What are some practical, everyday uses for mindmaps for project managers? Please don't reply with a list of what could be done with them, but what you really use them for. Why a mindmap? Why does it work for you?
I use mindmaps for planning, retro / futurespectives, weighing up pros and cons, taking notes in meetings, and presentations. It seems to fit the way my head works far better than linear list or note-taking, and I can go back and re-read the notes or outlines very quickly, while remembering what I was thinking at the time that created the relationships.
I still have a love of pen and paper, but Freemind is also my tool of choice. I've tried a few others.
I find mindmaps work very well with Edward de Bono's "six thinking hats", and have facilitated a number of retrospectives with this model (replace the White hat with gray).
I have used mind mapping as a day-to-day management tool for about six years and have found that I can no longer live without them for my work. I find that my brain remembers where I have put things on my set of maps and I can usually navigate to the piece of information I want quickly and easily. Switching from a task list to mind maps was a jump from 1-dimensional thinking to 2-dimensional thinking about the work I need to do and it has made me massively more efficient.
Here are some use-cases that I have found in my work; generally I use the first two on a daily basis and the others less frequently:
This map shows me everything I am responsible for in my job, at a high level.
On the right hand side of the map I have delivery responsibilities such as projects I am managing along with nodes representing people that are working for me whose development I need to manage plus other key areas of responsibility such as putting together a training plan for the department.
On the left hand side of the map I have other things that I want to represent as part of my job that don't necessarily fall into the category of delivery. These include:
- Notes I have made to discuss with my line manager at our next weekly 1:1 meeting
- Books that I want to read to improve my general industry or project management knowledge
- Reference notes and diagrams that I will want to refer to all the time such as the list of internal dialling codes, our corporate colour palette, key slides from the latest IT strategy presentation, links to key intranet sites that I have found etc.
- Notes on my colleagues that I can use when asked to provide feedback in our annual review process
When I get a new project or responsibility, or find a key piece of information that I will want to refer to again and again, it goes onto this map. I also have an 'archive' node which I keep 'collapsed' (i.e. all sub-nodes are hidden away) and drag items onto once they are done so I never lose any of my history.
This map is an up-to-date view of the tasks that I need to get done. It is a low-level view of actionable items as opposed to the Dashboard map's view of my responsibilities.
The map has four nodes coming out of the centre as follows:
- Top-right: High priority, high importance - things I need to get done quickly that are key to my deliveries
- Bottom-right: High priority, low importance - things I need to get done but aren't really that important, such as completing my weekly timesheet or booking meeting rooms. Not achieving them will be an inconvenience but I am unlikely to get in serious trouble.
- Top-left: Low priority, high importance - things I should be spending more time on in order to progress strategic goals (whether for myself, my projects or my department), for example writing down thoughts on how we as a department should take an approach to testing.
- Bottom-left: Low priority, low importance - tasks that I may not get around to doing but I may still want to pick off one or two of them given the right time and energy to do so.
Each of the four nodes has tasks listed under it in priority order.
Whenever I get given something to do I add it to this map. It stays on this map even if it gets delegated so that I still keep the accountability for making sure it gets done - typically I add an icon to show it has been delegated along with the person's name to whom it has been assigned.
As things change I can drag tasks from one of the four nodes to another and once items are completed they get dragged and dropped under an 'archive' node so I have a historical record of things I have completed.
This is my most frequently-updated map.
At my firm we set objectives on an annual basis. I use a mind map to capture all of them on one sheet of paper. As I go through the year I review the map periodically and update it with how I am doing against each of them. Preparing for my review meetings is straightforward - I bring the map up-to-date and then bring copies of it to the meetings with my line manager.
Individual project mind maps
Personally, I find that these are very useful when I am first getting into a new project and trying to organise my thoughts about a (potentially new) subject. I keep as much data as necessary about each project here - scope, dependencies, intial risks and issues, budgets, org charts, links to key documents etc. Over time, I find that I do not use these day-to-day as other tools such as the project plan and RAID log take the place of the map but it is still useful to have a 'one-page' overview of the project.
The best example I have for where this came in useful for a project was where I picked up ownership of an IT project that was to reconcile data from a large number of different systems, the feeds from which were all in various states of development. As I was new to the department I found it very hard to keep up with who was working on what and with what system. Adding the data to a mind map made it very easy for me to quickly navigate to some up-to-date notes when I needed them; I found that my brain could easily remember where the information was and it was a quantum leap from trying to work with notes in my office jotter.
I have a map that documents terminology and acronyms that we use at work along with their meanings. The nodes are sorted alphabetically (clockwise from the top-right) for ease of use and the map is 'balanced' with an equal set of nodes on both sides. This makes it very easy to look up details on any of the terms used in the office.
I have successfully used mind maps to represent the output of business analysis work on one sheet of paper. In one of my roles we had requirements from three sets of stakeholders which meant that we needed to make changes to almost all of the systems in our department. I documented the high-level requirements in a map, added nodes representing each of the systems and then included icons representing each of the stakeholder groups along with details of what the impact of their requirements were, estimates for the changes etc. I used lines between nodes along with 'callout' notes to detail interdependencies. The result was a one-page document that helped to easily communicate the overall impact of the requirements.
I have used mind maps in a number of group sessions where we have had a map up on a screen and captured points as we have discussed them. The team then had a say in what nodes related to the others and how the data should be structured to represent our thoughts. An example is where a number of us came up with the content for an IT induction course, throwing lots of ideas up to start with and then structuring the content so that it had a flow to it whilst covering the topics that we all agreed were important.
I'm using mindmaps for risk identification, where nodes are risk causes and leaves are risk effects.
In my organisation I have never seen Mindmaps used but I have personally used them within my team to gather all the components of our projects and draw a picture of the current status of the project or what we would like to achieve.
Personally I have found them very useful because Mindmaps provides the audience with a visual representation of what's going on. Even if they don't have PM skills they can understand what the project contents are.
I have used the software Mindjet, is not free but it's quite user friendly.
I would recommend you to use Mindmaps at every stage in the project since you can always review your maps and quickly identify variances, issues, etc...
I use mindmaps in a very limited way, but one use that I have found to be highly beneficial is at project start-up, when trying to get a grip of all of the components and other aspects of the project, prior to developing the first draft plan or WBS. Using a simple mindmapping tool makes it far easier to organise my thoughts and collect ideas from other interested parties, then restructure or arrange / organise them later. Far easier than ploughing through pages of unstructured notes!
I use a bit of software called FreeMind, which works well for me. I have no experience of any other mindmapping tools, so cannot comment on how good FreeMind is compared to anything else.
I used to use mindmaps in planning my day/week. On the left side I had projects splitted into big tasks splitted into small actions. On the right side I had days of the month. Every morning I was putting some stuff from the left to the right. I defined custom actions which for me looked like prioritizing (adding a number to element), marking as done, marking as delegated and so on...
I still use mindmap when I try to get a lot of ideas about something - for example when I prepare a presentation I use mindmaps to write down everything that I can talk about - it is then easier to sort out which thoughts are connected with others, which are important, and which are not.
I use Mind Maps (XMind is my preferred tool) for the following:
- Creating detailed Work Breakdown Structures - it is very easy to create them and, with XMind or MindManager, you can easily export them to many formats, including PDF and share them with larger audiences.
- Documenting and communicating high-level scope for my projects - works great with project boards.
- Brainstorming ideas (both by myself and with my project team) in a more structured way.
- Planning & communicating the strategy I want to apply to managing & executing different types of activities/projects. Examples:
- Planning my work for past and future books to publish and sharing the strategy with publishers, my team, etc.
- Planning the launch of the websites I work with my team.
- Planning study cases.
Generally Mind Maps are inputs to all the project plans I create and also awesome communication tools during the execution of projects.
I'll add my own experience as well.
Like other answers on this question, my main use of mindmaps for project management is to create a Work breakdown Structure (WBS) for a project. From the first moment I am allocated to a new project I start building the WBS. The structure is very easily changed as more information becomes available. A print-out or projection of the structure (in Organisation chart layout) makes it an excellent tool to discuss with the team an stakeholders.
I also added a small template for the notes section of each element, containing the WBS-dictionary information
- Out of Scope
- Other comments
With a push of the button everything is exported to Word (with an image of the map included), which makes it easy to share. The fact that both WBS structure and WBS Dictionary is maintained within one application makes it a great timesaver.
I also started to use a mindmap to create our 'Project Initiation Document' (or Project Charter): all relevant information, like background, planning, budget, preliminary risk analysis, stakeholders ... was added to the mindmap until the final version. By exporting to Word I could easily share the draft versions with stakeholders. The only problem was that I couldn't export it to the required template, so for the final version I had to copy/paste all info from one Word doc to the other. But since the titles etc. were alike, this took only a moment.
Finally, some years ago I tried to use a Mindmap as a project dashboard, as others have reported here. But after a while the mindmap became to big and to unwieldy and I abandoned it. After reading others' experiences here, I'm tempted to try it again.