Mind mapping software can be a powerful tool for managing your projects, your goals and even your to-do lists. Mind maps are very visually oriented, and enable you to gather, manage and share a large variety of information and resources quickly and easily -- making them an ideal tool for managing projects.
Applications of mind maps for project management
Here are some of the ways in which you can utilize any of the most popular mind mapping software programs – such as MindManager, MindGenius or ConceptDraw MINDMAP — to streamline your workload:
- Idea file: A mind map is an ideal place to store ideas related to your project. Better yet, you can maintain a separate mind map as your master idea file.
- Project objectives: You can use a mind map to list objectives of the project, and keep them close at hand throughout the project to help you stay focused on its outcome.
- Milestones: You can use your favorite mind mapping program to define project milestones and track the progress of key elements of the project. Some software programs enable you to attach “percentage done” icons to tasks within your map, which enable you to gauge your progress toward these key project milestones at a glance.
- Questions: A mind map is an excellent place to create a list of all of the questions you have about the scope of the project, questions you need to ask other people, and other related questions.
- Information needs: You can use a mind map to create lists of the information you need, research you need to do, resources you need to explore, people you need to contact for specific information or expertise, and other information needs.
- Links to project resources: You can easily use your favorite mind mapping program to create links to web sites, documents, reports and other project-related resources to which your team members need fast, easy access. I have found this to be a big time-saver for me: Instead of wasting time searching through my file directories, looking for a key document or spreadsheet, I can create a link to it within my project map — so I never have to hunt for it again!
- Define team roles and responsibilities: You can create a branch of your map that concisely summarizes each team member’s roles and responsibilities.
- Experts and sources: You use a mind map to maintain a list of experts who you need to contact for specific information related to the project.
- Project notes: Most mind mapping programs enable you to attach notes to the branches of your mind map. You can use this capability to store additional information related to the items in your mind map. Storing them in this way keeps them out of view until you are ready to look at them. At any time, you can easily drill down to read the notes you have stored regarding that aspect of your project.
Here are a few more tips to help you get the most out of your project mind maps:
- Link your maps If you are trying to manage a particularly complex project or a very large to-do list, you may want to consider breaking it up into several smaller, linked maps. This will prevent you from suffering from “information overload,” while at the same time keeping all of your project resources just a few mouse clicks away.
- Manage map content with filters: Most mind mapping programs enable you to filter the contents of your map by level, keyword as well as any symbols or icons you have attached to branches of your map. In other words, you can filter the contents of your mind map so that only certain elements are displayed, while others are hidden from view. If you’re working with a large, complex map, this capability can be extremely helpful! So do yourself a favor and become intimately familiar with the filtering capabilities of your mind mapping software of choice.
- Simplify task management: Some mind mapping software programs, such as MindManager and MindGenius, enable you to designate tasks with checkboxes. Further, they allow you do filter your map’s entire contents to show just the active tasks. Be sure to use this method to identify your tasks and track them effectively within your mind map.
- Have a strategy for using map symbols: If you plan to share your project maps with other members of your team, be sure to establish a “visual vocabulary” for use of map symbols and branch colors and styles, so that they are understandable to everyone. This is particularly important if you plan to use the icons or symbols that most programs allow you to attach to map branches. You must develop a shared understanding of what they mean with your team members, and then use these visual enhancements consistently. Also, when developing a project map, be sure to include a legend, which visually summarizes the icons used in the map and their meaning.
- Do a brain dump, then organize: When you first create your project map, don’t worry about structure and hierarchy. Just do a “brain dump” into a new map; you can always move items around and restructure your map later. Your number one priority when mapping a project is to make sure that you capture as much initial detail as possible.
- Utilize map templates to save time: If you plan to use mind maps frequently for project planning and management, you ought to consider creating a project template that can serve as a starting point for each new project. This will help to ensure that you ask all of the right questions and gather all of the required information for each new project – as well as saving you and your team valuable time!
As you can see, mind mapping software is a powerful, flexible and highly productive way to manage your projects, goals and to do lists. They not only help you with initial project planning, but also status reporting and various aspects of project management. Acting like a visual “executive summary,” your project maps can elegantly communicate an essential overview of your project, while also enabling team members to easily drill down to deeper levels of detail.
If you own a mind mapping software program, why not give these tips and strategies a try today? I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the clarity it brings to your projects and priorities, and it should help you to significantly increase your productivity!
By Chuck Frey
About the author
Chuck Frey, founded InnovationTools.com and served as its publisher from its launch in 2002 until the partnership with Innovation Management in 2012. He is the publisher of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the definitive souce for news, trends, tips and best practices for visual mapping tools. A journalist by trade, Chuck has over 14 years of experience in online marketing, and over 10 years experience in business-to-business public relations. His interests include creative problem solving, visual thinking, photography, business strategy and technology. His unique combination of experience and influences enables him to envision new possibilities and opportunities.
Image credit: Road Map of The Mind from Shutterstock.com