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Mind Mapping as a Creative and Project Management Tool

My last post described the process of how I chose a mind mapping application. The introduction to that post briefly described why I thought it could be a valuable tool for idea generation and data organization and explained that I would use it as a project planning and management tool for my Web design and development projects.

Since then I have been reading a lot about project management in both a general way and specifically with the aid of MindManager. It has been an eye opening experience for me and I have been learning a lot. As a freelancer, I didn’t necessarily have a very systematic project management process in place although I did have a generalized process I adhered to which included specific "phases". What I lacked is a way to organize and track all the ideas, data, documents and files linked to a project in a clear an efficient manner.

Now that I’ve started using MindManager in a couple of real life projects, I already see that it’s going to become an invaluable tool for me and I’ve only just scratched the surface of all that it can do so far. I’m trying to find the methodology which is going to work for me and that is going to be an evolving process. A lot of what has been written regarding project management revolves around managing larger teams of people in software development projects. For a freelancing Web designer like me, the process is going to be different but all I’ve been reading has forced me to re-think my methods and this can only lead to improvements that are going to save me time and effort as well as help me serve my clients better.

Mind mapping is not for eveyone but I haven’t been this excited about a new dicovery in a long time. From all I have read, there seems to be two distinct approaches to mind mapping. The inventor of the process, Tony Buzan advocates a very organic type of mind mapping with lots of color, large images and curvy lines. To me, this would quickly become annoying and takes away from the clarity of mind maps. My brain naturally likes a more linear or organized approach and more business oriented applications like MindManager make a lot more sense to me.

In any case, I would advise any creative who like me had some problems dealing with all the data, ideas, concepts we need to deal with to try mind mapping software. It really helps make sense of the clutter and frees your creativity…

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve always been interested in using mind mapping to organize projects, etc. but I’ve still never really got over the hump of exactly how to match the technology to the problem space.

    If you ever got a chance, it’d be great to see a short introduction or overview of what kinds of things you put in the mind map or even a sample image – just anything to give a better sense of how to get started – not with the specific piece of softwae, but conceptually – what was your top level item? What did it link to? What did some of them link to?

    Any input much appreciated!

  2. says

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for your comments! I will definitely post on the subject again as my process evolves and I discover more about how mind mapping can help. If you want to read a bit about it then you can see the following page on the Mindjet site. The info is indeed somewhat product specific but there are a lot of general info there as well. In particular, check out the Rita Mulcahy Webinar which is more about project management in general and not about MindManager or even about mind mapping although it does get mentioned:

    http://www.mindjet.com/us/solutions/business/project_planning/?s=1

    Another good generalized resource is the Chuck Frey blog on mind mapping software. He also wrote an eBook about mind mapping strategies, tips and best practices which I’ve started going through. That blog is here:

    http://mindmapping.typepad.com/

    As for the conceptual overview. Here’s what I’ve gathered so far. You start with a map that defines the business problems, opportunities and potential solutions. THis is a decision making type of map where you add pros and cons to each potential solution. Once you settle on a solution, you flesh it out in a Requirements Definition map that explains in more detail what you’re going to do. Then comes a busiess plan map with project goals, the requirements from the preceding map, cost estimates, risks, etc. That helps determine if a project is viable or not. Once you decide it is, you create the Project Charter which is a bit like a spec sheet but contains all the important info from all the previous maps: problems to solve, requirements, project goals, project risks, assumptions, constraints.

    All of the preceding stuff is part of a very formal project planning process. It’s what we would usually call the "discovery" phase in regular Web site design projects. The actual deliverable is the Project Charter which is a distillation of all the previous work. The normal planning phase starts next. THe documents/maps created in this phase could include a project scope statement, a Work Breakdown Structure or WBS document. This seems to be the detailed task by task breakdown of all you need to do to bring the project to completion and that is where a sophisticated mind mapping app like MindManager can really shine because it can set and track task info like priority, start and end date, completeness status and more. You can even create relationships that show task dependency (I cannot assemble the HTML prototype if the FW/PS layout mockup is not completed and sliced for example). This would be a new part to me as I have never broken down project specifications to such a level of detail. I might keep creating more generalized tasks. After all, I’m a one man shop and do not want to spend my time "managing" a project and not actually work on it.

    The central map document that tracks all of this is the Project Dashboard map (or Project Portal), It contains a very high level view of the project with links to all the other maps and other project files, urls, etc. Any of this can also be tied to other apps like Outlook (tasks, contacts, etc), Project, Excel and more. MM can show partial view into Excel spreadsheets of create simple ones itself.

    This is a quick overview of where I stand now. I still need to distill all I’M reading and extract the really core things I need to include into my process. I do not need to manage teams but I need to organize my sometimes scattered brain and be able to give clients good deliverables. For me, figuring this all out is part of the fun… more as I go along :-)

  3. says

    You’re very welcome Peter.

    I don’t know if you already own a mind mapping application or not at this point but one of the most helpful documents I’ve read specifically about mind mapping and project management (aside from the eBook above) is one created by MindJet which isn’t free. It’s one of their "JetPacks" which contains redable PDF documents or whitepapaers as well as several sample maps and links to other resources. A lot of what I included in my previous comment comes from the main document in that pack.

    The process they outline would probably be overkill for small or one person shops but many of the key elements would be important to keep for all but the simplest projects. The early problems definition steps in particular seem very relevant to me as the first drafts you outline after an initial client meeting could be used as a base for discussion and refinement. That’s also where using a mind mapping application that exports sensibly to other formats becomes very important IMO because not all clients may view mind maps as enthusiatically as someone using them everyday could. In that respect, MindManager is great as it has both an excellent and very detailed Word export that retains all of the textual information entered in the map (as text… whcich is not as common as you would think) as well as a lot of the visuals (icons, images of certain sections of maps, etc).

    It also has a great Web export which I have not explored all that well so far but looks promising. What is even more intersting to me though is that fact that MindJet offers a free reader so that you can post your project planning maps to a password-protected client area of your site where they could actually interact with the live maps. That would make them a lot more useful than a mere static image of a map which is the only thing many mind mapping applications can actually export… A Flash export like the one FreeMind has would be great as well but the free MindManager maps reader does the job well, is free and a quick install.

    Within the next 2 weeks, I should send my first project deliverables to one of my clients for whom I’m re-designing a largish Web site. I’ll probably send him Word outlines but I also want to put the maps on my client area and point him there to see how he reacts to the live maps. I think that for some clients, they will be a lot more useful than linear text or old style flowcharts although I think those still have their place.

    Anyway, more later and thanks again for the conversation. If you start experimenting with mind mapping on your own, please keep me posted on how things go for you.

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