notes.

Everyone must give every group a name, unless someone else has already put up a name that is exactly what you were going to use.

5. Vote for the most important groups

Because there has been no discussion and there is still no talking through this step, there’s no influence or coercion. Pause between each step below. People should sit down between each round of voting.

Review all the groups again. Just for yourself, write down the names of the three groups that you think are most important to answering the focus question.

Rank them, first, second, and third. Give everyone time to decide on their top three groups.

For your third most important, put one star on the Post-it with your favorite name for that group.
For the group you thought was most important, put three stars on that Post-it.
For your second most important, put two stars on the Post-it with the name of that group.

6. Rank the groups

Collect all of the Post-its with votes on them. Order them by the number of votes, most to least. Announce the five with the most votes. Those are the priorities.

7. Discuss the priorities

Now, facilitate a discussion centering on how the group understands the priorities.

Propose combining any groups that have votes. Discuss whether the priorities are different from one another or the same. Agreement must be unanimous.

Add combined groups’ votes together and adjust the order based on the combined votes.

8. Announce 
the final priorities

Wrap up the activity by reading the top priorities and reviewing any important under-standings the group reached.

Dana learned the KJ technique from Jared Spool. 

Chisnell, D. (2014). How to KJ: Setting Priorities Quickly. User Experience Magazine, 14(2).
Retrieved from http://uxpamagazine.org/how-to-kj/

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