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PC Mag looks at 8 benefits of mind mapping for projects

We've just been reading a new article over on PC Mag about the benefits of using mind mapping for Project Management. Here's a few points that we've been talking about after reading - please leave your own thoughts and comments below!

We're always both excited and worried when we see large/mainstream publications or sites writing about mind mapping software. Excited, because it helps more people learn about these powerful tools. Worried because sadly many of these articles seem to be informed by little more than a few minutes spent on Google, rather than extensive user testing/rating of different products, or much/any personal experience of using them.

You can view the original article here: PC Mag

It was with some trepidation therefore that we followed a tweet over to PC Mag to see what Rob Marvin had to say on the subject of mind mapping for project management. Fortunately, his article is well worth a read, even if it does reference one of the other (less worth a read) articles that Google insists on displaying unfathomably high in search results... but anyway...

The project manager's challenge

The article hits the nail on the head in terms of the challenges facing any/all of us that manage projects, including keeping track of multiple moving parts, collaborating and communicating with others, and the need/expectation to "come up with creative solutions for complex problems".

The author is totally correct in suggesting that mind maps can assist here, and we also like the idea that "a mind map is a great way to make sense of this flurry of information" and can help "diagram the core idea of a project". At Biggerplate, we often talk about mind mapping being the 'missing link' for many people and processes, and this is one such context. The mind map structure enables people to capture and organise the numerous elements as they arrive, and in many situations, it is this upfront organisation of ideas and information that can make such a difference to the stages that follow, whether those stages are carried out within the mind map, or in other tools that are better suited to the job (yes, the author is also correct in alluding to the fact that other traditional PM software/tools may be better suited in some contexts for the actual management of the project).

8 ways mind maps can help projects

The eight topics highlighted by the article are where things get interesting, so here's a thought on each:

1. Professional Doodling

Not exactly a phrase that we would use when introducing mind mapping, but we get the point. Mind maps are a very useful means of note taking and exploring ideas in meetings, and do indeed tend to keep you a little more engaged. We've also heard many times that people find their mind map 'notes' far easier to make sense of afterwards than their previous linear notes and scribbles.

2. A presentation tool

Another great use of mind mapping, but perhaps an opportunity missed for the author, as he references Prezi (an excellent but non mind mapping tool) rather than some of the excellent presentation modes that exist in mind mapping software. We'd encourage Rob to check out some of the mind mapping software options supported by Biggerplate, and then take a look at some of the presentation modes they provide. We suspect he'll be pleasantly surprised/amazed!
A key point about mind mapping in a presentation context is that using a mind map to plan the presentation will invariably make for a better presentation due to the improved organisation of the ideas, regardless of what format or tool you use to actually deliver the presentation.

3. Brainstorming sessions

Often referenced in relation to mind mapping, and rightly so. In the hands of a competent team and/or facilitator, mind maps can be an excellent tool for gathering and exploring ideas from multiple stakeholders.
The benefit of using mind map software to capture and organise the brainstorm is that it helps to immediately put some structure and logic behind what may (at first) be very unstructured and (seemingly) illogical content, which aids clarity among those involved. The content can be easily shared afterwards among the participants, and potentially with others, either in the original mind map form, or in some exported output (image file, PDF, word doc etc).

4. Task delegation

Right idea, but perhaps rather than dedicating entire sections of map (or whole maps) to the tasks of one person as suggested, why not use the in-built features that all good mind mapping software has to mark and assign task information. This allows you to keep your map organised by subject/project element rather than by people, which will most likely work better when you have multiple people on one task. You can then take advantage of powerful filter options within software to still get that person-specific view of things, but without compromising the project-led structure of the information in your mind map.

5. A master idea repository

Yes. Everyone should have an 'ideas' map, where they dump any/all ideas that may not quite fit with the current project or focus, but which merit remembering anyway. Put them in a map, revisit the file every now and then, and you'll be surprised at the connections you make!

6. Symbol shorthand

This is another area that we'd probably like to have seen a little more explanation from the author, but we think we understand the idea.
In our workshops we often talk about choosing icons and images selectively in your mind map, rather than sticking clip art everywhere. In essence, much like a traditional road map, we're encouraging users to explore and define a legend or key for their mind map, where any symbols/icons/images have meaning, just like the little symbols and colours on a road atlas can tell you (at a glance) that this road is a major road, that there is a service station etc.
Again, the previously mentioned filtering features within mind mapping software are relevant here, but unfortunately not referenced by the author in his original article.

7. A living workflow

Totally correct. We use the term 'dashboard' in our workshops, and encourage people to develop a mind map dashboard that contains all the essential information required to do their job on a day to day basis. The dashboard is not supposed to have every piece of information in it, but it should be able to direct you towards any key file or folder that you need, highlight the key priorities at a glance, and ensure you are continually progressing things forwards. The idea that the document (or dashboard) is a 'living', and continually evolving document is 100% accurate.

8. Integrating your solutions

There's a reference here to getting small to midsize businesses using mind mapping, and this is certainly an area that we think is under-served at present by the companies in the mind mapping sector (ourselves included). There has for many years been an obsession with chasing BIG enterprise software sales, when in fact, the businesses that (we think) could most benefit from mind mapping are smaller, more nimble (dare we say agile) organisations where the adoption can be quicker, wider, and more impactful than in large, slower moving behemoth companies with multiple layers of beaurocracy and IT protectionism. But that's another blog post. Bottom line, we think mind mapping software is the missing link and must-have tool for startups and small businesses who are juggling a million tasks with limited resources.
Yes there are powerful integrations between mind mapping software and other tools, but it should not necessarily be the starting point for your exploration of mind mapping. Instead, you should look at what mind mapping does that other tools do not: helps organise your ideas and information in a way that helps you obtain greater clarity (as highlighted by the results in our 2015 Annual Mind Map Report).

Conclusions

A nice article pointing at some key applications/uses of mind mapping, not just for project managers, but more broadly in fact.
We'd like to see the author dive in a little deeper to some of these areas that are mentioned, but as a means of (hopefully) prompting people to look a little more at mind mapping, we think Rob Marvin over at PC Mag has done a great job for starters!

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Liam is the founder of Biggerplate.com, and tries (with varying success) to write about key projects and progress at Biggerplate, as well as the wider world of mind mapping and our place within it.
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