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.
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:
The technical term for this kind of graph?
And they’re hugely valuable for project managers.
- Mind maps increase the chance of information recall.
- They’re accessible and easy-to-use for anyone, regardless of baseline written communication skills.
- They make technical and complex concepts easier to understand than reading blocks of text.
- They help to uncover potential risks and opportunities in project planning.
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
- What is the Psychology Behind Mind Mapping
- How Do You Make a Mind Map
- What Is the Best Mind Mapping Software Available to Project Managers
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.
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.
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:
- While it is a form of expressing creative thinking, it can easily adapt to “linear tasks, such as note taking, planning, and organizing.” Mind mapping is reflective of the mind’s flexibility.
- Both children and adults understand experts better when ideas are communicated through mind maps. In fact, when children and adults go to apply these new concepts to their own work, this study found “statistically significant correlations and relationships between the analysis phase and the resultant creative output” when using mind maps when compared to other traditional forms of communication.
- Mind mapping increases motivation in the maps’ creators.
- They foster group-based creative problem solving.
- They are particularly good when encouraging team members to partake in self-instruction.
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!
The structure of a mind map is quite simple. Project managers can break mind maps down into four easy steps.
- Choose a central idea that you want to focus on. Draw the idea—draw, not write—in the middle of your canvas.
- Create branches that are representative of core ideas that derive from your central item.
- From your main branches, create secondary and tertiary branches that stem off of their core ideas.
- Where possible, connect branches to one another.
Some suggestions to make the most of your mind map.
- Curve your lines. Your mind finds straight lines boring.
- Use colors. They stimulate your senses and make brainstorming easier.
- Tony Buzan recommends limiting your words to one per line. He writes, “Single key words [sic] give your Mind Map more power and flexibility.”
- Use photos. They’re worth 1,000 words and likely more.
From there, you might come up with something like this:
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.
- 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:
Bubbl.us, which has been around for almost ten years, offers an intuitive brainstorming app that’s particularly good for teams and presentations.
Celebrated for its excellent customer service and its feature-rich free version, Coggle is a favorite among mind mapping software enthusiasts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 10 of the Top Microsoft Visio Alternatives for Project Managers
- 11 Top Software And Digital Landscape Resources for 2017
- 6 Ways Visuals Can Streamline Your PM Workflows
Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.