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MindJet Releases MindManager 8

Today, MindJet has released two new products: MindManager 8 for Windows and MindManager Web.

What's new in MindManager 8

I’ve blogged about MindManager before as it is one of the main tools in my creative arsenal. If you haven’t tried MindManager before or have been curious about it, now is the best time to try it and dive into mind mapping. Here’s a few of the main new features in the new version.

What’s New in MindManager 8

Maps sharing: One of the main limitations of using MindManager before was that it was diffiult to share those maps with people who did not have it. Exporting to Word and other formats could only go so far and, for me at least, my MindManager maps did not create good client deliverables even if they were very useful to me internally.

With MindManager 8, we can now export maps directly to PDF with embedded interactive maps (a Flash movie from the map is embedded in the PDF). This is huge for me. We now can share our maps in a self contained and secure file format and email them to anyone or make them easily downloadable from any Web site. Secondly, MindManager 8  also export directly to Flash itself so we can add interactive maps to our Web sites. You can check out how that feels by looking at the map on the MindManager 8 product page on MindJet’s Web site.

Integrated Microsoft Office File Editing & Embedded Web Browser: MindManager 8 can now display Web pages or edit MS Office documents right from within MindManager’s interface. For me this is a very welcome addition as I often want to add links to Web pages to map topics. Now I don’t have to copy paste as there’s an “Add to Map” button right in the embedded browser.

Integrated Content & services: It is now possible to add search topics, RSS feeds or connections to databases directly in maps by using what MindJet calls “Map Parts” that connect to search engines and other services or data stores. That way, topics in map can be kept fresh and relevant with updated data instead of being static.

Web services Map Parts included in MindManager 8 include Google, Yahoo and Windows Live (Search); MySpace and Facebook (social networking) and Amazon, eBay and StrikeIron D&B (eCommerce). Database linkers include Access, MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle, IBM DB2, Excel and text files.

These are just a few of the new features included in MindManager 8. I will post again on why you would want to use an application like MindManager but, in the meantime, you can read my previous posts on mind mapping from last year when I started using MindManager 7:

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Another Piece of the Mind Mapping for Project Management Puzzle

Following on my two previous posts on the subject of mind mapping (here and here), I have recently found another piece of my "mind mapping for project management" puzzle.

I’m currently developping my project planning and tracking methodology based on mind maps made with MindManager  and I am determining both what specific maps I’ll use and what are the exact client deliverables I’ll create from them. One particular aspect I’ve often had trouble with is determining a project’s schedule. I’ve now found the perfect tool to help me with this pocess and it is a plugin for MindManager called JCVGantt Pro.

As the name implies, JCVGantt Pro creates Gantt charts which are a staple of project management methodologies. I had never used Gantt charts previously eventhough I knew what they were (my other project tracking application Studiometry has them) but I had never used them before because, for me at least, they were a pain to create directly.

The amazing thing with JCVGantt Pro is that it ties directly into MindManager maps and updates you make in one app are directly reflected into the other. What this means is that, from a specifications map for example, I can separate each item into smaller specific tasks which I can time estimate more easily and create dependencies between them using relationships. When I then sent that to JCV Gantt Pro it creates a timeline for the project as a Gantt chart and I can track tasks as they get done.

But the really great thing I discovered which I didn’t know about previously is that, in JCV Gantt Pro and probably in other similar software, I can give each task a "resource". Resources can be anything from specific items like fonts or stock images you need to purchase (whose cost goes towards the project total)  but, more importantly in this case, "human resources". The human resource concept is very significant because it defines how much time a "human resource" can devote to tasks within each week and the hourly cost of each "resource". The time per week concept is important for me because I am a one man operation and I can devote only a specific amount of hours each weekday to Web work and slightly more on weekends. What that means is that, not only does JCVGantt Pro calculates the cost of the project based on all the tasks and their allocated resources but it "spreads" the work across the timeline according to the time constraints of each resource.

In short, if a project required 100 hours to complete in total and I could work 40 hours a week on weekdays and not on weekends then it would require 2 1/2 weekes to complete the project. Since, in reality I can only devote about 22 hours a week to Web work (at best) spread on all 7 days of the week, the same project would take me over 4 1/2 weeks to complete and JCVGantt Pro will determine that automatically and draw the Gantt chart accordingly. It even goes further into spreading resources across concurrently running tasks and moving tasks that depend on the completion of previous ones further on the timeline.

I really wish I had discoverd all those incredible tools earlier. Not only do MindManager maps help me keep track of all project specific info in one place but, with the help of JCV Gantt Pro, I can now give clients realistic schedules and get much better cost estimates than ever before. My first project using this new methodology is taking me longer than usual to complete but from that project I will be able to create the map templates I will re-use on every future project..

There is a significant time investment in the learning process in addition to the cost of the software the software for a one man shop like mine but I would really encourage other freelancers and small Web shops to explore similar methodologies if you are not already using them. It’s really proving to work very well for me and will remove a lot of the tedium of project management tasks that used to slow down projects for me. Not only that, it will help me create better early clients deliverables (specification documents, creative briefs, proposals/quotations, etc) but it will also help me create better quality projects.

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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…