What’s wrong with the age-old standard project management packages like MS Project and Merlin?
Well, they certainly do give you good tools to manage your projects, but they really have a strong tendency to get people focusing on the minute task levels of projects far too early in the inception phases of a project.
This means that you can easily lose sight of the main objectives of the project, or get so stuck in the details that you forget some important tasks or objectives.
Using brainstorming techniques, you can put together a Mind Map of the project that shows everyone where they fit in, and why each part of the project is important, and how it relates to the overall goals and objectives.
This makes it easy to make sure that there is nothing forgotten in the early planning and scoping exercises, as well as being a great tool for presenting to stakeholders in the project. If you are trying to get funding for a project, it makes it much easier when the project plan is drawn out as a Mind Map. Everyone can see what the objectives are for the project, how they are going to be achieved, the tasks that are required to achieve the tasks, as well as the resources that are required.
Mind Maps can also be useful in briefing new team members on the project. When a new team member is assigned to the project, the Mind Maps will give them a picture of the overall project goals, updating them very quickly. The Maps also outline any issues that were faced during the planning of the project and how they were solved, as well as a graphical overview of the tasks, how they relate to each other and their importance and impact in the greater scheme of things.
The new team member can then be introduced to their individual role in the project and will be able to quickly see what their responsibilities are and how these responsibilities relate to the overall project, giving them a better understanding of what and how they will contribute to the team and the project.
You very quickly have their “buy-in” on the project, whether they are coming in at the start of the project or part way through. They can see exactly where they fit in, why they are needed and how they can contribute.
Project Management Techniques
In his book Project Management Methodologies: Selecting, Implementing, and Supporting Methodologies and Processes for Projects, Jason Charvat says:
"The mind-mapping technique offers us the following approach:
- It has a central theme.
- It has topics of themes, which radiate from this central core.
- These topics contain keywords and are connected.
- This together creates a ‘picture’ of the solution or idea you need.
A mind-mapping method can be extended easily to designing or conceptualizing any project methodology in existence in a graphical manner. From this, anything is possible."
The PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Guide is the internationally recognized standard for project management.
It looks at five basic process groups and nine knowledge areas as being typical of almost all projects. The five basic process groups are:
- Controlling and Monitoring, and
Processes overlap and interact throughout a project or phase. Processes are described in terms of:
- Inputs (documents, plans, designs, etc.)
- Tools and Techniques (mechanisms applied to inputs)
- Outputs (documents, products, etc.)
The guide covers the following knowledge areas: Project Integration Management, Project Scope Management, Project Time Management, Project Cost Management, Project Quality Management, Project Human Resource Management, Project Communications Management, Project Risk Management and Project Procurement Management.
While we won’t strictly stick to the PMBOK outline in this article, it is the basis for the system we will use.
Using Mind Mapping to Plan a Project
You can use the techniques outlined in the project planning article to put together a Mind Map with the project requirements. So in the specific case of a project plan, you would start with the name or overall goal of the project in the center, and then the main project objectives at the first level, and then sub-objectives if required. Finally you would end up with tasks.
Then you can go down to a lower level and put some project management specific information on the topics – details such as priorities, percentage complete, resource allocations, start dates and durations (available in NovaMind Platinum).
One of the things you can do is to create hyperlinks on your topics to other resources that are related to the different objectives and tasks, so you have everything at your fingertips.
You can easily work with the scoping of a project when you have it represented in a Mind Map. If you need to reduce the cost of a project or reduce the time, then you can remove one of the objective or sub-objective topics, and know exactly what the impact will be on what is delivered. Instead of this being a complicated operation in project management software, it is a simple thing that can be done in conjunction with the stakeholders. They will be able to see how it impacts their goals and vision for the project. Often you will find that when it is presented in this way, they are likely to keep the objectives intact, because you are talking their language and they want to implement their vision, even if it does cost a little more than initially anticipated.
The project charter is something that you start first in the project planning, and is developed in the initialization stages of the project in conjunction with the project plan mind map.
A Project Charter is a statement of the scope, objectives and major participants in a project. It documents what the project is about, the desired end results and measurements of success, the assumptions and restrictions under which the project will be executed, the authorities of the project manager and involvement of project stakeholders. It also serves as a reference of authority for the future of the project. It is normally a short document that refers back to more detailed documents, making it an ideal candidate for Mind Mapping.
Begin by creating a Mind Map entitled "Project Charter". Create topics from the center entitled "Scope", "Objectives", "Measurements", "Assumptions and Restrictions", "Project Manager Authority" and "Major Participants". These topics need to be filled in with the appropriate information to make sure that all the roles and responsibilities are clearly identified. There is some more information in the Business Guide to Mind Mapping book (along with a number of other suggestions of ways that you can use Mind Mapping to both develop project plans and run projects).
Having a Map with the date of project milestones listed on it will help you to stay on track and up to date with deliverables.
Give each milestone a parent topic on your Map and enter the due date on the child topic. You can hyperlink each milestone heading to more information on the requirements for achieving that milestone. Alternatively, you could turn these requirements into small sentences and place them as the child topics on the Map, along with their due dates, to be checked off as they are completed.
Integration with Project Management Software
NovaMind Platinum can both import and export MS Project files, which is the common interchange format that just about any project management software will be able to read and write. Also Merlin (Mac) can read and write NovaMind files directly.
This means that all the project related information and structure that you have put in to the mind map is easily transferred into your project management software, where you can manage the detailed implementation of the project.
You can use NovaMind to visualize the project progress, brainstorm solutions to issues that crop up during implementation, and also in the project wrap-up, so there is a lot of value added to the project management in all phases of project implementation.