Using Mind Maps for Planning your Projects
Mind Maps are a great tool for planning and managing projects. In this article I will show you:
- how to plan your projects
- scope management
- communicating project goals
- getting the buy-in of all stakeholders
The article on to do lists introduced you to the basic concepts of organizing your requirements using mind mapping. Now we will extend that to look at project planning specifics.
Why Mind Mapping?
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.
But the planning for a successful project begins before that.
There is a whole inception phase of the project where the relevant information is collected together and organized so that you have a clear understanding of the:
- risks, and of course
- stakeholder requirements
for the project.
Often this information is gathered as large specification documents which are hard to navigate around and understand the requirements, but all of these areas can benefit from the use of Mind Mapping. You can create Mind Maps to represent each knowledge area, and have topics for the details and hyperlinks to other documents and resources where required.
As you start a project, you need to define what the major objectives are, and each one of these objectives will become a first level topic of the mind map like this:
Then for projects of any reasonable size these objectives get further broken down into sub-objectives that contribute to the achievement of the major objectives, or the major areas of work contributing to the overall objectives. So these become the second level topics like this:
And finally it is broken down into actual tasks that must be performed like this:
Obviously this is flexible and you only use as many levels as necessary for your project, and for a large project, it may require more levels.
Detailed Task Information
When you get down to the task level, you may want to assign resources to the tasks. This is something you can do in the Platinum edition of NovaMind. Of course the resources usually refer to people, but can also refer to other resources which have a limited availability, like vehicles and meeting rooms. If you are using NovaMind 5 Platinum for Mac, you can drag contacts in directly from the Address Book application to create and assign resources.
While we are at the task level, let’s look at the all the task information you can assign to a topic.
- Priority, from 1 to 9
- Percentage complete, indicated on the topics
- Duration in anything from minutes to years
- Start and end dates, either just by the day or right down to the minute
- Resource assignments
In addition, there are a lot of other supporting things that can assist with the planning and project management, such as:
- Topic notes
- Adornments to give extra meaning
- Flexible topic numbering system
- Link lines to indicate secondary associations between tasks
- Hyperlinks to related information
- Attached files
So now that we’ve seen the details of this, let’s talk about why this is so useful.
How this improves your project planning
You can see how easy it is to structure your project into objectives and then go right down to the task and resource level. This means that you can use brainstorming techniques to come up with the right ideas and objectives.
As you go through the exercise, you will fully explore the options for the project in much more breadth and depth than what you could cover in a requirements document. With the more “traditional” requirements gathering, you tend to go deep into one task before considering other tasks, in a very linear fashion. This means that you often miss things that are critical to other parts of the project. When planning in a Mind Map format, you can add tasks in any order, and rearrange them so easily that there is no perceived risk involved in the process. The whole operation flows, and you end up with a far more complete and well thought out plan, which you are sure will meet your objectives.
When you have gathered the information about the tasks, and assigned them under the objectives, you can more easily work through costing and scoping of projects for budget and time constraints. You can easily see the impact of removing tasks from the project, and what that will affect as far as the objectives of the project are concerned.
Communicating project information
Very often the stakeholders in a project are not familiar with reading Gantt charts and understanding the tabular data about the project tasks. Even people who are familiar with these things still take time to understand a new project that they are involved in, or a new project plan that is being presented to them.
Using Mind Maps for your project planning, these barriers are cut away, and the stakeholders can quickly see what the objectives are, and how they are going to be met. Instead of a task appearing as an isolated unit, they can see how the tasks contribute to the accomplishment of an objective, and where the time and money is going, and what other resources are required and why.
When the project sponsors see in the Mind Map all the things that need to be done to achieve their objectives, they understand the basis for the project costs, and can make much better informed decisions on scoping and overall outcomes. This means that it is much more likely that they will accept the costings you have provided because they can see where their money is going – everyone can see clearly what the objectives are, how they are going to be achieved, and what resources are going to be required. They may also decide to take some of the main objective topics and move them to a new phase in the project so that it can be done properly, rather than trying to fit it in to an unreasonable timeframe.
But what if you need to bring someone up to speed on a project that is already underway?
Mind Maps are very 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. They can instantly see 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. Often this will lead to them volunteering their skills for tasks you may not have assigned them to, because they understand that they can make a strong contribution to the project in that area.
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.
Now of course during the running of your project, you would use a dedicated project management package like MS Project or Merlin to handle the detailed running of the project, and you can transfer your project information to Merlin, or to any project management package that reads the MS Project XML file format (which is just about all the project management software currently available).
So as you can see, NovaMind is a great tool particularly for the inception phases of projects. Mind Maps help make significant improvements in the areas of:
- brainstorming requirements
- project scoping
- time, cost and quality management
- assigning resources
- communicating project requirements
- managing risks
When you use Mind Mapping in this way, you will be able to manage the scope of projects better, make sure that no requirements are left out, have better communication with the stakeholders and sponsors, and have better buy-in from your staff working on the project. All these things add up to better managed and more successful projects.
There is further information about this, and how to use it for applying the PMBOK guidelines in this project management article.