Project management deals in organized chaos. Project managers are often tasked with coordinating multiple teams, keeping track of workflows, and making sure all of the moving parts are communicating and collaborating on delivering the finished product that both the business executives and the clients expect.
At the same time, project managers are expected to come up with creative solutions to solve complex problems—all the while coming in under budget. For a project manager sporting a normal human brain without an eidetic memory and perfect recall, using a mind map is a great way to make sense of this flurry of information.
Using real-time online project management software is still the best way to keep track of all of the moving parts, but using a mind map is about letting the project manager diagram the core idea of a project. He or she can do this in order to really think about the most efficient way to complete a project rather than simply facilitating it along a traditional path.
What is a Mind Map?
A mind map is a visual means of organizing information, typically through a Web-like diagram. They are far from being a new concept. You probably drew them a lot in elementary school with colored paper and crayons, and the core concept hasn’t changed. What you’re doing is breaking down a subject or an idea for yourself in a way that only you know how. Mind maps begin with a main concept or idea in the center and work their way outward from there. You can use a combination of words, colors, images, and symbols and connect them by lines and arrows of different colors according to however your brain decides to lay it out. There’s no universal mind map template.
In his 1996 book, “The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential,” co-author Tony Buzan describes mind maps as being constructed in a colorful, tree-like fashion. Mind mapping is at its most visceral when done on paper or a whiteboard with pens or markers but there’s also plenty of good mind-mapping software available.
Lifehacker did a survey in 2013 to find out which mind-mapping software offerings were the most popular and the five they came up with were Mindjet, Coggle, FreeMind, MindNode, and XMind. Coggle and Freemind are free, MindNode is mobile-optimized for iOS, and Mindjet has the most comprehensive suite of applications and tools, including significant project-management capabilities. In each, you plug in your project’s concepts, data, and keywords, and the software generates a customizable mind map, with varying levels of minimalist or vivid graphics.
Eight Ways Mind Maps Can Help With Project Management
Whether you’re using software or kicking it analog, creating a mind map is a fun way to get ideas out of your (or your project manager’s) head and onto a more easily organized format in order to spur business innovation. Here are eight ways mind maps can be used to manage projects.
1. Professional Doodling
In a meeting, when your eyes begin to glaze over as employees present and then discuss plans for completing a particular phase of a project, ditch paragraphed or bulleted notes for a mind map. It will help you keep track of the main ideas and progression of a discussion, and will keep your mind engaged in the minute details by turning them into a perfectly acceptable adult equivalent of doodling while the teacher is lecturing.
2. A Presentation Tool
Take project members inside your head by presenting a mind map, either on a whiteboard or by throwing a software-generated map up on a screen. It will get your team thinking about project-related questions in the same sort of free-thinking way, and a presentation tool like Prezi is ready-made to bring a mind-mapped concept to life with animations and graphics.
3. Brainstorming Sessions
After trying out a mind map as a personal note-taking tool and introducing the method to a project team, one of its key benefits is that it helps a team think outside the box. For example, if a customer throws a new demand at you and, as a manager, you’re having trouble figuring out how integrate the request into the finished product, putting the team in a room with a mind map, a whiteboard, and markers makes for a more open and collaborative path toward a solution.
4. Task Delegation
Dedicate an entire mind map or just a few branches of one to represent which team members are responsible for what within a project, who reports to whom, a clear projection of project workflow, and who needs to be brought in at various stages of the process.
5. A Master Idea Repository
Brainstorming sessions often result in useful tangential ideas, so a team should keep a running mind map of ideas that may come in handy for projects to come.
6. Symbol Shorthand
One of the biggest advantanges of using a mind map is that it can be used to create and perpetuate a visual vocabulary of the different pictures and symbols that represent different states of project progress, specific departments, or any other component within a project’s management.
7. A Living Workflow
A mind map is the visual representation of a project and all of its moving parts, so creating a chronological progression of objectives, complete with distinct milestones and stages, is a great way to keep the entire team up to date with a project’s progress.
8. Integrating Your Solutions
If you can get your small to midsize business (SMB) team or your department within a larger enterprise organization onboard with mind mapping, see if your company’s project management software contains functionality that resembles mind mapping or if it can integrate with a mind-mapping solution. Importing project tasks, teams, statuses, and other resource and planning data directly into a mind map is a good way to visually represent progress and productivity to the entire team. Then let each member customize their own mind map from there to foster creative thinking from within your existing project management solution.