Plan your projects with mindmaps
Does the concept of mindmapping rings a bell?
Mindmaps are super simple tools that are perfect to brainstorm about a project and plan it. In this post, I’m going deep in the details about mindmaps and I’m walking you through the entire mindmapping process. We’ll be talking about:
– What mindmaps are, how they work and how to create them
– The advantages of using mindmaps for project management
– How to create a mindmap to clarify your project
– How to create a mindmap to plan your actions
The 2 latest being illustrated with some examples to help you visualize how you could use mindmaps for your own projects!
What’s a mindmap?
Mindmaps are, as their name suggest it, maps of what you have in mind. It’s a map of all your ideas and thoughts on a specific subject.
Mindmaps are the result of a process which we call mindmapping. The main goal of mindmapping is to outline concepts related to a central idea.
The mindmapping technique can be used for various purposes such as brainstorming or project planning. In this post, I’m going to focus on how you can use mind maps to better manage your projects.
Mindmaps all share some basic caracteristics:
– The main subject of the mindmap is in the center of the mindmap. When it comes to project management, the main subject can be the project itself or an issue that occurs and you need to solve.
– The main ideas are gathered around the central subject in a form of branches
– The secondary ideas are gathered around the main ideas they are related to. Same with tertiary ideas added as needed around the secondary branches.
– At the end of the process, you have a tree of ideas that are all related to the core subject.
In the project management process (which goes from the day the idea strikes you’re head, or the day you’re commited to do something to the day you deliver the final deliverable), mind maps can come of help at various stages.
Mindmaps for project management
Mindmapping is a very useful technique that can be used for various purposes in any project management process. Using mindmaps can help the project manager (just remember at this stage of the post that we are ALL project managers!) in 3 ways:
Mindmaps can help you clarify a complex problem:
using a mindmap in this situation will help you break your problem down into smaller items and give you a clear picture of what’s at stake, who’s involved and where the problem may come from. It will probably help you see some potential leads to solve it at the end of the process.
Mindmaps can help you brainstorm (and find new ideas):
the mindmapping technique is a tool that can be used for brainstorming purposes. You can do it on your own, but it will definitely provide more ideas and interesting concepts if you do it with some friends or coworkers.
Mindmaps can help you lay an action plan for your project:
just as it can help you better understand a problem, it can help you draw a full picture of your project. Mindmapping is a very powerful tool to make sure you don’t miss anything important when you’re planning your project.
Using mindmaps for project management
How to use mindmapping to jumpstart new projects
One of the biggest issue we face when planning a project is the overload of ideas we have and the overload of things we need to take into account to plan it properly.
In this kind of situation when you’d like to kick off your project but don’t really know where to start, using a mindmap can definitely help you get a very clear ideas of what your project is made of (before starting to plan it for real).
Before you start:
Get a BIG sheet of paper (or even a whole roll of paper), a large white board to make sure you’ll have enough room to draw your mindmap.
Side note: I personally find the pen to paper method more efficient than using a software or app to draw mindmaps to unleash creativity. I only use digital tools to finalize my mindmap when I’m done with the brainstorming part of the process.
- Start by putting your project at the center of your spread or board.
- Put all the things that you find important regarding your project in boxes around the main subject of your mindmap which is your project. You can consider the following items to help you get started: objectives, deliverables, stakeholders, resources, deliverables, schedule, requirements…
This is NOT an exhaustive list. Add or remove any idea that strikes your mind and that is a key factor of your project’s success.
Draw lines to connect these main ideas with your core subject (ideally, make the curved lines, the brain finds straight lines quite boring)
- Add secondary ideas around the main ideas. Doing so will help you go deeper into each part of your project and draw a full picture of your project.
At this stage, you can add tertiary branches. Go as deep in the details as needed.
- Review your map, and make sure that you’ve put all your ideas on paper.
Make sure that you drained out all your ideas and related info.
Once you’re done, use color coding or any other graphic element (signifier, upper and lower case, boxes…) to highlight the most important / critical ideas on your mindmap.
(At this stage, you can consider using a digital tool to finalize your mindmap and maybe be able to easily share it with other people. There is a lot of digital tools out there to serve that purpose. I personally use Mind42 which is a 100% free online tool).
Following these few steps will allow you to draw a very clear and easy to remember mindmap. It’s a great way to create a first picture of your whole project. Use this mindmap as the starting point of your planning process.
You can regularly refer to this mindmap at any stage of your project as a master dashboard of your project. Review it to update the infos as needed (if your mindmap is on paper, you can use sticky notes to add or change infos but still keep track of past events.)
Using mindmaps for project management
How to use mindmapping to create a work plan for your project
After using mind mapping to jumpstart the project and create a clear dashboard of it with all the info needed (stakeholder, resources…), we’re going to focus on the “schedule” branch of this mindmap.
Ready? Let’s do this!
If you’ve done the previous part properly, you should already have a good idea of what the big steps of your project are. If you’re still not sure you have identified them all, take an extra few minutes to enhance this part of your map.
Side note: If you’re struggling to figure out the big steps of your project, you can try to start by the end, which is always the deliverable. Then go back and ask yourself “what needs to be done to finalize the deliverable?”. You’ll get the final step of your project.
Go back starting from this final step and ask yourself “what needs to done right before that step?”. Do this as many time as needed to outline your project work plan.
To show you how you can create a work plan for your project using mindmapping, I’m going to take a real project as an example. The exemple here is to create a new website featuring a eshop (which is actually one of the multiple projects I’m working on at the moment).
So let’s say that you’d like to build a new website (that doesn’t involve coding work).
Before you start
To create this kind of mind maps which are less creative, I recommend to use digital tools. Creating your map with a software or online tool will allow you to easily reorganize items on the fly and to add notes as needed.
- Create a new mindmap. Place “Project X work plan” at the center of it.
Tip: at this stage, you can put a reminder of what the final deliverable of the project is, just under the name of your project. This note is part of the core box of your mindmap.
- Create the main branches of your mindmap. In this case, the primary branches of your mindmap will be the big steps of your project.
In the example I’m using, the big steps are: requirements, website set-up, eshop set-up, migration, testing and launch.
- Once you’re done with the primary branches, start with the secondary branches. The secondary branches stand for the big tasks that need to be handled regarding your project’s big steps. The idea is is to break down the big steps of your project into smaller, manageable tasks
In my example, the step “eshop set-up” is broken into 2 secondary tasks which are “technical set-up” and “eshop content”.
- Add tertiary branches as needed. You can go as far as needed in your mindmap. The goal here is to end up with branches that represent actionable tasks.
Going back to my example, I broke down the “technical” and “content” tasks in smaller tasks such as “plugins installation”, “products pictures” or “write product’s captions”.
- Keep drawing new branches until you’ve write down all the tasks that come to your mind.
- Review your map. For each of the small tasks on your mindmap, add the following informations: time needed to complete the task, due date, specific resources needed and if relevant, the person in charge of doing it. Highlight the tasks that you’d like to turn into milestones.
And you’re done!
Well almost. If you want to, you can turn your mindmap into a regular work plan such as a Gantt chart. Or reorganize it to sort out the task chronologically instead of having them organized by phase.
This is how I jump from the vision to the real project plan in my PROJO – the project journal.
Every project seem to be way more manageable since you have a solid action plan to follow!
How often do you use mindmaps?
Do you use them to manage your projects?
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