Thursday, May 3, 2007

Mind Mapping

I've been playing around with mind mapping for about a year now - at first I was treating it similar to hierarchy charts, but the more I've read and previewed other mind maps - the more I started to 'open up' my use and gain additional benefit. Mind mapping is credited to Tony Buzan - I've tried using a few different software mind mapping tools and even Visio, but up until finding NovaMind found them to be more prohibitive then helpful - and for the most part used the ole' paper/pen routine. So far I've used it to describe components in a project, Project Management Traditional (I know - should be Agile) life cycle and Metrics capture. I've been reading how to apply to managing an actual project...but I'm not there yet. Mind mapping for mapping ideas makes sense to me - and has helped me dramatically - mind mapping for a structured process..?? I think it's using a light bulb to hammer a nail in, I could see why a software company would want to try it ($) - and it's potentially an interesting approach, but personally I don't think it's a good fit. For coming up with project ideas, project gaps, risks, etc. - YES - but managing work....
I highly recommend you try mind mapping - open up think freely - start with paper and pen, don't limit yourself to the computer interface (especially in the beginning) or be frustrated by the software out there.

Tony Buzan suggests using the following foundation structures for Mind Mapping:

  1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colors.
  2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your Mind Map.
  3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
  4. Each word/image must be alone and sitting on its own line.
  5. The lines must be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and flowing, becoming thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
  6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image.
  7. Use colors – your own code – throughout the Mind Map.
  8. Develop your own personal style of Mind Mapping.
  9. Use emphasis and show associations in your Mind Map.
  10. Keep the Mind Map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.


  1. I've used mindmapping for project management for years - not the whole process agreed - but I find I need a regular helicopter view so I don't forget the distant corners of projects and it gives me that.
    I use Topicscape for managing personal projects, and for project information management.
    Right now I have my Main To Do List on my screen in Topicscape (because it has a lot of tasks on it unfortunately, but who's doesn't?), and a planning issues mindmap in FreeMind - because it's at an early stage and fits in 2D just fine for now.
    MindManager has a lot of project management features, and it has add-ons like ResultsManager from Gyronix, specifically aimed at project management.
    My experience is that mindmapping is much more like a hammer for knocking a nail in than a lightbulb (love the metaphor though!)

  2. I think the NovaMind approach where you do the basic project information recording in the Mind Map and then import it into Merlin is an excellent approach.

    Mind Mapping is great for getting an overview of the project, scoping, client presentations, and also getting the staff up to speed on what is happening, why, and where they can contribute to the project. It's great for getting to the level of a basic work breakdown structure, and then let the purpose-made project management packages take over. And even in Merlin you can export to NovaMind at any time to see project progress in a Mind Map format (though the translation back and forth means you lose the colors and images, but it's pretty easy to rearrange it and put the colors in (or use rainbow coloring).

    NovaMind is available for Mac and Windoze, but Merlin is (unfortunately) Mac only (it's much better than MS Project IMHO). I have chatted with Gideon King the CEO of NovaMind, and he indicated that they are likely to be producing something that exports to MS Project XML file format later this year, so hopefully that'll be available at some stage, because NovaMind is the best Mind Mapping application, and could just do with a few more export options, mainly on the Windows version.

  3. A mind map is a great way to capture the initial tasks in terms of categories - but you're going to have to import it into a real PM tool to manage all of the complex task dependencies etc.

    I use maps to capture requirements or as-is situations and use them to capture all of the elements of the project that will need to be scheduled and planned in more detail. I use MindManager and the nice thing about that is that I can export that into a working functional specification document quite easily.