Introducing Zenkit: Mind Mapping meets Kanban

Learn more about this welcome new entrant to the mind mapping sector!

In our view, one of the best indicators of a thriving and evolving sector is when exciting, high quality new organisations enter the space with a software offerings that are built around or integrate mind mapping in some form. It surely shows that the “mind mapping” sector is an appealing commercial space to get involved in, and also that the mind mapping approach is being tested and validated by an increasing number of organisations outside of what might be considered the ‘traditional’ mind mapping software ecosystem.

For this reasons (and many others) we were delighted to be introduced to Zenkit a little while ago, and we thought our community might be interested too! We therefore caught up with founder and CEO Martin Welker, to find out more about the journey and the motivations behind this innovative new platform!

Biggerplate: Zenkit focuses on linking a mind map view with a task/kanban view. What was the thinking behind that?

Martin: It was late on a Friday night and out of nowhere, I had this strong desire to use a tool to get a clear vision of my latest software project. I was just about to start searching for a good one when it suddenly hits me: “Why did I ever stop using such a wonderful thing as mind mapping? Shouldn’t I be using it all the time? Why did I ever break up with it?”

Somewhere in the process of creating and working on projects there must be a gap. A gap that is so small that I can’t even describe what’s going on. I just leave my mind maps without even noticing it. Unconsciously. Mind maps are a big question mark in my life, because of this constant cycling. So, for me, it’s worth asking the question: What’s going wrong?

“Somewhere in the process of creating and working on projects there must be a gap. A gap that is so small that I can’t even describe what’s going on. I just leave my mind maps without even noticing it”

I couldn’t point to a concrete situation which caused me to leave the mind mapping process. There never seemed to be a clear ending. So, in order to find out more about this phenomena, I looked at all the tools that I’ve regularly used. These tools seem to have won over mind maps in the “battle for habit”. I regularly use spreadsheets, lists, calendars, Gantt charts, and (my favorite), Kanban boards. So, how are these tools different from a mind map? Do they have something in common which makes them in some way superior to mind maps?

At first glance they seem very different from each other, but then I realized that all of these tools can be used for the “productive” stage of my projects. In contrast, I’ve always used mind maps in the “initial” or idea-generating stage of my projects. So mind maps themselves were not failing, my use of them simply came to a natural ending with the transition from the initial to the productive stage of each project. I couldn’t “do” anything productive with a mind map after the project was mapped out. I couldn’t bring mind maps along with me as my project matured.

The problem was that I had to switch to another tool and, in that moment, I lost the ability to keep my mind map in sync. I remembered that each time I switched, to a “production tool” I still missed the overview the mind map gave me. But I had no choice. I had to use a production tool to get the project moving. Whenever I went back to get a project overview with the map, I found that it was outdated and I left it for good. As I’ve said, this has happened 4 or 5 times over the last few years. This time, I didn’t want to accept this way of doing things. I didn’t want to leave my initial ideas behind.

Biggerplate: We’ve often talked about trying to figure out ‘where mind mapping fits’ and the importance of knowing when to switch into a mind map, and (equally important) when to switch out of a mind map. You were clearly wrestling with this exact issue… so what next?

I began to think about how projects progress. Wouldn’t it be cool to combine the benefits of all the best tools and rescue the mind map from its limited purpose as an initial stage tool? My projects consist of many tasks and I use a mind map primarily to get an overview of involved departments or areas of expertise (see image). I need a tool where not only the representation can change, but the structure too. To rescue the mind map, it would need to be useful throughout the project lifecycle. But how can mind maps be changed into a productive workflow tool?

In an operational day-to-day-business, tasks have to be transformed into a workflow structure. A Kanban board groups tasks into different stages (e.g. to do, in progress, done). Within this grouping, you can look over the total progress of the project visually and track your progress accordingly.

Another aspect of project management is the analytical side. When you enrich tasks with time estimations or expenses, you need to sort and filter them. Tables are a very good way to achieve this since formulas and aggregations in those tables are a great way to drill into your project.

Although these perspectives are very beneficial, I was never able to use them at the same time because they’re all stuck in separate systems. I always had to choose one or the other. If the borders of separate systems (silos) could be removed, I would be able to switch between perspectives whenever I wanted. I came to the conclusion that such a system would require a completely generic database platform as a system core, where all “views” would access the same data. The combining of multiple tools is currently trending in project management platforms, but I still feel mind maps are being left out of the equation.

For mind maps, this data-centric model is a fantastic opportunity: Suddenly you can build more than one mind map of the same project, which offers even more insights. The first mind map might have been about the different departments of the company. A second mind map (for the very same data) might focus on the different locations of the company:

Biggerplate: You’re tapping into a number of growing trends, including Kanban, task management, and visualisation. Where do mind maps fit into these trends, and where do you see this heading in the future?

The current trend of adding Kanban boards to project management platforms has hit the market hard. Major players in this space, like Asana, have recently added a calendar and Kanban function to their project management tools. Once the Kanban craze is over, what’s next? Mind maps are surely already on the radar of industry leaders, and I think it’s likely that they will be next.

The reverse is also true. There is a lot of movement in the traditional mind map market. In addition to the mind map way of viewing data, other ways to view data are being implemented. MindManager has implemented Gantt Charts in their latest version. The team at MindMeister launched a separate app (Meistertask) to address this need. Even iMindMap, the only mind mapping software to have the recommendation of Tony Buzan himself, is catching on. Their latest version is described as an “all-in-one mind mapping, brainstorming, and project planning software”.

In the end, mind maps are an evergreen within the productivity space. And although they have their benefits, they nevertheless exist in the shadows and are a little out of fashion. On the other hand, Kanban boards and Gantt charts dominate the productivity market. It’s time to revive the mind map idea in a broader context so that we can benefit from mind maps in modern project environments.

About Martin Welker:

Martin is founder and CEO of Zenkit. He sold his first software product at the age of 15. He’s been developing software in the areas of productivity and business processes over the last two decades. With his company, Axonic has released 6 major products that serve over 5,000,000 people around the world.