Project Management

The Ultimate Guide to Project Management Mind Mapping

Published by in Project Management

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our minds were predictable? If we were able to think linearly, so that we could easily parse out steps for projects without missing obvious problems, getting from point A to point Z would inherently be much easier. Our minds would function like a Gantt chart.

Then again, we would run the risk of ignoring potentially important, connected ideas.

The_Ultimate_Guide_to_Project_Management_Mind_Mapping (1)

Consider the way Sherlock Holmes thinks through problems. He’s awful at staying in the present, yet is able to make connections between discrete facts that would otherwise go unnoticed.

His skill to harness his intuition and connect ideas and concrete facts is what makes him a legendary detective.

In BBC’s interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s prolific character, Sherlock disappears into a “mind palace” to make the necessary connections to solve a problem. The show visually outlines a flash of his thought process.

See how there’s a central idea and how ideas stem from it?

A dummy version of Sherlock’s mind palace might look like this:


Photo credit: MsAlayniousCreations

The technical term for this kind of graph?

Mind maps.

And they’re hugely valuable for project managers.


So what is mind mapping? Why does it work? How can project managers use this tool—and should they? Read on to find out!

What is Mind Mapping?

Mind mapping is a graphing technique that outlines concepts related to a central idea. The image shows relationships among pieces of the whole, from outward branches to specific ideas within them.

At the heart of mind mapping is simplicity. Creators are likely to make use of their entire space, using colors, images, and words to get their ideas across.  

They were first popularized by Tony Buzan, an educational consultant focusing on creativity, memory, speed reading, and popular psychology, but the use of mind maps can be traced all the way back to Leonardo Da Vinci, Cassiodorus, and even Roman philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius.

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Porphyry’s Tree and English Translation

The Tree of Porphyry may be the most famous—and oldest—form of mind mapping. It has been a philosophy tool used to explain Aristotle’s category definitions for species (for more information on this particular mind map, the Wikipedia article is particularly good). Ironically, while the Tree of Porphyry is widely considered the first instance of a mind map, Porphyry himself did not consider his own tree a diagram.

While “mind map” hasn’t necessarily always been a term, the concept has been used across cultures, from China to the Middle East to Europe to America. The concept works because it draws from all aspects of our brains.

What is the Psychology Behind Mind Mapping?

Psychology_Mind_Mapping (1)

Let’s dive into how mind mapping meshes with the brain for a second. There has been a ton of research on education and learning processes with mind mapping, specifically. Let’s take a look:

Okay, we get it. Mind maps work and they make people more efficient and intelligent team players. But why?

  • When you combine words and pictures, your brain will remember that information six times better than words by themselves.
  • Mind maps’ structure are reflective of the mind’s natural pathways. That makes the information easier to process and build upon.

Mind maps, in short, are more natural than any other form of written communication. No wonder humans have been using them for millennia!

How Do You Make a Mind Map?

The structure of a mind map is quite simple. Project managers can break mind maps down into four easy steps.

  1. Choose a central idea that you want to focus on. Draw the idea—draw, not write—in the middle of your canvas.
  2. Create branches that are representative of core ideas that derive from your central item.
  3. From your main branches, create secondary and tertiary branches that stem off of their core ideas.
  4. Where possible, connect branches to one another.

Some suggestions to make the most of your mind map.

  1. Curve your lines. Your mind finds straight lines boring.
  2. Use colors. They stimulate your senses and make brainstorming easier.
  3. Tony Buzan recommends limiting your words to one per line. He writes, “Single key words [sic] give your Mind Map more power and flexibility.”
  4. Use photos. They’re worth 1,000 words and likely more.

From there, you might come up with something like this:

Mind Mapping Laws by Tony Buzan

Mind Mapping Laws by Tony Buzan

Declutter by Paul Foreman

Declutter by Paul Foreman

Increasing Productivity by Leoni Wharton

Increasing Productivity by Leoni Wharton

At this point, you might be thinking, “Rachel, this is all well and great, but how can I make a mind map? I’m not particularly artistic.”

As with everything else, there’s a mind map—and software—for that.  

Methods of Mindmapping by Paul Foreman

Methods of Mindmapping by Paul Foreman

What Is the Best Mind Mapping Software Available to Project Managers?

Mind_Map_Software (1)

As a project manager, you want to look at these characteristics when choosing mind mapping software (a subset of idea management software and project management software):

  • Provides project management software integration for actionable decision making
  • Beautiful aesthetics for presentations and communicating ideas
  • Collaboration features
  • Image management
  • Under $100 per year or $500 for a full license

With those criteria, these mind mapping software options stood out: (1), which has been around for almost ten years, offers an intuitive brainstorming app that’s particularly good for teams and presentations.


Coggle (1)

Celebrated for its excellent customer service and its feature-rich free version, Coggle is a favorite among mind mapping software enthusiasts.

ConceptDraw MINDMAP 8

Concept (1)

On an Apple computer? Looking for software that works with project management software for Mac? ConceptDraw sticks with Apple’s minimalist aesthetic while providing all the features you and your team needs to make beautiful mind maps.


MindMeister (1)

Used by behemoths like EA Games, Oracle, and CNN, MindMeister is one of the most popular mind mapping software options out there. But don’t let that intimidate you; it’s simple, affordable, and provides the flexibility for you to make your mind maps the way that suits you and your teams’ brains best.


Mindomo (1)

Named the Editors’ Choice winner from PC Mag for its use of social tools, Mindomo is a phenomenal choice for teams looking to create, comment on, and edit one another’s mind maps.


Stormboard (1)

Done entirely on the cloud and offering a variety of cool, fun templates, Stormboard is a frequent go-to for remote teams looking to work asynchronously.


XMind (1)

With Evernote integration and an easy-to-customize interface, XMind is a phenomenal option for tech-savvy teams.


There’s a ton more about project management mind mapping that I didn’t cover here. What would you like to see expanded? Do you disagree with anything? What mind mapping software did I miss?

Let me know in the comments below!

Interested in other visual software? Check out these articles:

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

About the Author

Rachel Burger

Rachel Burger

Rachel is a former Capterra analyst who covered project management.


Comment by Rachel Maguire on

Thanks to Chuck Frey for the mention in his comment.

I’d like also mention Barvas by MindGenius. Barvas combines Mind Maps, Task Boards, Task Lists and Timelines (gantt) charts to help you Clarify, Plan and Deliver your projects.

These views are windows on the same data which allows you to use the right tool for the stage of your project e.g. using the mind map to clarify and understand what you need to do, use timelines to schedule time, use task boards and task lists for delivery.

The map interface has a really simple type and return interface to capture information and powerful features like tagging and filtering. You can even flip the map on its head and view branches grouped by tag. Very powerful.

Visit to learn more


Comment by Shalin on

Concept mapping and mind mapping not so different after all, however both can be done using a Concept Map Maker

Pingback by MindMapping Basics – MasterTeacher on

[…] Image Credit: Capterra […]


Comment by Rachel Burger on

Hey Chuck, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I wrote this article, and spent a good amount of time narrowing down what my audience would be most interested in. If you read the article, it’s largely a guide to getting started with mind maps—what are they, how are they used, and why are they helpful.

Onboarding with new software can be a hassle. If you keep up with current project management trends, the industry is waning away from traditional project management (unless they’re working within enterprise PPM, in which case they likely won’t use mind maps at all), and into informal project management. That means less emphasis on tools like Gantt charts and more on informal communication systems.

If you’re interested in why that’s the case, feel free to read up on current project management trends and the future of project management.

Because this article is so heavily dedicated to the definitional side of mind maps, I chose to limit selected products to under $100 per year or $500 for a full license, so it’d be a more affordable investment. I also emphasized communication functionality so that project managers can continue to adapt to the changes in their industry. And as most project managers reading this article are new to mind mapping, but not necessarily project management, I only chose systems that offered project management software integration.

All of those requirements are clearly listed in the article itself.

The tools you recommend are out of scope for this article and this audience. Sure, MindView can import and export MS Project, but they don’t offer a true integration. MindGenius doesn’t even come close to being at the price point most of my readers are interested in when they’re just first toying with mind mapping software.

In other words: your recommendations are out of scope with the article’s parameters and miss the educational purpose of the post. Notice how all recommendations I make are “free” but one? Free mind mapping software is what my audience is far more interested in—along with candid reviews and regularly published articles.

I hope that addresses your concerns,


Comment by Chuck Frey on

I can’t believe you mention Coggle and in the same breath as project management. They are very basic, web-based mind mapping tools, but hardly have the feature set needed to support project management. These apps tend to show up in articles where the authors apparently just did a Google search for mind mapping software, and then copied down the list of programs that showed up. Shame on you for perpetuating the notion that they are actually suitable for businesses to do project management.

In the comments, Scott Sax mentions MindView, which has the most advanced set of capabilities for designing and implementing projects. MindManager and MindGenius Barvas also fall into this category of TRUE mind mapping/project management tools. Criteria for inclusion on this list include:
– The ability to convert map topics to tasks, with a full complement of task data
– An integrated GANTT view
– The ability to set milestones
– The ability to roll up task data, so managers can see both high-level and “in the weeds” views of project/task status
– The ability to export completed project plans to Microsoft Project and other dedicated project managers

One last note: Stormboard doesn’t belong on this list. It is neither a mind mapping tool nor a project management application. It might best be described as a visual team collaboration tool, better suited for brainstorming by geographically distributed teams.

If you’d like to learn more about using mind mapping software for project management, I recommend that you visit my Mind Mapping Software Blog, where I have written about this topic for the last decade:

Comment by Scott Sax on

One product that wasn’t mentioned is Mindview by Matchware ( It is a good mind mapping tool like the other products mentioned, but where it really sets it apart is that it integrates with tools like MS Project. We use it to brainstorm and create our work breakdown structures when working on projects, then convert things into a gantt chart in the tool, and then able to export it into a project file which we’re able to use in our PPM tool. Its been a great way to capture the planning processes of our projects and take our schedule building to the next level.

It also integrates with other MS office tools so you can create reports and presentations from your mind map, but we mainly use it for the integration with MS Project, which we can export out and use in our PPM tool which isn’t MS Project.

Comment by Juliana N on

Thank you for writing this wonderful article!

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